As I get older, I think one of the most subversive acts of resistance a woman of any age can do is say “NO.”
It’s personal and political. I long ago said “no” to becoming a mother, and am judged by many the lesser for it; women saying “no” at work to being paid less than their male counterparts or saying “no” to sexual harassment are called troublemakers and/or bitches; women collectively saying “no” to restrictions on our bodily autonomy are viewed as a genuine threat by religious institutions the world over.
In relationships, nothing is as profound as a woman saying “no” to carrying the emotional labor alone. Saying “no” to being the person solely or majorly responsible for housekeeping is viewed by society as extreme behavior.
Saying “no” to a man’s romantic/sexual overtures can and has ended with women being beaten and killed.
Saying “no” to people who just assume you must say “yes” is rocking the boat. It challenges gender assumptions and is a direct threat to the social norms people take for granted.
Whether it’s demands for your time or demands that you accept lower pay or demands that you conform to other people’s concepts of womanhood or demands that we provide emotional/sexual services, I think we all need to say “NO” more often, and starting at a younger age. Too many young women around me keep saying “yes” to abusive boyfriends, harassing bosses, and controlling families because they think they are not allowed to say “no.”
Sure, saying “no” has it’s consequences. I’m considered less than human by some people because I never gave birth to a child, and sometimes women get fired or blacklisted at work for saying “no” to sexism. Those are real risks. Worse, women in relationships with violent people have to risk their lives to say “no.” Women in bad financial situations who say “no” to demands by spouses/families risk homelessness.
Some can take that risk, others cannot — each must weigh what they have to gain and what they have to lose.
But that is the nature of being subversive: it is dangerous.
I believe it is important that we understand that choice though, and why it is risky, and how it affects us socially. Stop believing that there is no choice, stop acting like “yes” must always be automatic and assured.
There is power in the word “no” because it is the fence around our personal boundaries. (Consider it magical if that works for you: words of power do seem to have nearly metaphysical impact, sometimes.) “Yes” should never be a lack of fencing much less a denial that boundaries exist, “yes” should only ever be a gate you create on purpose for reasons that benefit everyone involved, including you.
Saying “no” is probably the most powerful resistance tool women have. It’s closing those gates to intruders, it is the act of standing like an Amazon on the borders of our realm and refusing to grant entry to danger.
Start small if you have too. Say “no” to volunteering for everything. Say “no” to being responsible for all the housework, or for cooking every meal. Say “no” to being talked over/ignored during office meetings.
Say “no” to the expectations that are placed on you because you are a woman and not because of who you are as a person.
Remember: Grumpy Cat is a girl. Let her be our mascot. I mean, if she wants. She always has the right to say…
Also published on Medium.