When No Means Nothing

"No” is a powerful word, but it is also the most misinterpreted word in the English language. When someone says “no,” the first reaction you have should be to accept that they don’t want whatever it is you are asking of them, and that you should respect their wishes. However, there seems to be a trend in American society that “no” can be an opportunity to either persuade someone or to continue with the “right justification.” For example, if a woman of color asks another person not to touch her hair, the notion of telling someone not to touch a part of your body is often seen as a threat by the other person. When that occurs, the person becomes defensive and try to explain away their actions. They don’t usually apologize but instead act like they are hurt about being told not to do something. Another example is when a man pursues a woman even after she has said no. When its meaning is ignored like this, the word “no” loses its effectiveness and becomes dangerous.

When “no” loses its power, people get hurt. If a woman tells a man no to sex but the man continues to believe that the woman wants sex because he doesn’t take her “no” seriously, he is sexually assaulting her, whether he meant to or not. It is increasingly becoming a problem where men don’t really know when to stop because of the messages he sees on tv or from very misguided advice from his friends. In this particular instance of sexual assault, miscommunication and unwanted persistence lead to the woman getting hurt. Instances like these are terrible cases of rape that ruins a woman's life, when it could have been easily prevented by the man respecting her “no” and the woman being firm with her decision. More importantly, the man needs not to pursue so much once rejected. It is more than likely not going to be appreciated and it's going to make the woman be more resistant towards you. If she really wanted you, she wouldn't have said no.

To combat hurting people’s feelings when trying to be firm, we take to softer terms for the word “no.” We start to use phrases like “I don’t like it” or “I’d prefer if you don’t,” which can also create the illusion that there is still an opportunity for someone to convince another person that their advances are not that bad and that they should allow them to happen. There is a tendency in our society to compare our actions to something more obviously horrible so that “minor advances” and attempts to pressure others don’t seem that bad in comparison. This is counterproductive and it gets nobody anywhere toward a solution to fix the problem.

I think that this needs to change. “No” needs to get its effectiveness back and regain the respect it deserves. We shouldn’t demean those who use it either. If someone tells you “don’t use these pronouns,” why fight that person? Respect that person’s wishes and move on. If a person tells you not to touch their body, don’t try and convince them to let you. When people tell you don’t say a word or perform an action because it is offensive to them, don’t force them to justify their reasoning. When someone says “no,” respect it and move on.