Yes. No. Two short words that have the power to control what happens in your world and the world around you, and alter peoples’ perception of you. Whilst we use these words as part of our daily vocabulary, we do not often consider the stigma attached to them as they become not just positive or negative confirmations, but a conveyance of opinion, belief, character and moral stance. Too much ‘yes’ and you are a sheep, you are a slut, you are a suck-up. Too much ‘no’ and you are a prude, you are too strict, you are beige.
Reacting positively or negatively to any given situation or opportunity can of course be very telling of one’s character. When this realisation hits, it can change the way in which you might naturally respond, in order to project a persona that fits in with the expectations of those around you. For example, I often feel compelled to say yes when it comes to social situations in order to avoid causing offence. I would consider myself an introvert, but I persistently fight against the urge, or am simply unable, to say no when it comes to social invitations. And I realise that even when I say no, it always has to come with some believable excuse. God forbid actually telling someone that I don’t want to go to the pub to meet their friends because I feel uncomfortable with groups of people I don’t know and would rather order in a pizza for one. Is this inability to say no a mark of my Britishness, of my automatic politeness and need to act according to the social etiquette rulebook as prescribed by society, or is it just a sign of inexperience and unsureness?
Yes and no play vital roles in your career, relationships, lifestyle and social image. In the same way that we are told, in films, advertising and by our social idols, that saying YES more can have a positive impact on our lives, saying NO can be equally empowering. From my experience, saying no is far more difficult than saying yes – by disagreeing with someone or turning down an offer you are making an active decision to divert your course rather than just ‘seeing what happens’, but it can be difficult to trust your instincts when the no that turns down that one offer might see you not getting the same opportunity again.
A friend once told me how angry he had felt after finding out that his ex-girlfriend had kissed another man in a club after their breakup, and that she should have been a little more Meghan Trainor-ish (referring to Meghan’s song No, in which she turns down the advances of a man with top-notch levels of sass). Whilst this quip was, in reality, probably nothing more than an immature and angry reaction based on hurt feelings and resentment, it bothered me that he would think that her actions should be condemned, and that she was behaving inappropriately. I’m sure Meghan’s song was intended to be empowering; at least for me it is less an anthem perpetuating ideas of slut-shaming and tropes of “side chicks”, than it is a commanding statement about female independence and the right to question the objectification of the male gaze. Unfortunately, attitudes concerning the yes and no’s of relationship choices continue to greatly differ for men and women. For my friend, the message of the song seemed to be more about applauding the chaste woman, and therefore, casting a woman making actively positive decisions about her own behaviour or choices in a negative light. Concerning sexual liberation, there should be no right or wrong answer regarding individual choice – however, the fact that terms such as ‘slut’ and ‘frigid’ are still commonly used would suggest that many people still consider this a taboo and continue to attach stigma to the ‘yes’s and the ‘no’s.
Making conscious decisions is part of becoming an adult. Yes and no can be equally empowering, if they are honest choices. Being able to analyse different situations rather than basing an answer on what you feel is expected of you is challenging; it may result in missed opportunities or mistakes, but it’s far more important to be honest to yourself and understand your own mind when coming to a decision. Just as saying no can become an automatic response for people who are uncomfortable with stepping away from their bubble, saying yes just to facilitate the desires of people around you is no better.
Turn down that invitation to the pub if you want a Netflix night. Say yes to going on your dream holiday alone if no-one shares that same dream in that moment. Don’t turn down opportunities because you are worried what others might think. And conversely, do turn down those opportunities that might just not be for you. Yes. No. Ultimately, they are just two short words.