Saying 'yes' when I don't have the assertiveness to say 'no'--Jessica Bennett describes a situation I recognize, a 'yes' I say nearly every day.
Thank you to the New York Times for printing her news analysis, "When 'Yes' Is Easier Than 'No.'" She has been managing coverage of the Me Too movement as gender editor of the NYT and is also the author of Feminist Fight Club.
For me, this "Yes" occurs not in sexual encounters but in thousands of other interactions.
"Would you like to go to a movie?" "Yes" I say compliantly, even if don't want to go. It's my husband, and we haven't had a date night recently. Actually I want to spend the evening at my desk, checking email or working on Christmas cards.
"Would you like a doughnut/cup of wine/coupon?" No, but in certain situations I will say "Yes" to be polite.
"Would you like to meet me for coffee?" "Yes, it would be nice to see you." I generally comply with a friend I don't really want to see.
The phone rings, and caller ID tells me it's a person I don't want to talk to, but if I've refused the call five or six times already, I pick up the phone. "Yes?"
A pan handler sticks a cup in my face as I enter the grocery store. Darn it, can't I run a simple errand without facing an ethical decision? Sometimes I walk on by with a "No," but other days I muster up a grudging "Yes" and fish out a dollar bill.
Over 45 years I've said yes to my husband sexually when I didn't want to, but now my "No" is firm.
Before marrying, I can think of only once when I said yes in a sexual encounter that I didn't want. On a date, Bob unzipped his jeans and wanted me to feel his hard-on through his underwear. He seemed to think this was something every woman wanted to do, but I was disgusted. I didn't tell him to bug off. Instead, I was nice.
Jessica Bennett discusses women's conditioning to say 'Yes':
- "that we must be 'nice' and 'quiet' and 'polite."
- "That we must protect others' feelings before our own."
- "That we are there for others' pleasure."
- "that our bodies exist for male sexual pleasure,"
- "that our 'power' is in attracting male desire."
Girls and women are trained to "see their role in sexual encounters as being 'desirable' rather than assertive," notes Peggy Orenstein in her book Girls & Sex.
After 69 years of conditioning and saying "Yes," it's hard for me to pause, check my impulse to be nice, and say 'No' if 'No' is my inner truth.
But I'm working on it.
See also Rachel Simmons, Enough As She Is.