Updated: Apr 6, 2022
There is so much on my mind and so much I want to say, I don’t know where to begin. The other day I saw a post on FB about a woman’s experience while wearing a t-shirt that read simply, No.
I hear myself read that out loud in my head:
“No … PERIOD”
The post and its comments have been swirling in my head … attached to so many other internal messages and cultural programming. All of it tangled up like a ball of string. No and yes and the power of those two words.
I did a web search yesterday for “Yes quotes”. It gave me:
“Just say yes“
“Say yes to life!”
“Life is a lot more fun if you say yes rather than no”
“Yes is more”
“Always say yes”
Just to name a few.
I get it. It’s the whole love and light positivity message and being open to new adventures.
I get it. It’s good.
But here’s the thing. Women are already programmed to say yes. We are the caregivers, the nurturers, the mothers. We are taught to be givers. “Of course I will bring a 3 dozen cookies for the first grade event tomorrow”, “Yes, I can keep your 3 year old on Saturday”, “Of course, I will pick you up at the Atlanta Airport at 5 pm on a Friday. No problem at all”.
You’ve heard the expression, “No is a complete sentence.” That was written for women.
Men are already aware of that. It isn’t even an issue for them. Not even on their radar.
But women, we make all manner of excuses when we consider saying no, because saying no is not nice. And if I can explain to you why I have to say no and get you to understand, then maybe you will “agree” with me, i.e. give me permission to say no. Yes, I am aware I don’t speak for all women, but I’ll bet there are a fuck ton of you out there who know exactly what I am talking about.
We are taught from the time we are little girls that saying no is selfish, and selfish is bad.
We are taught that it is better to be “good”. We are taught that we are responsible for other people’s feelings. And good girls share. Good girls do not upset anyone. Good girls do not get angry because it’s unattractive and undesirable. It makes us look bad.
Good Girls always put others first.
That reminds me of a post I saw going around FB a couple of years ago. A woman’s friend had died of cancer. The woman who made the post wanted to honor her friend’s memory.
She had this to say:
"The entire time Alison was fighting this battle, there was not one moment that she did not put her friends before herself. Despite the intense struggles she faced on a daily basis, she selflessly acted as a rock for many of us, setting her own troubles aside to offer a shoulder to cry on. She would rather lose sleep after an exhausting chemo treatment than not show up to support a friend's race or give a birthday hug at one of our many theme parties. And yes, she was still the best dressed."
In her words, I saw the insidious programming around women’s unlimited giving to others of our time, our energy, and even our health. The woman exalted her friend’s actions. She held them up as angelic even, a role model for which to strive - the best of the best.
But all I could think was I wonder how it would have impacted her health and the remaining days of her life if she had said no. No to others and a resounding YES to herself.
I am speaking of healthy boundaries. I am speaking of balance.
I did not hear balance in the words of the woman’s post. I heard sweeping global terms and extremes. Yet, when I posted how it broke my heart and wrote about the act of saying no, a friend of mine, (who is a cancer survivor herself), responded. Wise words, she gave me. She pointed out that for some, it is good self-care to turn one’s attention toward helping others. It can take one’s mind off of your own struggle. I am reminded of my mother. She battled chronic and debilitating depression. Sometimes when she was particularly blue, she would go downtown and volunteer at the women’s shelter. She always returned home with a renewed perspective.
In reading my comment to that post two years ago, I cringe at my response to my friend. Not my best. If I had it to do over again, I would respond differently. It is obvious to me I wanted to “make her see” the imbalance of the message in the post. I wanted to “make her see” how unhealthy it was. But that’s not my job, and there is great arrogance in thinking I know what other people need. My reaction to my friend said a whole lot more about me than it did her.
I grew up in the south, a family of 6 females and my father. I was born in 1957. I could write volumes about my own programming and the Good Girl Archetype. It’s why the woman with the “No.” t-shirt and her experience hit me so hard. There are mixed messages in this whole Yes/No thing, and it’s a real mind fuck. Think about it:
It’s better to be a Good Girl. Good girls are always loving and giving and patient, and nice and sweet, and never upset anyone. They always put others first. That means saying yes to others and no to self. After all, it is selfish to say no to others. We must always be there for them.
Always loving and giving and “on call” in case they need us. Good girls say yes.
Okay, so now combine this with the message “Nice girls don’t”, “Bad girls say yes to boys”. “Bad girls get what they deserve.” So ... good girls say no to boys? But wait. If I am a “good girl” then my needs come last and his needs come first. So how does that work? Are you beginning to see how this perpetuates Rape Culture? No wonder the woman in the t-shirt got the responses from men that she did. This shit is so tangled up! If a woman is sexual or enjoys sex (puts her needs first or at the very least values what she needs) then what is she?
Yeah, that’s right. She’s a slut, a whore, loose, easy, and on and on.
You see what a mind fuck this is?
This Yes/No thing is something I have been untangling for a lifetime. It seems to be attached to everything. I was not taught healthy boundaries. Hell, I wasn’t taught healthy relationships. Healthy relationships have healthy boundaries, so yeah, that was pretty much foreign to me.
Now I practice saying no to others and yes to myself. I practice economy of words.
I need a LOT of practice in that department. But that’s what practice is, after all.
It is consistent and regular. Practice is not about perfection or even an end goal where it all stops. It is something that continues on. The thing I associate most with practice? Growth.
I value growth. So, I will keep on practicing and learning and growing. As I do, I will share it with you. Maybe it will resonate and we can connect. That’s something else I value. Connection.