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When No Feels Impossible
Your stories about the limits of consent and choice
Last week, we began a discussion of the limits of consent culture, when many women don’t feel free to give a “no” or may be exhausted by constant boundary-pushing questions. Next week, I’ll share highlights from our conversation about living in community and the difference between chronos and kairos time.
One anonymous commenter lamented how extensive the restrictions on her “no” feel.
I think consent culture and female socialization keep running up against each other and interfering with each other. A lot of women (myself included) have such a hard time saying no to anything at all, or breaking a social script, or going against what everyone else is doing... I find it hard to even say a straight "no" to a store cashier when they ask me if I want a rewards card (I always say "not today" like I'm going to go home and seriously contemplate the pros and cons of an Old Navy credit card or whatever).
Magdalen counted the costs and benefits of being prepared to give a “no!”
I think that a big effect that constantly being an enforcer of limits has had on me is that I have become much more aggressive, even towards people where I have no prior that they aren't asking in good faith. This makes me feel badass when I catch a man's arm in midair as he's trying to put it around me, but a little mean when I bluntly respond "No" if someone asks me to smile, or a stranger asks if they can give me a nickname (for some reason I get this one a lot, I guess "Magdalen" is too many syllables for some people).
While becoming more aggressive isn't always good, I think that my relative desensitization towards being firm even when it borders on impolite has allowed me to stick up for others when I need to.
Part of the problem, Febos observes, is that patriarchy has burrowed so deeply into our brains that its oppressions feel natural, freely chosen, rather than coerced. “We learn to adopt a story about ourselves—what our value is, what beauty is, what is harmful and what is normal,” she writes. “This training of our minds can lead to the exile of many parts of the self.”
Finally, I appreciated Nora’s point about how NFP (Natural Family Planning) means there’s sometimes a “no” that isn’t anyone’s choosing.
(Natural Family Planning is a ways of seeking or spacing pregnancy that relies of charting a woman’s fertile signs and avoiding or prioritizing sex during the fertile window).
One difference between NFP and other forms of pregnancy prevention is that contraception allows intercourse 365 days a year. Obviously for a lot of women that's a plus not a minus. But in private conversation, I've been interested to see how many women--in what they describe as very sexually happy and healthy marriages--nevertheless count periods in which they won't be asked if they want to have sex as a plus. They are often apologetic in tone when they say this, because they don't want it to sound like their husbands are pushy or that they don't enjoy sex. They're quick to say that neither of those are true! But they find saying yes and no tiring in some way. It's isn't even conveying yes or no, it's deciding yes or no in the first place.
Kate chimed in to say this didn’t match her own experience—she and her husband both found the decision of when to abstain very stressful.
The stakes always seemed high. Funny thing was, I later found out that it stressed out my husband in exactly the same way! In our attempts to be sacrificial and accommodating towards each other we inadvertently had a lot of uncomfortable sex that neither of us really wanted all that much.