Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Just say no

"Why can't women just say 'no'?" 
I heard that from another woman. She was speaking about the #metoo movement. She was an intelligent woman, independent, with a good job, and she was financially solid and had been all her life. She was attractive. Had been married. Had children. When she said "No", people respected her.
I wasn't in the mood to argue. Besides - too many people feel this way. Just say no, they sneer. Look at those movie stars, rolling in dough, owing their whole careers to a serial rapist. If they didn't want to sleep with him, they should have just said 'no'. What's more important? A career or your pride?
I don't know what to say to these people.
I don't know everyone's situation.
Sometimes, you can't say no.
Sometimes, when you say no, you put your career on the line.
Sometimes, when you say no, you put your life in danger.

The first time I said no to a boy, he beat me up. I don't know what the question was. After the first beating, my mother wanted to teach me to fight back. She got a cardbard box and had me punch it. "What do you do when that boy comes back again?" she said.
"Hit the box," I replied.
I don't remember any of this - this is my mother's story. She tells it half laughing, half furious. I must have been only two or three - the boy was a neighborhood bully.

The next time I stood up to a boy, he was teasing a friend. He'd tossed her bike on the ground and kicked it. I had no idea what the fight was about, but I kicked his bike over then put myself between her and him. He punched me and gave me a black eye. Our parents called his parents, and I remember standing in the living room, explaining what happened, my eye swollen shut.
"You shouldn't have kicked his bike," said the boy's father. I was eight years old, but even then, I knew enough to look at the floor and say, "I'm sorry." That the boy was punished too didn't tilt the scales back. The boy was two or three years older than I was, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier. But he struck me, and got away with a scolding. I was struck, and got away with a scolding, a black eye, and a healthy fear of bullies.

I said no in highschool to a boy who wanted to date me. He got all his friends to pressure me. When I still said no, he spread rumors about me. I walked into the cafĂ© where I used to hang out with my freinds. One of his friends was there, playing the guitar that evening. When I walked in, he said into the microphone, "I"m not playing anymore until She leaves." I was ostracized from the group for weeks - until he fell for another girl. To an adult, this might seem trite. To a teen, it was agony.  All I did was refuse to date a boy.

I said no to a boy who came to the house where I was babysitting. I was surprised to see him. I didn't invite people over when I was caring for children. But this young man had been chasing me for a while, I went on a few dates with him. He was good fun. He liked music, and bought me a record album. This must have seemed like a golden ticket to him. He walked into the house and remarked that the parents were gone - the kids were alseep - it was the perfect time. The perfect time for what?  I wasn't buying it. I didn't want to make out or sleep with him. I said no. He'd been drinking. He picked me up and threw me across the kitchen. I was stunned, bruised, frightened. I said no again, and he hit me. I crawled under the table. He cried for a while, then left. He pretended nothing happened afterwards. He was older than I was, but he was immature. I told myself it was just that he was immature. But I didn't return his calls.

I graduated and started working in a jewelry warehouse. One night, my boss sent me on an errand and when I came back, the office was empty except for him and me. He locked the door and told me I was beautiful, that he was unhappy with his wife, and that he'd really like to just cuddle for a moment. Maybe take it further - who knows? He smiled at me like a jolly Santa. I ran. I ran away from him. He ran after me, cornered me, I hid behind a jewelry display, he lunged at me, knocked everything over. Started screaming at me to get out. I was fired. I lost my job. I had an apartment. I had bills to pay.
I lost my apartment.
I moved in with my boyfriend. He was a nice person - one of the good ones. There are men out there who are beautiful, kind, and who can take no for an answer. This isn't about all men. Maybe that's part of the problem - maybe some women only meet the nice ones - maybe the others are not as common - or maybe it's something in my personality that brings out the worst in some people. That's why you can't put the #metoo movement in a file and use it as proof.

I found work as a model. Money was tight. I owed money, the city was expensive. I had no degree, no education to speak of - modelling was my ticket out of poverty. Let's admit it - we were poor. So I was glad to find a job that I could do without having to go nto debt for college - a job that I didn't need any qualifications or experience for. The second or third job I got was with a famous photographer. I was thrilled; until he started trying to feel me up. Then I told him no. I just said no. He just fired me. The next day, I was told to go home. I'd never work again, he threatened. I was numb. Saying no had so many consequences. How much easier to just go along with men - just agree - close your mouth - don't argue. Don't say 'no'. I nearly lost my career. Thankfully, my agency sent me to Europe - far away from Mike and his roving hands. In Europe, I continued to say no, and I got fired from a job for refusing to let someone cut my hair. A 'no' is a 'no'- if it's about sex or a haircut - someone is trying to control your body, so Just Say No. But I got fired. I started getting a reputation of being "difficult".  I was called in "for a talk" at the agency. I learned my lesson the hard way. After that, I was more inclined to say yes. Yes, go ahead, fondle me. Yes, go ahead - cut my hair, dye it if you like, touch me where it makes me uncomfortable, laugh, get too close. I smile. I move away subtly. I learn to deflect better, see things coming and react before I actually have to say No.

What happens when a girl starts saying yes? She faces a new barrage of problems - her reputation suffers, her family can cast her out, some religions are exceedingly cruel to a woman who says 'yes' too often. Some societies are built on bullying women so they dare not say no, but they dare not say yes. Where does that leave us, the ones who navigate in the middle - trying not to make anyone angry enough to hit you or fire you, trying not to lose the last shreds of dignity left.

Thank goodness for the good people. Thank goodness for the ones who take "no" gracefully, who are not threatened, who are not violent. Thank goodness for the ones who care what you feel, who are careful, who are thoughtful and kind. Girls, boys - look for these people. Avoid the others if you can. But I won't say "Just say 'no'", because sometimes you just can't.

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