Today, I was harassed for the first time ever. I was verbally berated by a man I had believed to be my friend, who hours earlier told me how interested he was in me. The only difference between the first conversation and the second was one word: “No.”
I wasn’t attracted to him and we had nothing in common, so I gently turned down his offer and said, “I’m not interested, but thank you. You’re sweet and I appreciate it.”
Two hours later, something had changed in our friendship. I was no longer a friend; I was an enemy who had hurt his pride, so he was determined to hurt mine. I was “a child,” "so immature," a "liar," a “typical sorority girl,” “selfish,” and my personal favorite, “worth nothing.”
When did exercising of my right to say "No" change my worth? When did standing up for myself and what I want and need in my life mean that I had no worth?
This for saying "No."
My little story can be seen as silly, foolish, dramatic or whatever you wish to call it. This is a situation that simply got mean and awkward, but it is the gateway to a much bigger issue. I was given the easiest punishment for my "No." Others have not been so lucky.
As women brought up by kind humans, manners are important to us. We attempt to be kind and gentle in friendships and acquaintances, but somewhere women went wrong. Somewhere, "No" stopped meaning "No." It began to mean that we were rude. "No" began to mean we were angry and abrupt. "No" began to mean that we were shallow and overly prudent. "No" began to mean that we were wrong.
Why am I made to feel guilty for turning down the affections of someone I do not have feelings for? Am I not allowed to have an opinion? Am I not allowed to choose who I care for without losing the good graces of those around me?
What a dangerous notion, to make "No" mean anything other than what it is meant to be. Because we are kind and gentle in our turning down unwanted affection, we have been told that we are "leading men on," "not being clear," "making trouble," and the worst of all: "asking for it." Women who are assaulted, raped, or abused in any form or fashion are told that they are to blame because they were "unclear" regarding their feelings or that they were "creating trouble."
I'm sorry, but when did these phrases change meanings? The only way to lead a man on is to tell him you have feelings and never act upon them. But even this cannot be seen as "asking for it."
Women make mistakes, yes, but no mistake warrants abuse — verbal or physical. Many who read this article will consider it sexist, bigoted, and feminist. Frankly, I don't care. I am so tired of not being able to stand up for myself with someone I don't care for. I am going to continue saying "No" and hoping for the best, hoping for change, hoping that one day women can mean what they say and not have to deal with punishment for it.
"No" can not mean anything else. "No" means "No."