Yes Means Yes, Most Other Stuff Means No

10 Mar

So I’ve got this friend who is trying to extract herself from a toxic, manipulative, classically emotionally abusive relationship.

She has successfully told him that she no longer wants to be with him but it seems that no matter what she says he just doesn’t understand.  She’s trying to be as nice about it as possible, to not make a scene at our workplace, to not make him angry, but when she’s friendly he takes it as a sign that she’s coming around and wants to get back together.

This whole shenanigan made me think of an article I read recently on the Yes Means Yes blog.  The article is fabulous and you should read it but to sum it up:

…the notion that rape results from miscommunication is just wrong.  Rape results from a refusal to heed, rather than an inability to understand, a rejection.

People (especially women) don’t like to say the word “no” as “no” is something called a “disfavored response” basically because it makes you look like a jerk and no one likes to look like a jerk.  Fortunately we have these things we can say instead of “no” called “softened rejections” (all quotes are from YesMeansYes).

Softened rejections look like this:

A:    Uh if you’d care to come and visit a little while this morning I’ll give you a cup of coffee.

B:     hehh Well that’s awfully sweet of you, I don’t think I can make it this morning. .hh uhm I’m running an ad in the paper and-and uh I have to stay near the phone.

Men and women alike use and understand these softened rejections on a daily basis which means that when someone tries to pressure you into doing something and you say “I’d love to stay the night but I, um, have to get up really early to feed my cat…bummer.” you’re issuing a rejection in the same way the other person does on a regular basis.

[Y]oung women responding to unwanted sexual pressure are using absolutely normal conversational patterns for refusals: that is, according to the research literature (and our own data) on young women and sexual communication…These features are all part of what are commonly understood to be refusals.

The researchers conclude:

…it is not the adequacy of their communication that should be questioned, but rather their male partners’ claims not to understand.

It seems clear then that young men, in these focus groups at least, are capable of displaying not only that they are competent at the offering of refusals, but also of hearing forms of female conduct (e.g. ‘body language’, […] the ‘shortness’,[…] or ‘abruptness’ of conversation, […]) as ways in which women may clearly communicate their disinterest in sex. It is also clear that the men can hear both ‘little hints’ […] and ‘softened’ refusals as refusals—thus statements like ‘it’s getting late’ […] or ‘I’m working early in the morning’ […] are not taken at face value as comments by women on the time or their employment schedule—but rather as indicators that, in the moderator’s words, ‘sex is not on the cards’. Of note here is that in none of the examples given do the men indicate that the explicit use of the word ‘no’ is necessary for a woman’s refusal of a sexual invitation to be understood as such.

The point being that rapists are people who (just like you) can hear those ‘little hints’ and ‘softened’ refusals.  However, they choose to ignore your refusals and push for a ‘yes’ because they believe that their desire for sex is more important than your desire not to have sex.

As the blogger, Thomas, points out:

I tell my niece, “if a guy offers to buy you a drink and you say no, and he pesters you until you say okay, what he wants for his money is to find out if you can be talked out of no.”  The rapist doesn’t listen to refusals, he probes for signs of resistance in the meta-message, the difference between a target who doesn’t want to but can be pushed, and a target who doesn’t want to and will stand by that even if she has to be blunt.

It follows that the purpose of setting clear boundaries is not to be understood — that’s not a problem — but to be understood to be too hard a target.

The coercive kind of rape which Thomas is referring to is akin to the relationship my friend seems entrenched in.  He is trying to coerce her into getting back with him and ignores her softened rejections, not because he can’t hear them but because he doesn’t want to listen to them.

This friend of mine is one of the nicest ladies I know.  Nice to a fault.  Nice enough that he’s been coercing her into doing things for a long time.  The problem she’s having right now is that she feels like because she’s using ‘softened’ refusals instead of (as I suggest) shouting the word NO every time he comes near her, it’s all her fault.

Much the same way a rape victim who willingly went over to a guy’s house, or even went over to a guy’s house intending to have sex, will be told that it’s her fault.

It is not her fault that he chooses not to respect her boundaries.

This results from HIS refusal to heed, rather than HER inability to make a clear enough rejection.

Do you have any words of advice for my friend?

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