I was only six years old in 1955, when the Rodgers and Hammerstein film “Oklahoma” came out and Gloria Grahame performed “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No!” Someone gave my sister the soundtrack as a gift, from one of our dear Aunts, of whom we had eight! She loved the songs, and we shared a room, so I grew up with all the words ringing in my ears! I loved this song, and sang it off and on through college, until it was replaced by folk music, then pop.
Saying “No!”, not just in male-female relations, but in life in general seems to be very hard for many girls and women! We are taught to be “nice” . I’m not sure, maybe that is a Southern thing, but I doubt it…little girls and young women are supposed to be “nice”–meaning well-behaved, generous with time and talents, and kind to animals and people!
Unfortunately, as we grow older, we learn that the world itself is not always so “nice”. If we continue to act as we were taught as children…to just be nice, don’t say “No”, then what happens? People may see us as nice, and kind, and some will love and respect us for that, if we are lucky enough to live in a sheltered world. But on the big stage, in a corporation, in politics, in the military, omg, being nice could get you taken advantage of, disrespected, even killed!
Can we find a middle ground between “nice”, “Can’t say No!” and aggressiveness? Somewhere between “Of course I can drive the scouts to all five field trips this Fall.” and “Of course, I can wash dishes after all the Wednesday night suppers for the year, because you asked so nicely, Pastor Ryan;” and “No! How dare you ask me that?! I have a life too you know! Don’t call me again!” LOL
I was squarely in the “I’m just a girl who can’t say No!” camp in my niceness all of my life, until I reached my mid 30’s to early 40’s! I had the opportunity to teach interpersonal communication at N C State University as a Visiting Lecturer for several years, and as part of that we studied the difference in assertive and aggressive communication. In all honesty, before then, I think I thought assertiveness WAS aggressiveness, I didn’t know the difference, and you didn’t state your mind unless you were angry and as we say in the South…”throwing a hissy fit!” LOL
I had to learn I wasn’t responsible for other people’s feelings–one of the hardest lessons for me. “What can I do to make you happy? So sorry I …made you mad…disappointed you….So glad I made you feel better!” I’d never thought about how conceited that is actually–and how controlling! I can’t make you happy, sad, or mad….I now know. You choose what feelings you choose! Ultimately, I am in charge of me–you are in charge of you—it’s freeing! I get to say and act as I want, yes, you get to decide whether or not you want to be around me! LOL We all get to be authentic, we get to be ourselves, isn’t that refreshing.
I’m not as “nice” as I used to be as a child or a young woman, just ask my husband. But ultimately, I am a nice person, and I want to be, I choose to be, and I like to be. However, I do say “No!” more and more often, enough that at times I fear growing into a crotchety old lady! Guess I’d better watch it…choices.