Saying “No” in 520 Languages

I’m Learning to Say No in 520 Languages

I’m Learning to Say No in 520 Languages

How often do I hear my brain screaming NO as I smile and say yes? These random words are all “NO” in different languages. So I am learning to say no in 520 languages, most importantly mine, NO.

Artist, Karen Gutfreund, works with unconventional materials: roof tar, bone, red food coloring, wax… As she moves against standards and customs, is she saying NO even as she works as an artist?

She has good reason to go against the flow. We all do.

Her work strikes a chord with a piece I once read entitled, “Betrayed by the Angel”:

I’m 25 years old. I’m alone in my apartment. I hear a knock. I open the door and see a face I don’t know. The man scares me, I don’t know why. My first impulse is to shut the door. But I stop myself: You can’t do something like that. It’s rude… He is inside. He slams the door shut himself and pushes me against the wall… Since he is being rude, it is okay for me to be rude back.

Despite the young woman’s revelation that rudeness can be good, it was too late. She was raped.

Some feel queasy at self-defense seminars when told to gouge out an attacker’s eyes. “Could I do something less gruesome?” someone asks. Advice from the expert: “He’s bigger than you. If you try something weaker he’ll overtake you and you’ll be raped or dead.”

I had it easier. But not really easy. He was a guy from church, and we were dating. At church we didn’t have double standards. Men and women were both told to stay pure. I was so inexperienced and naïve that when he touched me outside my clothes, but at “third base,” I froze in shock. Was he really doing that? I didn’t want to be rude. In guarding his feelings I paid a price, smacked with the label, “loose.”

Virginia Woolf speaks of the Angel in the House. Some scattered lines:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her – you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House… She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish… She sacrificed herself daily… She preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defense. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.

This piece was originally shown at “CONTROL,” an exhibition of  California women artists presented by The Women’s Caucus for Art at New York’s Ceres Gallery, February 1 – February 26th, 2011.

For more on Karen Gutfreund’s work go to her website.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 26, 2012, in gender, psychology, rape and sexual assault, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Growing up as a very shy child I always had a hard time standing my ground. I never remember being told how I should “act” as a women but I had an idea of how women were being portrayed. The image in my head as a kid came across as very bubbly, fragile, soft spoken, passive, so in a way I went with it. Of course now I laugh at my ten year old mind set and now can perfectly say no’s without feeling any less of a women. It’s stories like the 25 year old in her apartment that break my heart and when read “since he is being rude, it is okay for me to be rude back,” sums a lot of what a women can feel. Being placed as something weak can take a toll into character. But I believe more and more women are realizing that we are just as superior and when a situation uprises where you have to take demand then do so!

  2. Learning to say NO has to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

  3. Oh, so very, very true. I see my daughter, who has no problem saying no, and backing it up, and I have hope for the next generations coming up. Not real optimism, but some hope.

  1. Pingback: Blog of the Year 2012 Award! | rohan7things

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