I wrote this a couple of months ago before the hashtag #metoo started trending.
On one hand it makes me happy and proud that all these strong women come forward and unite to raise awareness on social media about all the different ways of sexual assault we have to deal with on a daily basis. On the other hand, that many women speaking out about their personal experience is just once again proof that even if it’s not all men doing it, there are far too many that get away with sexual assault and way too many who stay silent when their friends are saying something inappropriate about and to a woman or even look away when their harassment becomes physical. I would like to encourage all the men who always claim #notallmen to support the “me too” movement since sexual assault isn’t a female but a male issue. Silence can mean violence.
No Means No.
A sentence I am sure you have heard a lot.
If a person tells you to leave her or him alone you must respect that. Yet, there are so many incidences that girls tell me when a boy clearly did not understand what that means. In fact, I cannot think of a single female friend of mine who has never encountered a situation where she was either verbally or physically abused. Therefore, this topic clearly calls for conversation. What we have to understand, is that not only shouting “NO!!!”, while physically defending ourselves, means No.
When a man approaches you in a way you don’t want him to, there are lots of thoughts and feelings which might stop you from actually screaming at him. It may be that you feel scared that if you anger him, he will get violent. Thus, after trying to tell him in a “polite way” that you don’t like him talking to you or even touching you, you stay quiet in order to stay safe. Or it may be that you feel ashamed, even blame yourself for his behaviour. “Did I give him a sign?” or “Is my skirt too short?” may be thoughts which cross your mind. And especially if he tells you “C’mon, I know you want it. You have been flirting with me the whole evening!” the situation can quickly get out of hand. You might be in a state where you don’t understand what is happening, at a party, intoxicated, your consent overlooked without you even having the chance to say No or Yes. Or you may simply be asleep, a vulnerable situation where you only realise what is going on once it is already too late.
Another thing is that you might feel like there are people you are not supposed to say No to. For example, it is supposed to be your ‘duty’ as a girlfriend or wife to give your unconditional consent, since after all he has touched you before so why would you say no now? He might tell you to “Stop being all weird!” and consequently you would sleep with him because you are afraid to hurt or even lose the other person.
It is never okay if somebody treats or touches us in a way we do not want them to.
No matter what we did before and who we deal with, it is never our fault if somebody does not respect us and our body. We have every right to talk about being disrespected and to fight against that, either during the situation itself or after it has happened. We also need to understand that if we let someone get away with disrespecting us they will consider it no big issue and will continue to treat other people that way. I know incidences of boys forcing themselves onto girls while they were peacefully sleeping next to them because “Why would they even share a bed with them if there is no sex involved?”. To them, the sleeping girl clearly asked to be touched. Or examples of boys taking advantage of girls being high or drunk because “Why would she even come by with a bottle of wine wearing this dress if she didn’t want it anyways?”. Or even boyfriends threatening to leave their girlfriends if they were not up for trying certain things, because they could not imagine that she would ever want to deny her man.
What we have to realise is that it is always a No before it turns into a clear Yes.
A clear Yes is her kissing you back or even starting the kiss. It is her touching you while smiling. A clear Yes is never having to convince her to do anything because she is showing you that she wants it. A clear Yes can also change back into a No. Most importantly, if you are not sure whether or not it is a clear Yes, there is a simple way to figure it out: Just ask her. Ask her if you kissing her is fine or if you touching her in certain places is okay with her. I ensure you that every woman prefers that you ask for her consent too many times rather than you not that one time.
Words by Hannah Wolny
Photo by Amuna Wagner