When women say ‘no’, is it considered assault? Are women conditioned to be less assertive based on femininity?
When women say ‘no’, is it considered assault? Are women conditioned to be less assertive based on femininity?
Women Uninterrupted is an intergenerational podcast that brings you difficult, different, uninterrupted conversations about being a woman.
In season 2 episode 10, a panel discussion between five women: a psychologist, a mother of teenage children who always say ‘No,’ two 12-year-olds, and an older woman conditioned to please the world without stepping on anyone’s toes. no one. with a no
Host: Anna; Guests: Anuja, Vandana, Maya and Saanvi
Edition: Saanvi & Maya; Title Music: Maya’s The Carpet Beat
The Women Uninterrupted podcast was produced by The Scribbling Pad for The Hindu.
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Femininity: the POV of a preteen
By Saanvi Khetan, 12
Femininity is defined as qualities or attributes considered to be characteristic of women. These are not inherent in women, but are considered acceptable by society. One of these qualities is never saying no.
While making this episode, I noticed that while the rest of us came from an upbringing where we were never forced to conform to what is considered feminine, our host, Anna, did. She had to learn to circumvent her Noes, in a way that could be considered manipulative, in contrast to my own upbringing, where I was told to stand my ground.
When women say No, or present ideas or thoughts that are considered unconventional or bold, they are considered aggressive, while if men do the same, they are considered assertive. Women feel pressured not to say No, taking on meaningless tasks; things that would benefit those around them more than themselves, like having coffee for a meeting, etc.
Society still expects women to be feminine, and finds it threatening if they are not. These expectations to be calm, sophisticated, elegant, caring, kind, gentle, collected, sensitive, and never say No are ingrained from birth and are imposed on women all over the world.
Some parents raise and condition their daughters to be feminine and submissive. The traditional fairy tales they read to their daughters make the girls believe that men are superior and that they need to be saved by their Prince Charming.
As for me, I was presented with no expectations of never saying No. I was taught that I was as good as men and could do anything they could do. As a child, I didn’t watch Disney princess movies that promoted ‘femininity’, like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. On the other hand, I saw movies like Frozen, Moana, and Brave, the most recent Disney movies that had opposite perspectives. She even read a book every night called Bedtime Stories for Wild Girls.
All in all, I believe that women should be raised in an environment where it is socially acceptable to say No when necessary. No, directly no.
Full text of the conversation.
The text has been edited for clarity.
Maya: This is the Women Uninterrupted podcast presented by The Hindu. This is the space where we host difficult conversations between different generations of women.
Anna: Hi, I’m your presenter Anna on Women Uninterrupted and with me I have Vandana, a counselor. I also have Anuja, a professional who has been active for 23 years. And two 12-year-old boys, Maya and Saanvi. This episode is about women and assertiveness, about women making their presence felt, about women saying no and setting boundaries.
A very warm welcome to Maya, who inspired this episode, with her unique and confident ways of saying No.
Maya: No, directly No. I just said no.
Anna: Let me pass this mic to Anuja, who has been on the receiving end for 12 years as Maya’s mother. How does Maya’s No make you feel, Anuja?
Anuja: Distressed, upset, angry, but ultimately happy, because I feel that Maya will grow up to be a woman who is able to assert herself and say No. But right now, Vandana, I need help. How do you handle children who constantly say no?
Vandana: There are certain things you can definitely try, especially when they’re a bit young. So one is called as the reward and the punishment. There is another thing you can try, which is called a token economy. So here, every time the child has a particular task, you give him a token. Make sure this token doesn’t have any particular value. They need to collect some tokens, say 11 to 12, and exchange them for a reward they really want.
Anuja: Vandana, I have used some of these techniques in my upbringing. But now when I have a tween and a teen, I try to explain to them the consequences, the differences, and what that No really means.
Anna: Anuja, personally, I watch Maya and learn from her. Let me tell you, out of all the conversations I had with the four women prior to filming this episode, I realized that, well, I’m the only one who was under pressure to be less visible, less assertive as I got older. a woman in the 1980s. Every summer when I was a child, I would return to my hometown with my parents. And when I hit puberty, it was pretty amazing how premiums were expected to suddenly change. In many of our relatives’ houses, the women did not sit across from the men, and I began to notice that. We cooked what the men wanted; we made sure the men got their tea, their water and food, more and more food all the time. Very good food, yes. I remember in seventh grade, I was sitting at my grandmother’s table. She lived in this house by the river. I was listening to an older relative telling me about his travels. And my grandmother was looking at me with blank eyes and I couldn’t understand why she was pacing back and forth until she finally told me, “Go to the kitchen; I’m sure there is something for you to do there. She really wasn’t at the age where she had started cooking for the family. I was confused. I was injured. She told me that this is not your place. This kind of being subtle… it’s not subtle… this kind of sexism stays with you – this regulation of women’s conversations and invisibility. And sometimes it’s imposed by other women and you have to work really hard to get out of it and understand it well, being yourself and having a voice doesn’t mean you’re aggressive and bold like they used to say back then. .
Let me pass the microphone to Saanvi. She wrote the blog for this episode. She has a question about the workplace for Anuja.
Saanvi: So, I was wondering when men and women say no in the workplace, do those around them perceive it differently?
Anuja: Honestly, there is bias in the workplace just like anywhere else. So some of them are unconscious, some of them are conscious, and sometimes when I look back I realize that a woman who is assertive when she says no is sometimes perceived as aggressive. It has happened to me too. And what I’ve realized over time is to understand where it’s coming from and fix it because ultimately, as you go up the corporate hierarchy, you need to stay focused on your work. And one needs to be able to assert oneself and express one’s views in the best possible way. So there are many techniques to do this and in my opinion this is not necessarily associated with genres.
Anna: I wonder about that. In early 2022, four academics wrote a book called The No Club which has made headlines. You have an analysis of how employees spend their time at work in a certain American company. And it found that the average woman put in about 200 more hours per year than the average man in unpromotable work. The authors of the book call it NPT, or non-promotable tasks. Women were asked to do these tasks more often and answered ‘yes’ to them more often than men because what is considered assertive behavior in a man may be interpreted as aggressive in a woman. And we all know the words devil, shrew, dragon lady, witch, termagant, fish wife. These words were once reserved for women who assert themselves and set limits, while a man in the same place is just stubborn. We have (certainly) come a long way.
Anuja: How is it in your classrooms, Saanvi… do you see any difference between the boys and girls in your class when it comes to saying No?
Saanvi: Actually, I’ve noticed that most of the boys in my class are more open and loud than the girls. They always say what they think, while girls are much more quiet and shy.
Anna: Saanvi, may I ask why you think this is so? Because you wrote on your blog that you have not been conditioned to be feminine in the old sense. And presumably all the girls in her class, all those 12-year-olds, have had a similarly progressive upbringing. So why do you think that happens?
Saanvi: Oh, I think for me personally, it’s because all the girls around me are like that. And I feel like if I decide to be loud and loud, I won’t fit in with them. And I’m not sure, but I think it’s like that for all girls in some way. Even if they are not trying to fit in with their classmates, they would have realized that in their families, their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts would have been less assertive than men. And I think they might have realized that, unconsciously mirroring them. I don’t think they were told to act in a certain way, rather they learned from the actions of those around them. Of course, all of that is just my guess.
Anuja: And you, Maya?
Maya: Well, honestly, in my classroom, everyone speaks their mind and wants to be heard.
Anuja: Vandana, does it have something to do with the way men and women are wired differently?
Vandana: So in counseling, this nature versus nurture debate is something that, you know, gets talked about a lot. So in the days of the cavemen, it was the men who were supposed to protect the home, protect the people from wild animals and go hunting, and the women had more to do with, you know, taking care of to the children, taking care of the family, ensuring that there is a connection that is seen. But right now, it has changed. Both men and women work and both are very independent of each other. So it’s more about how we deal with things, how we respond to things, rather than, you know, sticking to the old beliefs of nature versus nurture.
Anna: Thank you, Vandana, for the counselor’s point of view. I think that having a voice and being able to say no is a privilege and a luxury for many women. In 2021, the UN Population Fund surveyed girls and women in 57 developing countries. They found that only 55% of them can decide whether to have sex, whether to use contraception and when to seek medical care. Being assertive for these women can have harsh consequences for not complying. Acid attacks, for example, are particularly common in South Asia by men who feel entitled to a woman’s attention and time. They will punish a woman for being disobedient in what they feel is the most invisible way. So how do we normalize all women’s rights to decision-making? Decoupling assertiveness from femininity, and saying No, in all sorts of ways, as the four women in front of me have done.
Maya: Coming out of Women Uninterrupted, the intergenerational space for difficult conversations presented by The Hindu.