Not allowed to say no

I started writing this post on May 26th. A couple of days later my personal life imploded (in addition to the world at large already being upside down) so I haven’t had much inclination to blog since then. I’ve been making use of my private journal instead, but I’m not sharing that emotional rollercoaster here. No way the general public is ready for that level of insanity. However, I’m starting to get to the point where I want to write posts for my webpage again. Here’s hoping my creativity lasts long enough for me to breathe life back into this poor neglected URL!

A few years ago I was at a race expo with my running buddies. I can’t remember which one now. We retrieved our bibs, picked up our shirts, and were subsequently perusing the rest of the booths to see if there was anything else we wanted. Usually at least one of us needed to stock up on energy gels and the like, and there are often some decent freebies like snacks, towels, and chapstick too. The three of us were wandering up and down the expo aisles when we passed a young man handing out fliers for some business or other. I honestly don’t remember what it was. Lots of companies man booths at race expos because thousands of runners have to attend to get their packets. This particular guy could have been working for a travel agency, a massage parlor, a nutrition company, or something else that runners might have an interest in. When he offered me the flyer I politely said, “No thank you.” This is my response to just about every employee handing out stuff at an expo because it feels wasteful to accept something that I can guarantee will be thrown in the trash the first chance I get. Races already stuff their mandatory “goodie” bags with all sorts of odds and ends that no one wants, so I try to avoid acquiring anything extra on the expo floor.

When I refused the flyer from this man he gave me a dirty look and let out an exasperated grunt. Under normal circumstances I would have ignored his response and walked away, but this time I got annoyed. I turned around and asked the guy, “Am I not allowed to say no?” He obviously hadn’t expected me to vocally object to his rudeness, but he managed to reply, “No.” To which I answered, “So don’t be a jerk about it!” I then caught up with my running buddies and told them what happened. Much to my surprise, one of my friends chastised me for my behavior. “You should have just taken the flyer! He was only doing his job!” I was taken aback. Logically I knew that this guy had no right to behave badly towards me since I hadn’t been discourteous to him in any way, but not being backed up was very jarring. I briefly questioned my reaction. Should I have just smiled sweetly and taken the unwanted piece of paper to mollify the dude? Quickly the answer came to me – absolutely not!

The problem, I realized, is that our society has taught women, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, to believe that they are not allowed to say no. A man asks for your phone number? Don’t say no because it will bruise his ego (and potentially cause him to become violent). Someone asks you for a favor? Don’t say no or else you’re selfish and uncaring of others. Your husband requests that you stay home half the day to wait for a repairman because he wouldn’t even consider taking time off work himself? Don’t say no because your career couldn’t possibly be as important as his, in spite of the fact that you both work in the same industry. Oh wait, that last one actually happened to me when I was married. On more than one occasion. It’s a tragedy how women are always called upon to be the peacemakers. There are so many examples. Disagree with a man over something? Just let him win the argument because everything will be easier that way. Your boyfriend or husband doesn’t complete a chore that he was supposed to do? Keep your mouth shut and just do it yourself to pacify the situation. Unfortunately women are groomed to be pleasant and conciliatory no matter the circumstances. Society uses words like “unladylike,” “bossy,” and “bitchy” when we aren’t. Heaven forbid you speak up when society compels you to stay silent. Heaven forbid you take charge when society tells you to be subservient. And heaven forbid you stand up for yourself when society has advised you to accept unfair or unequal treatment simply because you are a woman. This is what we need to change in the next generation. Ladies, you can say no!