When you say no (even if you mean yes!) It means no. Like so many women (and girls, and boys, and men), I have had my “no” ignored before. It’s a painful thing, to say no to something and have that disregarded by another person, who thinks that his or her desire trumps your right to refuse.
A famous video (see YouTube) gives the example of a cup of tea. Of refusing a cup of tea, and having one forced on you anyway. The point of the video is that saying no to sex should be as simple as saying no to tea, and as accepted.
I also read a post by someone who takes it a step further than that. I wholeheartedly agree: if you say yes to coffee, you retain the right to say no to tea. This is what a lot of people seem to find tricky- the limits of consent. If I say yes to a kiss or even more, does that give someone the right to take more from me than I agreed to? I strongly believe that it does not. it sounds simple, doesnt it? Yet in both outright and more subtle ways, time and time again, people fail to accept it. An example: due to unforseen circumstances, I once had to climb over a high fence in a long jacket but no jeans. I must have looked pretty sketchy. Seeing me, a man, a stranger, took it upon himself to talk to me. I’m a friendly person; I did not say no to a conversation. I did not even say no when he touched my shoulder. Then, emboldened by my silence, the man tried to force a kiss on me. I said no. Quite clearly and quite loudly. His response? That I had led him on. By what? Talking? Smiling? Wearing what must have appeared to be a short skirt? I don’t think so. This is an example of how consent to one thing (a friendly arm on a shoulder) appeared to another person to imply consent to further contact. And once I had said no- firmly- he tried to kiss me again. My refusal meant nothing in the face of his desire, because he saw himself as entitled to use my body to his own purposes. This is neither the first time something like this has happened to me. Nor is it, sadly, likely to be the last. I resent that sense of entitlement. Let’s be clear: I do not resent all men. I do not assume that one size fits all. But I do hate the assumption that one body might matter more than another, that, as I said, desire trumps refusal. I say yes to coffee? I still don’t want your tea.
I have also heard that, in addition to the fight-or-flight response, their is a third: to flop. To freeze. To be so afraid, or surprised, or overwhelmed, that your no is unclear or goes unheard. Particularly if you are vulnerable, or young (too young for yes) this option is more likely than not. And you may argue that in the absence of “no”, “yes” can be assumed. I don’t think so. If a child doesn’t say no, for example, can that ever mean yes? No.
It’s not just in sexual circumstances that “no” is ignored or disrespected. If someone says “no” to medication, for example, as dangerous or as scary as that might be it is his or her own choice and must be respected even if you don’t agree with it. One of the principles we are taught at work is that people have the right to refuse. If I don’t want meds, then that is my right. I am entitled to say no to them. Even if it seems inadvisable, even if you disagree. Even if I might become ill. Be that medication/ medical intervention psych meds, chemotherapy or invasive surgery, if I say “no” then “no” is what that means. To disagree with a decision should not be to disregard it.
I think that’s the crux of it: you might want something different from another person. You might disagree with the person, you may think their reasoning is wrong. You may, quite simply, not understand. But that does not give you the right to go against their decision, be that a cup of tea, unwanted physical contact, or medication.
There may be all kinds of exceptions which may get brought up in the comments of this, because saying no is a much more complex issue than I could assess in so few lines. But my bottom line, always, is that every person deserves respect, and one way of expressing that respect is to allow a person to consent, or not, to whatever they choose. Because it IS their choice, at the end of the day.