Just Say Bullsh– I mean “No”

I’m feelin’ a little ranty over here.

We women are all the time hearing that we take on too much, and we need to learn to say “no” a bit more, to only take on what we can handle and what we actually want to handle. And when that’s said, it’s said so simply that it seems to ignore the people-pleasing, anti-no training that’s gone into generations of women.

This morning I’m throwing up my hands because one of the most practical and self-assured women I am privileged to know finds herself in a social/family situation in which she’s been asked to do something she’d rather not–for a number of good reasons. From my outside perspective, it seems perfectly reasonable for her to say, hey, thanks for asking, but I’d rather not, and this is why. And on the bright side, not doing that will leave me free to do this for you instead (something she wants to do which will actually be of more benefit to this person).

But instead of saying that, my friend is telling me she’s sent off an email, giving this person this alternative my friend would prefer, and “just hopes” the family member sees it in the same light.

What? Why should that be left in the other person’s court to decide if you really don’t want to do this?

Because, to do otherwise would have required saying “no.”

I was hanging out with a mom a know a bit ago, and she was telling me this story from her past in which she and several other vulnerable and inexperienced young women did not follow the rules laid out for them, and got themselves in an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. Now, the story turns out fine, but at the end of it, this very aggressive man who had intimidated these young women, asked if they wouldn’t give him hugs as they left. And my friend says, “I didn’t, I wasn’t going anywhere near him. But the other girls did. I don’t know why they would do that.”

Oh, I do.

In his book, THE GIFT OF FEAR, Gavin DeBecker relates a story about a young woman carrying groceries to her apartment, and being offered help by a young man. The woman politely refuses, the man pushes her, the woman acquiesces because it’s rude to keep saying no to someone who is offering to help you.  The fact that he’s telling the story, and the way that he’s telling it, the reader knows where this is going, and readily sees the escalation of events as the man pushes her boundaries, and eventually gains entry to her apartment.

Because, for those heavily schooled in people pleasing, it’s easier to ignore apprehension, disregard what are surely overreactive concerns for personal welfare, and even dismiss the squick of making bodily contact with a loud-mouthed, obnoxious, skeezy asshole than it is to be rude and possibly cause discomfort to someone else.

Objectively, it’s a seething cauldron of Whatthefuck, and yet, it is what it is, and how it is for so many women.

I don’t think we can keep teaching our girls to say “no” solely “when it’s important.” I don’t know, maybe that part of your brain that allows you to respond in those situations doesn’t know how to tell the difference. Maybe, in that part of your mind, there’s no difference between refusing a favor you don’t have time for, a responsibility you don’t want, or to continue a conversation with a man who invades your personal space.

If you don’t have the money, and you really don’t want to parade around pregnant, in uncomfortable shoes, in some mockery of a bridesmaids dress, if all of that discomfort isn’t worthy of your polite “thanks but no thanks,” where, exactly, is your line in the sand?

Well, for all of you reading, you’re thinking clearly the line in the sand would be here, or here, or here.

Except for those of you who have been there, defaulted to training, and then are left asking yourselves why you were so stupid?

Ever get in your car to go somewhere and turned left, even though where you’re going was to the right? And you’re like, well, that was brilliant, but you know that you turned left because you turn left there to go to work every day and, with your mind on other things, you turned left. Out of habit.

Yeah, when I’m totally uncomfortable, nervous, maybe scared, and completely out of my depth, that’s when my brain really kicks in to see things clearly and make the best decisions. Not.

The stupidity, I submit to you, is to fail to call bullshit. Just like your brain doesn’t see the real difference between a lifetime of putting up with discomfort to avoid saying “no,” and saying “no” in the “when it matters” moment, neither will your daughter readily understand why it’s okay for you put yourself last over and over and over again, but she’s supposed to put herself first, you know, “when it’s important.”

Can we just, like, stop? Can we, maybe, help each other out of our conditioning? Remind each other that “being polite” and “never causing a moment’s displeasure to anyone” are not the same thing?

I mean…damn.

And for chrissakes, next time someone goes on all long-winded and you really have to pee, call a time-out and go. OMG, who would mind that? Next time someone calls when you’re up to your elbows in bread dough, tell them (not “hey, would you mind if I,” but “hey, I gotta”) call you back in 10.

Teach your own brain that you matter.

/rant. Now go write me some books about strong women who reject bullshit.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Just Say Bullsh– I mean “No”

  1. I love this post, Susan. And if I had my arms in bread dough, I wouldn’t even answer the phone. LOL

    I don’t know why we have such a hard time saying no. I finally had to start saying no to people who wanted me to fix the formatting of their book for free or review their book (these are people I don’t even know), etc. I have the hardest time saying no to things at church, but there’s sort of a satisfaction in doing those things. But you better believe I’m going to say no to some weird guy who wants a hug.

    Yes, we have GOT to start taking better care of ourselves, and MANY times that involves saying no. We need to be stronger.

  2. I just finished reading Gift of Fear a couple of weeks ago, and it came to mind before I’d made it far into your post. Seeing it mentioned outright thus made me cheer. Like you (and de Becker), I would love to see young women–all women–taught to say unequivocal “nos,” whenever they are called for.

    Until I read that book, I didn’t really understand why some folks have disliked me for being “bitchy” when I was simply being straightforward. Reading that book helped me see it in a different light, and be grateful. Iwwould rather be disliked than distressed.

    • As long as we’re dissing, it’s like being disarmed.
      For me, being around self-assured women has required real adjustment, a need to really “see” the intent behind their words and actions, because their perspective is so much different from what I was given. Calling that straightforwardness “bitchy” is just as wrong as calling the girl in deBecker’s story “stupid.” Possibly more so, since what she was taught was pretty stupid, it’s just not on her, and every time we put down an assertive woman, that’s on us.

  3. My wife struggled with this. It doesn’t help that she’s the center of the family and takes care of/is expected to take of lots of issues. She’d pack her day to the point that it was filled with other people’s things. She doesn’t hate helping people, especially family, but it wasn’t helping her stress level saying yes to everything.

    She’s gotten better and has certain things that are just for her. She won’t reschedule them unless there’s an extreme emergency and it’s made her much happier. She still helps the family, but now she gets her Me time.

  4. This is so true. I learned in my early 20s (around the time I validated myself as both a human being and an artist instead of “someone pretending to be an artist”) that I couldn’t please everyone so I had to at least please/be true to myself. I still feel guilty for acting that way though, saying “no” when I have to, not bending over backwards for my family, etc. We’re raised to be polite and “nice”, but at what cost?

  5. Bill Hunter

    I like your post, but I think it can be applied to boys as well. As a single father of two boys, I wear many hats. Teaching a boy to be a proper man that respects people which includes himself and to do the right thing can be difficult. But it must be done. Maybe it is the old Marine in me, but I value Integrity, Respect and Honor. I teach it to my sons daily. I think if everybody would learn or teach these three principals our world would be a better place.

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