No means no

January 18, 2017 § 3 Comments

I bet you think I’m going to write about rape. I am and I’m not – first let me tell you a story.

A few months ago my daughter and her friends, their dates and parents met for drinks before a school dance. At some point in the proceedings, someone decided each girl should say a few words about the year, about their friendship, and so on, and they began to take turns to speak.

My daughter suffers from crippling social anxiety that makes public speaking or performance a complete ordeal. She has medication to get her through school speeches and violin performances. So when it was her turn to speak, she simply said “No.” She was calm, firm, and clear in her wishes.

And then it began. First her friends tried to persuade her to speak, and then the parents joined in. She dug in her heels. They continued, louder and louder. Colour began to rise in her face; tears glittered, poised to flow. Eventually I raised my voice above the din, and pointed out that she’d said “no”, and that should be respected. And finally they let her be.

It’s a tiny incident – although it was very distressing for her – but it got me thinking about how we respond when people say “no”. The truth is that we just don’t accept it as an answer.

When someone says they can’t attend a dinner or birthday party, for example, if they offer no reason, you’ll often hear the host ask why they can’t attend. When someone’doesn’t want to join in an activity like bungee jumping, abseiling or zip lining, there’ll be a fair amount of persuasion from their peers.

Children, of course, seldom take no for an answer, because that’s how they test their boundaries, but when you pay attention you start to notice that adults aren’t terribly good at it either. It’s almost never acceptable to simply answer, “No.” At best there’s some expectation of explanation; at worst you’ll be bullied into changing your mind.

And of course, what we forget, is that while we’re telling our children that “no means no” we model the exact opposite of what we’re saying. And it is a well known parenting principle that your children learn far more from what you do than from what you say.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many girls are raped – and often by people they know – when the very act of saying “no” in a myriad other situations is seen as an opportunity to override, persuade, dismiss or – let’s call a spade a spade – bully the person into submission?

I don’t think we should be surprised at all that rape is rife in society. I do think it could make a difference if we all made this shift.

No means no.


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