Why Does No Mean Something Different Based on Who Says It?

The word "NO" painted in white paint on concrete
Image by Dan Brady / CC BY

Today’s article is a guest writing from Justin Case.

Geek by day, geek by night, Justin Case grew up in a town without stoplights and developed his impressive mechanical skills by taking apart toasters when he was still in diapers (thankfully, he survived those early experiments and is still with us). An engineer who specializes in systems, he’s found this background to translate rather well to problem-solving in polyamorous relationship systems.

Justin Case manages all the technical systems for Poly Land and co-runs Braided Studios, promoting education and awareness about alternative relationships of all types alongside his partner Page Turner.

Justin originally wrote this essay several years ago after a difficult experience, and after persistent urging from Page, Justin agreed to let her publish it here:

Why Does No Mean Something Different Based on Who Says It?

An encounter, as relayed to me by a friend, many years ago.

A friend of mine went to a party, intent on having a good time with close friends. She was drinking quite a bit,and enjoying herself. And everything went great for the most part. However, a guy there really wanted to make out with her and kept telling his male friends. They decided that they would try to convince her that she should go “talk” to him about it, and maybe make out. She said no. That she  wasn’t interested. She went back to drinking, and was quite past the legal limit already.

This wouldn’t be a story if that was the end of it.

Several men approached her and tried to change her mind. They said, “He just wants to talk to you.” But through winks and previous conversations, it was clear they were trying to play matchmaker.

After several drinks, the men started getting more and more persistent. Suddenly, three of them converged on her, dragging her along, beseeching her to go talk to this guy alone.

Afraid, drunk, and not knowing what to do, she resisted the best she could, saying no. She tried to laugh so as not to offend the guy, who didn’t really have much to do with the situation. She didn’t want to offend. But she was being physically manhandled to the point where she was being dragged. She was scared.

They eventually let go. But to this day, the men tell her “you acted like such a bitch.” Or, “Oh yeah, she’s usually nice, but she was a real cunt this one time.” They generally blame her for the incident and for hurting this man’s feelings. Something that, if viewed properly, looks more like an assault leading toward sexual assault.

She was drunk and thus had no ability to consent. Yet she is blamed to this day for having to be physically dragged to go talk to this person and resisting said force. It’s a pretty awful situation, but she still hangs out with these people.

She’s told that she “could have handled it better,” but that feels almost in line with victim blaming to me.

This Didn’t Happen to a Friend

Now stop, and switch the genders. A man being converged on and dragged against his will to “talk” with the general impression that this person wants to make out with them, when he is rather drunk and doesn’t want to. He’s told that he acted like an ass and “could have handled it better.”

This happened to me, and I’m still blamed to this day for being a jerk. It’s brought up as “that one time you weren’t a nice guy.” I’m blamed for hurting a woman’s feelings.

However, I was rather drunk, and instead of my trusted friends realizing that and helping me out, my female friends physically dragged me along a floor with the intention that I make out with someone I had no intention of making out with.

I’m conflicted. I feel like I’ve been done a wrong, but most everyone there had been drinking, and all but one of the woman that did this blame me for how I was acting (which, by the way, was saying no and trying to laugh it off so that they would stop).

These are the same women that say things like “the word no is a full sentence.” Or, “No means no, and doesn’t require an explanation.”

Gender Expectations and Consent

It’s a very interesting case of gender expectations that I’m blamed for this situation. I, personally, do not feel I handled it badly. In fact, I’m afraid to get too drunk around these people for fear that they’ll try something like that again and I won’t have enough wits about me to counteract them quickly enough.

If it were men doing this to a woman, it’d be a clear case of attempted sexual assault. When it’s women doing it to a man, people think the guy is a jerk.

Now, I’m not going to go down the road equating the two, one for one. There is a lot of privilege here: I’m a white, middle-class male. The only thing worse would be if I were rich. I do not deal with the constant barrage that many women deal with, or minorities, etc.

However, I do feel that the word “no” should hold equal weight with both genders. That my refusal should not have been ignored, and I should not have been physically accosted to further their own ends.

That’s all I’d really like any of you to take away from this: “No” is a full sentence, no matter that person’s gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

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Thanks, Justin!

Poly Land is always on the lookout for different perspectives on polyamory and relationships in general.

If you have an idea for a guest blog post that you’d like to run by us, here’s a link to a post with examples of work that we’ve published in the past as well as our Submission Guidelines.

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