Prior to 2010, if you were to research “women saying no,” you were far more likely to get hits focused on “no means no” messages as a way of educating men to respect women when they said “no” to them. In 2022, if you research “women saying no,” you get hit with “women need to learn to say no.”
There is a lot of sociological research as to why this shift occurred, but the bottom line is this: women do not have a problem saying no; men (and women) have a problem accepting a no from women. (Read that sentence out loud to yourself a few times.)
Women do not have a problem saying no; they get backed into saying no because of the price they are expected to pay for saying no. Being labeled as a bitch, abrasive, difficult to work with, prickly, shrewish, etc. or being shut out of opportunities and relationships, are just a couple of pieces of the price that women pay for saying no.
So, do you get to say no and be called a bitch, or do you say yes and avoid being labeled as too difficult to work with? Do you say no and piss off the person whose support you need to advance, or do you say yes so that you can maintain access to advancement opportunities? These are the choices that women make at work every single day, and it’s not helpful to lecture women about learning to say no.
Instead, let’s say it the way it really needs to be said. If you are a woman, it will often hurt you to say no, but say no anyway because it will hurt less in the long run. It sucks to write that sentence; it sucks even more to live that reality every day. But say no anyway.