My mother is a 7th degree black belt, and she raised me in a martial arts studio. One day I asked her what my first word was as a baby. She laughed and answered, “No!”
“No” is a classic strategy in self defense and sexual assault prevention. Everyone has heard “No means no” or seen women in self defense classes with their hands raised screaming, “NO! BACK OFF!!” Unfortunately, in my experience teaching women’s self defense, I don’t see many women coming into my classes who feel confident about using this simple word.
If you don’t feel comfortable saying no to people, I don’t blame you. Women are taught in our society to put others needs before our own, to be pleasant and polite, to let others speak first and not to interrupt. These deeply ingrained lessons can be serious barriers to standing up for ourselves.
I ask women what stops them from saying no and they answer the same way every time:
“I don’t want to be mean.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
“I just feel so uncomfortable I don’t know what to say!”
I’m waiting for the day when someone can give me one good reason that explains why saying “no” is mean. We’re not talking about saying “Get out of my face, loser!” We’re talking about say “No.” or even “No, thank you.” Sounds pretty polite to me!
You know what’s not polite? What really makes people feel uncomfortable? Discounting the word no. For most women, this happens so often, they don’t even notice it anymore.
“Hey, can I buy you a drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“Come on! How about a shot?”
“Really, I’m fine…”
I mentioned this concept to one of my students the other day and she lit up with recognition immediately at the thought of it. “Yes!” she said, “It’s like every time I have to turn someone down for any reason I internally prepare to defend my reasons.”
We don’t need a reason to say no! We can say no whenever we feel like it.
“Can I buy you a drink?” “No.” “Oh come on…” “I said no, and my answer is not going to change.” (walk away)
I have very rarely had men in social situations respect my use of the word no immediately, except in situations where I was forced to step slightly beyond basic assertiveness to protect my girlfriends. You may not notice it because they might be acting nice, or maybe they are making a nice offer.
“Here, let me help you with those groceries.”
“No thank you, I’m fine.”
“Come on, there’s such a thing as being too proud, you know.”
This example is from Gavin deBecker’s The Gift of Fear. The woman finally let the man help her with her groceries, after which he followed her into her apartment and raped her. She ignored her initial instincts of fear, but they later helped her to escape safely even though her attacker had a gun and had intended to kill her.
If you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, you are a good person. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable! If someone discounts your “no”, they are consciously making you uncomfortable. They are not stupid. They know you feel awkward and they are counting on it. This person does not deserve your consideration. They are not worried about your feelings, so you don’t need to worry about theirs. No apologies, no excuses– Just say “no”.