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Oh for the love of god

So. I go to sleep at 5:00 in the morning because damn it all I am going to finish my writing goals for the day, and the day doesn't end until I've slept, and wake up to kate_nepveu's completely correct and yet entirely confusing post.

Why is it entirely confusing? Because the content seems so entirely obvious that saying it at all causes cognitive dissonance. And the fact that she did state it clearly meant she felt that she had to make that point. You know, the one that seems obvious to me.


No is one of those words that, as children, we were taught not to say too much of to people we care about. It's often contextual, but even the context can be subtle. For instance, if your mother (or mine) says "Do you want to help me with the dishes?" while no may in fact be the entirely truthful response, it is not the response that is expected, and it's not really the acceptable response.

There are other examples. "Would you like a piece of cake?" seems trivial, but if someone baked that cake for your gathering, and you say no, your mother will quietly explain that your (truthful) use of no in this situation might hurt the feelings of the person who went to all the trouble of baking it. So. You learn to say yes.

You learn to say yes, a lot, as a child because you don't want to hurt people's feelings. "Do you like my dress?" or "Did you like (food item that person cooked)?"

Yes is almost hard-wired. Learning to reclaim no is a lifelong endeavour.

I am not known as a person who is afraid of saying no. I'm not known for being shy about it. But the truth is: I don't like it. There are still little traces of that early, learned discomfort for me in saying no. The alternatives, in anger, resentment, and frustration, are all worse, so on balance, no seems the lesser of two evils.

My understanding of the pressures of the word no lead me not to ask people for many things, because I don't want to put them in the awkward situation of having to say it to me.

When I was a teenager, which was not that far off of dinosaurs, really, questions of sex, sexuality, and the confusion that is love at that age, emerged, and no became about personal rejection. It was so very, very difficult. To say it, while knowing that this is entirely how it would be taken. It was a hundred kinds of awkward. I decided early on that this was not a type of interaction that I wanted to have to deal with because for the most part, I liked a lot of these people a great deal and I did not want to hurt them. I did hurt them. I did say no. But I hated having to say it.

So... I decided that I would avoid situations in which this rejection would come up. There are entire gender interactions that I simply withdrew from. Someone asked me once, on-line, if I ever flirted. My response was "What, Old Enough to Be Your Mother, flirt?" He laughed (he's about ten years younger than I am, but in that particular on-line environment, the age was a lot lower in general).

I'm comfortable, by the way, with that. In my WoW guild, I was guild-mom. I am not interested, at this point in my life, in being anything else.

And so we come to kate_nevpeu's post. There are some things in life that we can reasonably expect not to have to say no to because we can reasonably expect that no one is going to ask us. But my reaction isn't fear; it's anger and the sickening sense of what, this again? Because this is not a game I want to play. I opted out thirty years ago.

And yes, while in theory, 'no' is a perfectly acceptable, valid response, you are dumping the responsibility of it on me. You are not a part of my life. You are not someone I know. You should be aware that your freedom to ask is also your freedom to burden me, who grew up in a social context of which you must be completely and utterly unaware.


edited to clarify the teenage years.

Comments

( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
pnkrokhockeymom
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
I think this is an excellent, thoughtful point.

Somehow I missed ALL of this while it was going on, despite having been at Penguicon. But there is a whole lot tied up in that sort of request. When I think about it here, in my safe, quiet office, I'm quite certain that my actual response verbally would have been something akin to "Are you out of your freakin' mind? No."

But in that context at a con, that outright negative verbal response likely would have been fraught with a great deal of emotional response: some of what you describe, some sinking gender-based sensations ("Oh, this again. Even here, with the people I'm ostensibly most comfortable with, I have to deal with THIS objectification."). An undertone of intimidation and fear, almost certainly.

And I'm 37, and by and large I'm comfortable with myself, now. Twenty years ago I would have been uncomfortable saying no, for a variety of reasons, none of which are at all related to an actual and uncomplicated wish to consent.
touchstone
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
And yet...imagine a situation where you're having a gathering of friends. One of your closest friends, someone you'd certainly want there, happens to have other plans that night. Do you invite them anyway?

You, coming from the background you describe, sound like you would want to not be put in the position of having to say No. You'd perhaps even resent the invitation the giver knew you wouldn't be able to accept?

Other people I know would be deeply hurt (and feel rejected) to have not been invited and given the /opportunity/ to say No. They...hmm, how to explain this. At its root, I think it's a power issue. The person who makes the decision has the power. Choosing not to invite them means YOU are deciding and putting yourself above them; letting them say no is giving them a superior position over you.

I'm not saying this to say that you're wrong! Just that...there are people who bring different expectations to the table, who'd be offended by being treated the way you're unhappy NOT to be treated. So if someone guesses the wrong way, rather than being inconsiderate, they may be doing what they THINK is considerate based on experience with people with different preferences than yours.

And now that I re-read that, I'm not sure it actually makes sense. But there you are.
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
And yet...imagine a situation where you're having a gathering of friends. One of your closest friends, someone you'd certainly want there, happens to have other plans that night. Do you invite them anyway?

I tend to phone and invite because I don't think I'm asking them to do something for me, and therefore the guilt levels would not be high on either side; if it's a gathering of a group of friends, the emphasis in that case would never be on me.

But this would be friendship and not imposition, and I see the two as different.

And now that I re-read that, I'm not sure it actually makes sense. But there you are.

I think I understand what you were trying to say. Sort of. I think you're viewing the imposition of forcing me to say no as one that applies to any social interaction, and while that's perfectly acceptable as a textual analysis, was not entirely what I meant.

But in this case, I wanted to make it clear that "we should be allowed to freely ask" a stranger if we can touch their breasts because "they can always say no" only works if no is not a social burden.
touchstone
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)

But in this case, I wanted to make it clear that "we should be allowed to freely ask" a stranger if we can touch their breasts because "they can always say no" only works if no is not a social burden.


Agreed. Some things, you shouldn't have to say no to. Or rather: the mere fact that you're willing to ask certain questions ("May I steal your child?") gives the impression that you're acting under such a different standard of behavior that one's forced to question whether or not you'll accept a No if given one. Even someone who feels no burden at all in saying no might be made nervous by the question.
heinous_bitca
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
You played WoW? Awesome.

I should add, I've left a bit of commentary on this topic elsewhere.

Edited at 2008-04-22 07:43 pm (UTC)
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
You played WoW? Awesome.

I did. And I miss my guild, and I miss raiding sometimes -- but I'd reached a point where I couldn't make deadlines and a proposal request if I continued to raid =/.
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
I read an article on lying (children learning to) and it really dovetails with what you're saying

I will say this about lying and children. Learning to lie is the first developmental sign that children actually understand that what they think/feel/know and what people who are not them think/feel/know are not the same. It's theory of mind, but it's a critical part of maturation. When your three year old lies to you, while you should discourage it, it's a very good sign.

My oldest didn't even understand what the purpose of a lie was until he was almost 8 years old. He literally did not understand (and this caused some difficulty in his early schooling years, because if, say, another child hit or punched him and the teacher said or did nothing, he assumed this was because she didn't care. In fact, she didn't know. Telling him that it was important to make it clear to her made no sense to him because if he knew it, he assumed it was simply known.

This is because he had not yet reached that developmental stage. By the time he was 8, on the other hand, he understood that there was advantage to always telling the truth.

So... I probably have a slightly skewed idea about lying, children, and its value and what it signifies *wry g*

On the other hand, reclaiming no is never going to be the same type of issue for him.
(Deleted comment)
next_bold_move
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
I'm still wavering about how I feel about this, but I think you're spot on about something about the whole Kerfluffle that was making me uncomfortable.

There were times in my younger life that I would have felt unable to say "No" to the wearing of the button, or the requests, depending on the context in which it was presented. The pressure to "Be a sport" can be just as strong as the desire not to hurt someone with your refusal. :(
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
No one wants to wear the invisible button that says I am the death of fun, no.

I, on the other hand, usually say it up front because I'm lazy and it's easier than, you know, finally losing my temper and strangling someone. I would probably not have said this when I was young and I actually cared more what strangers thought.
coraa
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
The pressure to "Be a sport" can be just as strong as the desire not to hurt someone with your refusal. :(

Yeah, me too. There are social circumstances now in which I would be extremely uncomfortable wearing a button that might as well say 'hi, I'm an angry and un-fun prude!', and that was way more true when I was younger.

And if I wound up wearing the "Yes, you can ask" button, the chances of my actually saying 'no' would drop like a rock, even if I wanted to, even if the asker skeeved me out, because I've been so conditioned to never make anyone feel bad, and to be obliging and agreeable.

It's scary.
zingerella
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
My understanding of the pressures of the word no lead me not to ask people for many things, because I don't want to put them in the awkward situation of having to say it to me.

this.

exactly.


zingerella
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
Sorry. That was incoherent. The pressure of the word no is something I've had a difficult time articulating and explaining for a very long time—it seemed so self-evident to me, and yet it's something that causes so many problems.

It can be very difficult to answer the question "Why didn't you just ask?"

Not sure if that's any more coherent, but it at least uses more words.
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
Sorry. That was incoherent. The pressure of the word no is something I've had a difficult time articulating and explaining for a very long time—it seemed so self-evident to me, and yet it's something that causes so many problems.

It was perfectly coherent the first time :). The challenge of living in any multi-cultural society is evident in the way we respond to things like this, because people from a different background (and this is generational as well as cultural, to make things harder) respond in different ways to the same things, so anything tricky has to be translated from context -- yours and theirs.

The idea that No is free is rational and logical.

The last time I lived with people who were entirely rational and logical on a consistent basis? Was never. People are people. They are always going to have emotional reactions because they are emotional. The level of rationality vs. emotional that anyone can tolerate is entirely individual; I tend to process on the higher side of rational than some people like, but I would never, ever claim to be unemotional.
gauroth
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes! 'No' not 'sorry' is the hardest word. Is that exclusively female brainwashing? Do men ever feel the same?

My reaction to the entire episode (after the nausea receded and the blood was simmering rather than boiling) was to think - a red button? Don't make me laugh! Any male who even considered asking for a grope (asking, forsooth! Mind, I suppose that's an improvement on just doing it anyway.) shouldn't imagine that offering to be the gropee in his turn makes it ok. A knee to his groin might, just might be a more equitable exchange.

Sorry. Blood simmering again.


msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes! 'No' not 'sorry' is the hardest word. Is that exclusively female brainwashing? Do men ever feel the same?

I know a lot of men who feel the same way. They are -- no surprise -- therefore alarmingly and comfortingly considerate.

And the button issue is stressful for me in other ways, which are entirely me and not the current event, so I've been trying to sit on that response, but believe that I understand the simmering.
(Deleted comment)
arouraleona
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
Honestly, the whole thing is stupid. We like to think that as adults we are comfortable with ourselves, our sexuality, and our expectations, but in a lot of cases we really just aren't! Asking people to opt-in (and at some point don't you HAVE to to get people to participate???) takes me back to childhood when you asked friends to jump of tall things or eat mud.

No, I don't want to... but... god, I don't wanna look like a BABY do I? No. No.

So, what I'm saying here is that your post, Kate's post, and pretty much everyone's post about this issue is valid and very intelligent. The original open source project seems, however, to be some teenage-boy's secret wishfulfillment... what would a little boy ask the genie if he really had three wishes? "Can I touch their boobs please." Sad really...
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
The original open source project seems, however, to be some teenage-boy's secret wishfulfillment...

To be honest, what came to mind first -- and I realize this sounds stupid -- is ... toddlers.

I have had any number of toddlers, most of whom aren't mine since I can only account for two of them, casually reach out to touch my breasts. They are often fascinated by them. I have frequently explained, quite gently, that they don't actually work anymore; there's no milk. This is not entirely gender dependent behaviour, either -- but more of the boys do it than the girls; I'm not sure why.

On the other hand, they seem to accept this explanation while their mothers are squirming in embarrassment for me.
arouraleona
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:36 pm (UTC)
Having never had children, I can only reply with my baby cousin who was a boob grabber until the age of 6. He would grab my boobs and the boobs of his teenage sister and friends. Of the boob-owning females he grabbed on to, I was the only one to object. The other girls would just laugh... partly my point, these girls thought since he was a kid, he didn't have to be responsible for these actions.

At 7, my cousin is one of the most sexist little boys I know.
msagara
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC)
I think at age 6, or 4 or 3, some corrective action is necessary.

But at 18 months or two years, there's not a whole lot of argument you can make (or that I can) that will really sink in, because for the most part you've hit a language and cognitive development wall. But in the cases of younger children, explaining that my breasts were in fact defective and that I had no milk seemed to make enough sense to them. But it wasn't a repeat problem, fwiw.

And this is not to say that it shouldn't bother you, or that you shouldn't have had an entirely different reaction. My own reaction was informed by the fact that, after childbirth, I never really thought of my breasts as sexual again; functional, yes; I assumed that small children who are not hormonal would see them the same way, because they were nursing or had nursed.
arouraleona
Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
That's a good point, the functional vs sexual. Having never seen my breasts as functional, I can't completely understand, but I do see where you're going with it.

And yeah, not much you can do about a hungry baby grabbing boobs. They might starve otherwise!!
coraa
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, thank you. I am of the people who find 'no' a very difficult word and who therefore minimize the occasions on which I have to say it or I'm likely to prompt others to say it. Whereas a number of my friends (including some women) are of the tribe of people who think that it's always fair to ask, because the other person can 'just' say no.

The hardest thing to adequately explain is why there's no 'just' about it. I always wind up tongue-tied and frustrated.
kate_nepveu
Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)
You should be aware that your freedom to ask is also your freedom to burden me, who grew up in a social context of which you must be completely and utterly unaware.

Yes, exactly.
shanrina
Apr. 23rd, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
I agree. I am one of those people who hates to say no, and yet it keeps coming up. I do whatever I can to avoid saying no, which means I've somehow managed to develop a whole host of ways around it. I think this was largely because even if I did say no, the person I was saying it to wouldn't accept it. (Not so much in sexual situations, thank God, but in other social contexts.) My best friends before I moved (and to this day, but they can't exactly invite me out on Friday night now that I'm not living there anymore) were terrible about doing this, which means I developed a host of knee-jerk reactions to questions like "Want to hang out?" that would be seen as reasonable excuses so that I wouldn't have to actually say no.

And yeah, I don't ask for things either. But I've honed hinting to a fine art, to the point where I generally don't have to outright ask for things from people who know me reasonably well anymore.

That said, I've gotten a lot better at saying no to the jerks in pickup trucks who stop me when I'm walking down the street to ask if they can give me a ride.
starlady38
Apr. 23rd, 2008 01:55 am (UTC)
Fascinating, and the original posts make me rather angry, but I find it interesting that in the time I've lived in Japan I've basically been given a crash course in
And yes, while in theory, 'no' is a perfectly acceptable, valid response, you are dumping the responsibility of it on me. You are not a part of my life. You are not someone I know. You should be aware that your freedom to ask is also your freedom to burden me, who grew up in a social context of which you must be completely and utterly unaware.

I believe I have less trouble saying "no" than other people (though I am certainly not free of that socialized "don't hurt their feelings" guilt), but in Japan, that idea of asking someone for something they can't give being a burden on them is so completely self-evident that people don't really try to hide their sense of "oh you are burdening me by asking me this" (though of course they never say that explicitly, that would be unforgivably blunt). So rather than imposing burdens, one learns not to ask at all, or to phrase the question in such a way that there's an opt-out built in.
msagara
Apr. 23rd, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
but in Japan, that idea of asking someone for something they can't give being a burden on them is so completely self-evident that people don't really try to hide their sense of "oh you are burdening me by asking me this"

And if my last name doesn't give it away, guess what 2nd generation cultural context I was raised in? Although to be fair to my mother, she wanted us to be able to say no, and to be able to evaluate circumstances and respond to them negatively if that was what they required, and I am not a good example, in general terms, of the more typical Japanese reticence in large part because of my mother.

But no one is entirely free of their own upbringing, my mother included, and some of that will be passed on because it's the way things are done and it seems natural and reasonable to the parent.
starlady38
Apr. 23rd, 2008 09:49 am (UTC)
I had wondered about that, given your surname. Well, kudos to your mother for her efforts, since the standard Japanese way to say no ("It's difficult") doesn't really translate into English very well. :-)
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )