For this week’s post and next, we’re going to be diving into components of sexual assault. We recognize this issue as one with many layers and complexities. There is so much to be said about healthy intimacy, and while we plan to introduce a variety of perspectives, we hope that you will share any other directions you’d like for us to explore, as we will likely continue to elaborate on other facets of sexual assault as our blog project continues. Email us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
Often we associate the word “no” with only a negative connotation. We have become familiar with the message that “no” is one of the worst things that can be said to us. “No” is equivalent to failure. “No” means that you have been rejected, and rejection means that your self worth has been threatened. But being told “no” does not explicitly indicate an attack on an individual’s worth.
Of course, being told “no” can be a huge bummer. “No, you did not get the job.” “No, you did not pass this class.” “No, we are out of that ice cream flavor”. “No, you cannot pet my puppy.” All of these situations obviously merit a night in your pajamas eating a gallon of ice cream (different flavor, of course) straight from the carton so that you can move forward from that two-letter word.
I don’t personally love the word. When it comes to asking someone for something, I anxiously avoid texts, emails, and eye contact with fear of facing those two letters. Rejection can range from life-changing to hardly noteworthy, but it can be tough to deal with regardless of the circumstances. Ultimately, I think we need to embrace “no” as a word with power.
We need to adjust the ways in which we express and receive “no”. We need to jump to a conclusion of accepting the word for what it is, rather than a personal rejection. When we combine this message of “no” being equivalent to failure or rejection with other messages of hyper-masculinity, we create a dangerous combination. (Let me be clear, I am in no way trying to relay the message that all men or masculine-individuals exhibit this dangerous combination). Societal pressures encourage heterosexual men to be sexual champions, achieving “successful” sexual encounters with multiple women. If they fail, they are ridiculed and their masculinity is undermined. This emphasis on rejection as failure, as well as a big ol’ pile of other factors, promotes rape culture and unhealthy expressions of control through sexual acts.
In addition to having difficulty dealing with the realities of a “no”, we are taught that saying it to another person makes us selfish or harsh or unaccommodating. Women especially are directed to avoid saying the word so they can compromise their own interests to serve the interests of those around them.
The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month… a topic I feel deeply passionate about and take very seriously. I firmly believe that it needs to be okay for any person, no matter their gender, to be able to safely and comfortably say “no” without consequence in an intimate setting. Their “no” does not have to be followed with a detailed explanation. Those two letters deserve unquestioned respect as they stand. Not receiving consent from your partner does not have to be understood as a personal rejection. It is all about each individual being empowered to make an informed, uncoerced decision for themselves and their body.
Let us bravely channel our energy into accepting “no” as a respectable, serious, and real response, and not a threat to our value as a person. And may YOU feel empowered to say, embrace, and celebrate the power between those two letters.
Next week: We feel that it is extremely important to mention that consent is not merely the absence of a “no”, but the expression of an affirming “yes.” Look for more on this next week!
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence, please seek support from friends, family, or professionals. There are communities who will advocate for you, embrace you, and guide you to resources.
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline 800-656-4673
Need more info on what consent is? Please please please ask! Here’s a good place to begin.