What’s the one word we need to teach our daughters to be more comfortable saying? “No”.
While most of us would agree that teaching what defines active consent when it comes to sexual relationships is vital work (both how to say no, and how to accept it when one hears it from someone else) we are less likely to provide opportunities for our little girls to flex their freedom-to-choose muscles in social situations.
We tell them they should be friends with people they say they really don’t like, often without even first asking why they feel uncomfortable with that person (“You should be friends with everyone”), hug relatives they instinctively pull away from, and unquestioningly do as they are told.
They are encouraged to be seen (ornamental) yet rarely heard (sugar, spice and passively nice).
As women we may think we have moved beyond being girls who just can’t say no, and fought to finally find our own voices. But how often do even the most empowered of us still actively avoid difficult conversations?
To avoid telling the guy we met online that we’ve decided we don’t want to meet, we simply delete his profile and disappear like ghosts. When friends we no longer have anything in common with ask us out for drinks, excuses are made and we wait for them to get “the hint”. We silently sulk when we are unhappy with a decision our partner has made, hoping they’ll read our minds and change course.
It can certainly be difficult to set boundaries, those of us who are hard-wired for connection may be burdened afterwards with guilt. And there can be a backlash – women who say “no” may be labelled as bitches or ball-breakers.
Yet if we can find the sweet spot between passive and aggressive, in my experience assertiveness and honesty are both ultimately not only respected, but viewed as refreshing.
If we can start by being honest with ourselves, surely then we’d see too that all the people pleasing we do isn’t really pleasing anyone. Women often feel overworked, over-committed and frankly exhausted. Those closest to us can usually tell when we turn up looking tense, stressed and resentful.
As with most skills, practice makes perfect and starting off small can help build competence and confidence.
The next time you are at the shops and someone pushes in front of you, calmly explain the line starts behind you. When a family member assumes you will be happy to do something you don’t want to do, offer to show them how to do it themselves instead. If a colleague asks you to do a task that goes beyond your job description, explain this makes you uncomfortable and tell them why you don’t feel able to do it, or, if it suits you to complete the work, ask for the support you will need to get it done.
The key is to delivering an effective “no” is to be brief (long winded explanations only open up points for disagreement) and breezy (by staying calm and controlled, you will defuse the potential for the exchange to be seen as confrontational). Finally, don’t play at regrets afterwards.
When we say yes to more balance and to more authentic connections, we not only help ourselves but say to the little ladies in our lives who are forever watching us, “See, you can speak your truth too.”
We are vaccinating our girls against the disease to please.
This post was originally published by RendezView, 24/12/16.