No Means No

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On Saturday afternoon my daughter and I took part in a Slutwalk in Glasgow. This movement started in Toronto where a Police Officer told women to stop dressing like sluts if they didn’t want to be raped. The chant of the protesters on Saturday was, “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”. It is strong and assertive – exactly what women should be regardless of age or situation and I was proud to take part; proud to walk beside a group of men and women who were supporting a woman’s right to choose and especially proud to be walking with my fifteen-year old daughter.

But I was also heartbroken.

I remember the seventies. I remember when most sit-coms were populated by leering men and women who were either harridans or dolly-birds whose brains shrunk with their hemlines. I remember when it was OK to ask a woman in a job interview whether she intended to marry and have children. I remember when paying women less for the same job was OK and when being called ‘love’ was short-hand for second class.

I did my bit in the fight for change. It wasn’t much compared to my braver, more confident sisters, but I refused to be patronised, ‘touched up’, objectified and worked hard to be taken seriously at work. Then I thought that while we may not have won every battle, we had made massive improvements in women’s position in society and I relaxed. But over the past couple of years I have seen things to make me question my complacency.

Stores have sold padded bras and thongs for pre-teens; Photoshop has been used to make women look so unrealistically thin and perfect that our daughters are killing themselves in trying to emulate them; an insurance company laid on hookers as a reward for their top sales men.

I don’t want to legislate against craic, banter, flirtation: these should all be a fun part of life, but there is a line where it has to stop. I don’t want to stop saying mankind, man-hours, manpower – these are trivial things and do nothing to persecute women. I do want to protect young women from men who think they should be thin and willing whenever they are called. And why should our sons think anything else? Look at music videos and listen to the lyrics of most hip-hop. Women are shown as nothing short of soft porn stars and referred to as ho’s and bitches. There is no respect.

Let us teach our sons to be strong enough respect girls, to value them as people and accept their decisions. Let us teach our daughters to be strong enough to value themselves and to make their own decisions.

And let’s also hope that our daughters won’t have to walk beside their own daughters to reclaim their right to be believed when they say no.
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15 Comments

  1. joannacannon
    Jun 7, 2011

    I think this is the most sensible, balanced post I’ve read on the whole subject. I remember those sit-coms too and it’s incredible to think what we watched and accepted only thirty-something years ago.

  2. Derek Flynn
    Jun 7, 2011

    Great post, Nettie. You really nailed it. I think a lot of people – parents especially – have things backwards. They’re trying to ban books that do nothing but educate their children, while buying into the whole beauty myth, whether it be inappropriate clothes or shoving their kids into the spotlight on rubbish like the X-Factor.

  3. Brilliant and heartfelt, Nettie. You and I are the same vintage and I wholeheartedly agree with you.

  4. Gill Fraser Lee
    Jun 7, 2011

    A heartfelt post and you’re so right and you do put it perfectly. I, like you, recall sitting in on interviews when women were asked if they intended to have children, and I have worked for two men who thought it was acceptable to proposition me, and then equally all right to treat me like dirt after I’d said no. Like you, I also feel very uncomfortable with how women are portrayed in aspirational magazines these days. I really admire you (and your daughter) for taking part in the Slutwalk. Thanks Nettie xx

  5. sarsm
    Jun 7, 2011

    Nettie, I’m in complete agreeance with you.

    In some things I think we’ve just gone too far. On the other hand we’re still treated like objects, at times by society.

    I suspect the imbalance is due to the fact that men and women are not the same and should not expected to be treated so. Instead I believe we should celebrate our differences and work together in a supportive and respectful community.

  6. Laura Tyrrell
    Jun 7, 2011

    Hear Hear! Excellent post

  7. Elpi Pamiadaki
    Jun 7, 2011

    Nettie,
    I very much agree with your excellent post. We need more balance. I think that is the key. Fighting to ban words like manpower and manhole are silly and inappropriate and distract from the main issue of respect. I do think we’ve come a long way but there is still a long way to go.
    Elpi

  8. Margot Kinberg
    Jun 7, 2011

    Nettie – Oh, so well-said!! We have come a very long way. Still, as long as society and the media teach girls to equate their worth with some unrealistic and unhealthy ideal, and teach boys to equate their worth with “conquest,” we will not have come far enough. Your post is fabulous!

  9. Hazel Katherine Larkin
    Jun 7, 2011

    This is a wonderful post, Nettie – and you really have nailed it, as one of your other ‘fans’ said. 🙂

    Hx

  10. Beth Kemp
    Jun 7, 2011

    Very well put, Nettie. I’m regularly shocked at my teenage students’ attitudes, which feel more backwards than the attitudes I remember from my own teens twenty years ago. We had come so far, and then it all went so wrong.

  11. Joan Gourlay
    Jun 8, 2011

    So well said, Nettie. I thought it was bad enough when my daughter (21) was a pre-teen/teenager. I was concerned then about boys’ and girls’ attitudes to each other and to sex. It seems to be getting much worse. You hit the nail on the head – it does come down to respect for women, something which seems to be sadly lacking in media and marketing these days. I also think that young girls need to know that they can say “no” when they want to, not just in a, God forbid, rape situation. I may be wrong, but I think that is still a problem for girls in their first relationships, probably even more so than it was for us. It seems to me that sex is now so “out there” that it is just expected.

    Good on you and your daughter, Nettie, for taking part in the Slutwalk in Glasgow! If they have one here in Sydney, I’ll be there with my daughter.

  12. Mandy
    Jun 8, 2011

    Great post Nettles. I totally agree, the move toward equality of women has been rolled back over the last 20 years and it’s getting worse I’m afraid.

    As you say the Women’s Movement made huge strides forward in the 70s. Even in the 80s lots of awareness about the rights and abilities of women popped up around the miner’s strike. I was married to a miner at the time and we were out on the picket lines as well as in the kitchens preparing food for the community and collecting for the strikers on the streets. Our group even put a picket line on our own pickets when they said it was too dangerous for ‘us women’ to go to Orgreave!

    As well as the things you mentioned about padded bras and women in the music, I have noticed adverts like ‘Mum’s gone to Iceland’ and the Kentucky Fried Chicken one, where the daughter of the nuclear family (about ten years old I think) insists on giving mum a night off and clearing the table of the bargain bucket!

    I agree that teaching our children equality will help to change things as will going on demonstrations like you did. I do worry though that it is more of a class issue than a gender one. There is an argument that says the Women’s Movement fragmented along class lines. Many middle-class women broke through the glass ceiling in their careers and achieved CEO positions etc. They assumed that the struggle was over. Many working-class women were often sidelined as they couldn’t afford childcare to go on to further education or re-training. Some even argue that without working-class women employed as nannies and cleaners, middle-class women could never have achieved their CEO positions.

    There are positives though. At least today we have the word sexist and everyone (I hope) knows what it means and that women and men should be equal in theory. That’s one step up from the struggles of the 70s. We have those women to thank and like you did last week , we should all help carry their torch into the future. As a sociology teacher I do this every day as part of my job. It’s great to see the young people debating and changing each others mind. The other day one young lad came into class and said, ‘I see what you mean about adverts- some are, like, really sexist, I’d not noticed that before.’

    Thanks for sharing Nettles. 🙂

  13. Sarah Callejo
    Jun 8, 2011

    I agree with you, and I’m glad that someone does do something about it, but it’s so sad and frustrating that they have to.

  14. krishenka
    Jun 20, 2011

    What a great post and good on you and your daughter, Nettie, for taking part in the Slutwalk in Glasgow. Hope you get a new dishwasher soon 2 but then again!

  15. Glynis Smy
    Jun 27, 2011

    Well done and said, Nettie!

    I live in a country where the woman is looked at as beneath her man. Girls are trained to run house and the men to be Neanderthals. However, the Cypriot girls can wear skimpy clothing and not get hassled. They do not abuse their right to look pretty. The story is different if it is an ex-pat female, they are pestered. I once pointed out to a Cypriot man that if he continued pestering my daughter my husband would do the same to his. He looked at me horrified. It dawned on him then that it could happen to his princess. He apologised and we no longer had a problem. Over the past three years I have noticed changes creeping in, big changes. Men have been losing their jobs and the women are out working. Men are having to carry out household tasks and it is now dawning on them that the woman is to be respected.

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