When I was 13 I was at the back of the bike shed – cliché I know – with my friend Maria and two boys from Skate World. We were lying on the grass, kissing. Her boy undid her trousers, pulled down her knickers and poked her. Then, when he had finished having a good poke around he looked to my boy and said “your turn”. I freaked out and wouldn’t let him but not because I didn’t want to be poked, although I was worried about what that might do to my hymen, but mainly I didn’t want anybody to see my undies. They were flannelette and had little flowers all over them, not like Maria’s cool looking red ones. My friend and the boys made it clear I was totally lame.
But at least they hadn’t seen my lame knickers, I mean how humiliating.
A year later another boy wanted to do the same thing – what is it with boys and their need to poke things into holes? – and again I said no because I was still worried about the hymen thing plus we had ridden our bikes to a park and I had wanted to sit and hold hands and poking just sounded uncomfortable and way too awkward. The next day at school that boy told the whole class what (didn’t) happen and they started chanting, “Tight, tight, tight!”
You could have fried onions on my cheeks that day and I didn’t understand the shame I felt. Tight felt like the worst thing in the world, like an annoying jam jar lid that won’t come off. They were telling me it was wrong to say no but it felt wrong to say anything else – it wasn’t because I knew what my body deserved and I felt all staunch about it being a temple and the only person touching it should be me etc. I was scared and not ready.
Much later, when I was not scared and extremely ready, I had a few encounters with people I didn’t want to have because I had learned that no was unattractive. Once, a guy I thought I liked rubbed himself up against my thigh at a party until he came in his trousers. I didn’t like him after that but where the bejesus was my NO? Or how about ‘Sod Off With Your Frotteurism, My Thigh Does Not Need A Massage From Your Knob.’
Many magazines and those wonderful learning institutions, teenage sitcoms, tell us it’s desirable to be desired. It’s how we get to procreate for goodnesssake, it’s nature. And not wanting it, saying no, is unattractive. Hell, it’s even unhuman. Looking good, being desirable becomes a goal and our reward for looking good is that people want to touch us.
But I have to say that THAT is not a reward unless you want it.
It’s not OK to not want it and it’s OK to want it but whatever you do, don’t want it too much because then tight might just turn into slut. Both might end in t but one is not like the other. Uh-uh. No way.
Sometimes I wonder if I am qualified to raise a strong daughter. I have said no. I have not said no. I have wished I said yes. I have wished I said no. I have wished it wasn’t so goddamn confusing. I have wished my self worth wasn’t based on who wanted me.
Perhaps I should keep the ‘Dactyl in fugly knickers her whole life (although we’re raising her to express her own style so she will probably think flannelette is retro and, like, really individual and she’ll want to show everyone…)
I like Sharon Holbrook’s take on how we should just shut the fuck up about how our daughters look all the time and focus on what they do. And teach them no is a complete sentence.
Recently at the Piha Bowling Club I was standing in front of a young lad and we were in the mutual appreciation club for a band. To my left was a beautiful young girl who looked like she was fresh off the plane from Helsinki, all nymph-like and cute. And we danced. The lad tapped me on the bum and I thought it was a mistake to begin with because I am 44 and he was about 14 but then it came again. Tap tap. So I turned and scolded with my eyebrows. That’s how fierce I was. Mess with me and you have these woolly brows to deal with! Then it came again but it was a solid spank and I swiveled and glared. DON’T! said my angry eyes. Well I hoped they did.
Then he slapped Helsinki on her ass and I watched her dance it off. No big deal. Hadehhahaha. Don’t make a scene.
So he did it again.
Next, the little shit lifted my sundress right up to my waist exposing my knickers (and they were not cool looking or red or anything I wanted the whole bar to see) and I turned and launched myself at him. I slapped his face and then I poked his chest and said, “NO! NOT OK.” People started looking and giving us a wide berth, and I pointed to Helsinki, who was all eyes by this stage, and I raised my voice louder, “NO! NOT OK TO TOUCH HER EITHER!.” I did not care about making a scene. He could call me anything he liked: stroppy bitch, bossy mother or uptight cow because I didn’t care.
Acting all outraged he stormed off. Whatevs.
Then Helsinki turned and gave me a hug and it was an unusually long one from a stranger and when she pulled away she looked at me and her eyes said it all. Thank you. Thank you for doing that for me.
I felt so wonderful.
Roaring felt much better than worrying about offending.
I need to instil that feeling in the ‘Dactyl. For now she says no to everyone (she made Santa scooch over on his Christmas chair at the mall once so she didn’t have to sit by him) but at some point she will figure out it’s desirable to be desired because, according to all the super helpful ads all over the planet, we get more things when we’re desirable – friends, cars, holidays, perfume, nice houses, shoes you can’t walk in, and diamonds.
So I’ve locked that feeling of NO in my pocket to pass on when the time is right. I will be telling her that listening to yourself and saying no, if that’s what you want, doesn’t make you lame, unattractive or drowning in shame, it makes you feel strong. And when you feel strong you are beautiful. And that’s the most attractive thing ever.
And if you won’t listen to your mother then please at least watch this video on cliteracy.
PS For anyone struggling with saying no in general then this interesting article by Jeff Haden has one simple trick – start saying ‘don’t’ instead of ‘can’t’.