Posted by: Trisha Leigh | May 24, 2012

Say It With Me: NO

If I had a daughter, I would do my best to make sure she knew how to say no.

Those of you with toddlers, who maybe don’t hear a whole lot of alternate vocabulary, might be giving me the side-eye right now, but seriously – what could be a more important word for a girl to be comfortable saying?

I’m no expert, obviously, but I have spent a good amount of time writing for teens (so stuck in their heads), and for four or five years I headed up the youth program at my church, a group filled with girls from bad homes, troubled situations, and who had lived through experiences at sixteen I had never encountered in twenty-five years.

I’m not trying to show a gender bias here, or stereotype, but when it comes to relationships (especially teenage ones, but hell, I’m dating in my 30’s and this advice still applies), girls are the ones who have to say no. If I had a daughter, I’d sit her down and say:

“Look. What I’m about to tell you totally sucks, and it’s not fair, but if you’re in a relationship with a boy, it’s your job to say no. Stop. I’m not ready. Even the nicest, sweetest, well-intentioned boy on the planet is going to push the boundaries. If he respects you, it will be fine when you tell him no. Don’t worry about hurting his feelings, or embarrassing him, because he’s waiting for you to say it. If you don’t…the situation might turn into something you’re not ready to handle. And don’t wait for him, because he won’t say it.”

The issue is, already we feel like there’s something wrong with saying no.

This is a beef of mine with boys in YA. They’re far too verbal about not only being willing to, but initiating the desire to stop/back off/wait/etal to be actual teenage boys. I mean, I dated (a few) extremely nice boys when I was a teenager. They liked me, they would never have hurt me, but they still wanted to have sex. Perhaps we should be preparing our girls for the real thing – the moment when a physical/romantic moment is getting carried away and you do like the boy and you enjoy how he makes you feel, but you’re not ready and you need to say no.

Because that moment? It’s hard, you guys.

I also think learning to say no applies to situations outside of the romantic. Women like my mother, my critique partner, my aunts and ladies at church…they’re run ragged trying to do everything for everyone. Maybe they feel obligated, perhaps they just want to help, or were raised to believe a woman’s job is to take care of people. I also think it’s because we want to be able to help our friends, coworkers, new writers, family, and anyone else who deserves it.

Or it could be that they simply don’t know how to refuse without feeling badly.

The last one is my issue, a lack of comfort with confrontation. Since I made the decision to self-publish, I’ve been bombarded with decisions about what editors, copy editors, proofreaders, covers, etc to choose and sending those emails declining service from the rest has been a rough thing. I’ve even felt guilty emailing my cover designer back with a “eh, I’m not sure, what if we tried this instead” or “can we still add this to the front?” afraid she’ll be upset with me or that I’m causing more work. Which is silly, I know. My brain knows that.

Such simple phrases – No, thank you. No, it’s not quite right. No, I don’t have time.

Why can it be so hard to say sometimes?



  1. You know what’s funny? I have the opposite problem. I have a hard time saying YES. I’m not necessarily talking about sex (I’m married with one kid and another on the way, so, um, I think the jig is up) but about doing favors for people and signing up for things. If I think there’s even a small chance it will stress me out, I won’t do it.

  2. Great post!! I don’t think I learned the art of saying “no” (in the broader sense, not the romantic sense) until I was in my late twenties. And even then it’s really only when I have my “strictly business” hat on that I can do it with confidence and without squirming. I say it plenty to my kids, but that’s because it’s easy to say no to the ridiculous ideas they come up with. But I think you make an EXCELLENT point about providing more real situations in YA books. It makes an interesting plot point for it to be the reverse of what we all know is reality, but I think it would be much more valuable to our young girls to see how strong/funny/good/other positives young female characters handle a situation they will most probably be faced with.

  3. I’m the one who can’t say no. I try to appease everyone, be likable, and unfortunately, getting people to like you, sometimes means, uhm…returning favors. (This is all coming out horribly wrong.) Thankfully, I’ve started putting my own stuff first because I would agree to do so much for other people that I never had time for me. Then I would just sob into a corner and mumble, “But people like me…they really like me.” >.>

    As for young girls, yes. I think we definitely need to teach them to say no. Remembering my teenage years, I wish I had some kind of support system telling me it was okay to say no. (Not necessarily about sex, either.)

  4. This is required reading.

  5. I agree that it’s important for a girl to be able to say ‘no’ if she doesn’t want that experience but I also think it’s important for a girl to be able to ‘yes’ or even to initiate it. It’s also important for a boy to be able to say ‘no’ or to not feel the pressure to ‘try’ anything. The stereotype of boys as horny teenagers and girls as helpless victims is not helpful. I do not believe that boys have a higher sex drive than girls or feel more ‘ready’ for sexual experiences – that’s just the way society expects them to be. But girls do need to learn how to express what they want rather than relying on boys to control the situation.

  6. Spot on. All of it. Also, I have a terrible time as an adult saying “no” and not feeling really guilty about it. But I’m working on it! 🙂

  7. This is a great post, Trisha. I agree that it’s beyond important to teach girls to say no, and more importantly, that it’s *okay* to say no. They are not obligated to do a single damn thing for anyone else besides themselves. I can’t imagine the pressure that today’s teenaged girls feel to do whatever their boyfriends want, what with everything being so blatantly oversexualized in today’s media. I mean, I think that has changed even since when I was a teenager.

    Also, yeah, I’m totally with you on the hard time saying no in other types of situation. I even sometimes say yes to things I know for a fact will stress me out because I trick myself into thinking I’ll be able to figure it out somehow. I mean, why not? I’m Superwoman! *headdesk*

    Anyway, yes, this is a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I like your serious face. This is a brilliant post, dude. I have a hard time saying no (unless it’s to my parents or husband). I always want to make my friends and family and kids happy. And when I hire someone for something? I’m more likely to say, Oh I love it! When really I mean I hate it and I want them to start over.

  9. Well done. I don’t know the answers about boys and girls, but I do know that I hear parents complaining here in Seattle about “kids performing oral sex on each other on the playground, at parties, etc.” and I always say “WHOA. Let’s call that what it is. Girls performing oral sex on boys. It’s not the other way around. ” And then they glare at me.

    Boys and girls need to say no. When they want to, and when they should. Adults need to take responsibility for their actions, and help kids learn to do the same.

  10. Excellent post. Heck, I still have to remind myself that it’s okay to say no. (And I’m not talking about sex.)

  11. I love this and you. Excellent.

  12. Great post. It made me follow you on twitter!

    On a more serious level, I have always had trouble with no. I still can’t tell my Mom no and I’m 35 with my own kid. It’s a horrible thing to feel like you can’t say no for fear of losing love or respect, or just out of terror ‘they might not like me’.

    I write YA too and for me it was important to show the girls saying no, and to form healthy relationships with boys. That aren’t *always* stalking and brooding.

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