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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.


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.