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Teaching a Man what "Soft No" Means

Tags: women woman soft


I saw this on another website and got permission to repost it here. That site requires you to log and I know not everyone here is a member there. I feel this an important point many people just don’t get. I know it’s long, but it’s totally worth the read.

Teaching a Man what “Soft No” Means

I had a difficult conversation recently with a young man who grew up outside the United States. He’s been struggling with dating Women here, being confused by mixed signals and communication differences. He’s accustomed to being very direct without offense being meant or taken, and hearing others be direct without taking offense himself.

He talked to me about a few young women he’s had dates with or met at parties or online and showed me some of the conversations he’s had with them that’ve been confusing. From what I could tell, some of it boils down to women in his age range being barely out of adolescence and learning how to navigate abundant sexual choices and autonomy. A lot, though, comes from American women not communicating very directly and giving what he takes (quite understandably) as mixed signals.

After hearing examples of the mixed signals he’s gotten, another Woman and I talked to him about how American women are taught to give a “soft no” instead of a clear “no.” We told him that if a woman here demurs the first couple of times he asks her out and she doesn’t suggest an alternate time, it means “no.” I suggested that he ask a particular woman if it was alright for him to stay in contact with her and wait until she had time between semesters to see him and to be sure to tell her that it was ok for her to say no. He was confused by this. Why would she need him to tell her it was ok for her to say no?

The other woman and I explained to him what happens when American women (as well as some other cultures) say no without apologizing for it or making excuses. We cited a number of the ways we’re punished for thinking that “no” is a complete sentence, and that it largely boils down to ego and whether a man feels he’s been insulted by rejection, especially if others witness the rejection. He asked if we were serious or whether we were exaggerating. I told him that I have been raped, beaten, fired from jobs, harassed and stalked when I’ve rejected men (and some women). He looked at the other woman and asked if this was common. She said yes. If a woman doesn’t give a soft no (in a variety of circumstances), she’s considered rude or hostile. Most people accept that she is likely to be punished in some way for not making it easy for the person asking to save face.

We explained to him that it is important to let women know that it really is ok for them to say no and that they don’t owe him an explanation, and that he’s interested but will fully respect their wishes. That was difficult for him to process. I acknowledged that it’s a vulnerable position to be in - saying “I desire” and “I feel” and “I hope” without knowing whether interest is mutual - and he was surprised that I understood. The other friend agreed that it is not easy, but that the reassurance of respect no matter what will help a woman feel more secure in responding more clearly instead of dodging til a pursuer gets the hint. Or for her to say yes, I am interested, and to take things from there.

I felt awful when I saw the look on his face after my friend and I had explained the consequences women face when saying no. He looked sick and shaken. It is sick that we communicate this way. I told him that women are having to be taught that “no” is a complete sentence and to feel calm and be ok with saying that and not feeling obligated to equivocate. It means there are still risks, but assessing situations in which saying no and nothing more is a lower risk means we can start shifting slowly into a generation where soft nos are not the default setting.

I don’t envy the guy. Luckily, he has plentiful brains, is respectful, and is mindful of the reality of other perspectives. Hopefully, the learning curve won’t be too brutal.

EDIT: Because this sums it up so well and it can easily get lost in the thread, I’m reposting the link @foundapnut posted: Mythcommunication: It’s Not that They Don’t Understand; They Just Don’t Like the Answer

EDIT 2: Anyone that’s coming in to make personal insults or jumps on any discussion involving gender differences as an opportunity to bash feminists, or anyone who’s just plain coming on hostile and shitty … I don’t have time for the crap. I’m here to discuss an issue with people who have thoughts about it that go beyond FEMINISTS R STOOPID and U R BALD HA HA and THAT’S NOT MY EXPERIENCE; THEREFORE, EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD ADOPT MY WAY. You don’t have to agree to a damned thing, but you do have to be civil and you do have to contribute something better than “Nuh uh, that’s stupid” or a sneering diatribe about how much feminists suck. It my journal, it’s my post, and me deleting posts that are derailing or just hostile is not because I cannot handle your version of reality, but because you’re wasting page space and clogging up the tubes. Let the people who actually want to discuss the subject discuss it and take your crap elsewhere. Disagreement is fine. Hostility and flaming and bashing is not.

There’s a whole lot of repetition in this thread. I’m appreciating the people who are looking back at their own communication style and thinking about why they do what they do and talking about what happens when they make changes, good or bad. I’ve gotten a bit tired of repeating myself, but I understand that it’s difficult to read through everything. Things I keep repeating are:

- Description is not prescription. Saying that a cultural phenomenon exists advocates neither for or against said phenomenon. Giving someone a map is not telling them where to go: it’s just showing them where stuff is. Watch out for that tar pit. There be dragons. Where wolf? There wolf. Like that.

- Clear, precise communication is the privilege of those who will not be punished for it. The “Mythcommunication” link above describes several ways we all use soft nos in our (USA) culture (although conversational aversion techniques are not unique to the US), and describes how they’re functional in many ways but are often ignored or punished (like any kind of refusal) if someone feels entitled to sex or attention from another person. The dynamic is usually women giving soft nos or hard nos and men refusing to accept them, but men do it to men, women do it to women, women do it to men… humans can be assholes.

- What’s the purpose of the post? To get conversation going about why and when we use soft nos and hard nos and how people receive them, specifically so that the young man who asked the initial question can see that there’s a lot of debate about the issue and that my opinion and that of my friend are not the only ones. This is a broad cultural phenomenon and my advice to his was not to change his approach, but to pay more attention to what people do than what they say.

- I am emphatically not advocating that women (or anyone) should use soft nos, hard nos or anything else. My preference would always be for crystal clear, honest (yet kind without being codependent) communication. I have experience being penalized very harshly for telling people things they don’t want to hear, regardless how how well I soften the message. It has lessened as I’ve aged and people feel less inclined to tell me what to do or demand anything of me. I still get lots of practice with very firm refusals as part of running an adult business. But overall, I absolutely do not think anyone should communicate in any way that they feel would put them at risk. I do feel people might try to be more aware of what they’re saying, how they’re responding, how well they take “no” (Jay Wiseman’s words, “You never really know someone until you tell them ‘no’ when they really want something” stuck with me and have proven to be an excellent character litmus), and how aware they are of codependent tendencies, body language, and a host of other things that contribute to sending mixed signals and refusing to receive refusals.

- This is not about men bad, women victims. The world is not black and white, gender interactions and communication are not simple, and it’s especially complex for younger people who are exploring sexuality, have raging hormones, have different cultural backgrounds, don’t yet know themselves well enough to understand that what they want to be true about themselves is not necessarily so, and that if they can count on anything, it’s that they’ll be a different person in five years. Relationships formed in late teens and early 20s are a precarious thing because the individuals are going through so many changes and developments. Failing is not failure. Failing better next time is OK. Humans are messy and that’s OK. Intent is nice, but follow-through is what you can bank on. All of that transcends gender and culture.

- Things I keep referring to are a list of links to articles about women being penalized for rejecting men, primarily men who don’t know them. I will try to copy/paste the list here again, but I typed it and formatted it from my phone and am on a laptop now and … gah. Lot of work.


Six women were shot by a man at a college campus. He was angry that women were not interested in him, so he decided to go shoot some.

One 8months pregnant woman was out walking by herself and a guy started walking with her, making advances. When she told him she was not interested, he threw her to the ground, stabbed her in the belly and elsewhere and left her for dead. She survived.

One woman was at a funeral with family, her fiance and 3 kids and a man off the street came in, made advances, and shot her three times when she told him she was not available and tried to run away. He killed her and shot five other members of her family.

A woman and her friend were dancing at a club. A man made advances at one of the women, who was not interested. The man pursued. Her friend intervened, asking him to stop, and was punched in the face three times.

One woman was walking somewhere, a man followed her into her apartment lobby, made advances. When she said she wasn’t interested, he came behind her and slashed her throat. I believe she survived, thanks to neighbors.

One woman met a man through a dating site, had a few dates with him, and called things off. He told her he was going to harm her sheep, and he did.

A high school girl turned someone down who’d asked her to prom. He stabbed her and killed her.

Those articles are easy to find and are the tip of the iceberg, as well as being specific to the USA. Yes, there are instances of women being violent towards men. Yes, women can be predators. Yes. Good on you for spotting that women have the capacity to be assholes. This particular discussion is not about whether only men are assholes. This particular discussion is about the use of soft nos versus more direct communication. Most Americans use soft nos in many situations. “I’m sorry, I’m busy that day, but I’d love to have seen your third grader in their school play.” “You know, I’d love to, but I’m taking my tapeworms to the zoo that day.” “Sorry, boss, my kid has a thing tomorrow or I’d be happy to come in, but I promised the kid.” “Hey, Mom, I know I said I might be able to come visit your brother in the hospital, but I have a cold and wouldn’t want him to get sick.” “Book club? Every Thursday? Damn. That’s orgy night at my coven.” “You want to come over right now? I won’t be at home for a few hours. I’m out doing errands and you know how the DMV is.”

Sometimes people try to talk us out of our aversion tactics aka soft nos. Sometimes we let them. Depends on the situation and the relationship.

When we use soft nos in sexual situation, people seem to feel more entitled to argue, demand explanations, or refuse to accept. The video of the woman walking in New York with men catcalling her right and left and even following her to criticize her for not stopping to respond to them has been mentioned several times. In the video, the woman didn’t even use soft nos; she completely ignored the “admirers” who made it clear she did not have a right to ignore them. In the articles mentioned above, women rejecting advances either gently and politely, with a “No, thank you” or a clear “No” were stabbed, beaten, slashed, shot, families shot, and animals harmed or killed.

I added the extra wall o’ text for the benefit of 1) people who can’t take the time to read through every post and 2) so I (hopefully) don’t have to keep reposting the same responses.

I’m just gonna leave this here…

This post first appeared on Guide To Life & Other Important Stuff, please read the originial post: here

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Teaching a Man what "Soft No" Means


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