No is a Complete Sentence

By Ace Garrett

Two weeks ago, Brooke told you the story of her discomfort around a man who she struggled to say no to. Today I’d like to ask the question: Why do women—why might anyone—struggle to say no? 

Let’s start with cisgender women and girls. According to sociologist professor, Kathryn Lively, Ph.D, “As young children, girls are socialized to be nice and to be more in touch with their own and other people’s feelings than are boys. [ . . . ] Boys, on the other hand, are socialized to be less attuned to people’s feelings, and to win.”

Other gender minorities may receive this socialization from being born female, from wanting to be perceived as a woman, or from experiencing excessive desire to be likeable or to be accepted due to their gender identity, among a myriad of other reasons. 

This socialization leads gender minorities to go along with things we would rather say no to. This is a hard-to-explain effect of the patriarchy, but it definitely affects many of us and is an unnecessary weight on our shoulders.

I have personally felt the impacts of this socialization: I feel guilt when my wants or needs get in the way of even the smallest whim of someone else. As a young girl, I was led to believe that a good person should be aware of and very considerate of others’ emotions. And since no two people have the same wants or needs, it has always been hard for me to advocate for myself—I have always been worried about everyone else. Today, I am still putting in a lot of conscious effort to try and undo this harmful habit. 

It is important to be considerate of others, but not to the detriment of our needs. Many women, trans people, and non-binary people need to reevaluate their line: at what point do you believe your wants and needs are worth speaking up for? 

Saying no is a crucial skill and a habit you need a healthy relationship with. Saying no is self-care. I hope you all find at least one little way to advocate for yourself this week. Never forget that you matter!

Other resources on this topic:

Saying no and advocating for the things you want is an important tool for all people, in all contexts. However, one of the most important skills people need to have is knowing how to say no to unwanted sexual contact. Due to all sorts of pressure and expectations surrounding sex, this is one of the hardest ways to say no. 

Angie Greaves, a radio presenter and blogger in the UK, has a great post that goes deeper into the specifics of women struggling to say no, including how to say no: “Stop with the ‘I’m sorry’ always attached to the end of saying ‘NO’.”

Book Recommendation:
Earlier this year, I read Untamed by Glennon Doyle, a memoir in response to her realization that she was gay, and even more importantly, her discovery of her own timidity with disappointing others. This novel was ground shattering for me, and it has some fascinating insights about gender and the ways in which women are socialized to act. Caveat: Doyle’s perspective is that of a middle-class white Christian woman, and although she makes some efforts at inclusion, there are parts of this book where her perspective is obviously narrow. You can find the synopsis, reviews, content warnings, and other information at the link above.