When ‘No’ is Not Enough


#MeToo is a movement aimed at demonstrating and protesting against the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, particularly at the workplace. It arose soon after the Harvey Weinstein scandal in October 2017, and quickly gained traction throughout the internet. While the #MeToo movement has drawn a great amount of supporters, it has drawn its fair share of detractors as well. I refer now to an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, written by Alyssa Rosenberg.

Titled ‘The #MeToo Movement is at a Dangerous Tipping Point’, Rosenberg highlights the potential pitfalls of the movement. Citing the case of Aziz Ansari, the article explores the grey areas of what constitutes sexual harassment and what is considered harmless flirtation. It tries to find a solution in which we can move forward with the movement without entering the dangerous territory of false accusations.

To understand this dilemma, we first need to take a look at the original article published regarding Aziz Ansari and an anonymous woman going by the name ‘Grace’. To summarise, Grace went on a date with Ansari that ended with her going home in tears as she attempted to fend off his unwelcome sexual advances repeatedly using both verbal and non-verbal cues. This article drew attracted much backlash even from some proponents of #MeToo. While some viewed this as a clear example of sexual harassment, others repeated the age-old argument that Grace never explicitly said ‘no’ (at least, it was not mentioned in the article), and it therefore cannot be considered sexual assault.

Let’s for a moment assume that non-verbal cues (e.g. not reciprocating his actions, pushing a man’s hand away, pulling away from his advances, etc.) are not sufficient indications of non-consent. What then will be enough? Rosenberg ended her article with a line that said ‘a true sexual revolution has to involve both men and women speaking clearly about what they want and need’. Yet, we discussed in class that even a clear statement of ‘no’ might not necessarily be taken to mean refusal. How then is a women expected to reject sexual advances? In a climate where women’s discomfort and refusal is accepted as part of normal flirtation and courtship, how can we expect to change the culture of victim-shaming and grant women agency in sexual encounters?

Perhaps what needs to be changed is the underlying assumption we have that men are the chasers and women are there for the taking. It is not so much a case of grey areas as much as it is a case of misogynistic stereotypes that we have been internalizing. A study by Kitzinger and Frith regarding saying ‘no’ asserts that women are hyperaware of the implications of a direct ‘no’ – it is a not a preferred conversational action and tend to reflect on the woman as arrogant and rude. In fact, their study reveals that women are intensely aware of the need to provide alternative explanations and excuses to reject sexual advances rather than simply that they didn’t want to (Kitzinger & Frith, 1999).

The issue of refusal is not misinterpretation or lack of awareness, it is a matter of prejudice against women and an expectation that women should be docile and chaste. ‘No’ is not an option, it is an expectation and in that same script, it is there to be overruled. How it is said doesn’t matter. 

In the end, the conversation behind #MeToo goes back to the stereotypical roles that we have expected men and women to play in society. Maybe it’s then time to bring #MeToo back to the crux of the issue — the misogynistic views that still underlie our perception. On the surface, the feminist movement seems to have made great progress. But perhaps this continued talk of sexual harassment and women agency in sexual encounters is a reflection of some gender issues that we should be revisiting before change can really be put into motion. 


Kitzinger, C., & Frith, H. (1999). Just Say No? The Use of Conversation Analysis in Developing a Feminist Perspective on Sexual Refusal. Discourse & Society,10(3), 293-316. doi:10.1177/0957926599010003002

Rosenberg, A. (2018, January 17). Opinion | The #MeToo movement is at a dangerous tipping point. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2018/01/17/the-metoo-movement-is-at-a-dangerous-tipping-point/?utm_term=.704962203f3a

Way, K. (2018, February 01). I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life. Retrieved from https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355

One thought on “When ‘No’ is Not Enough

  1. Tania

    Hey! I really agree with what you said about the misogynistic stereotypes and how this misogynistic viewpoint has allowed victim-shaming and a simple refusal to have such a double bind. I think this situation does not just happen within male-female sexual advances, but this act of men as chasers and women as the prey is also happening within same-sex sexual advances. In particular, male-male sexual advances, where the more feminine (less masculine) male is subjected to the same sexual advances by a more masculine male. How to reject sexual advances will always be a conundrum because when discourses and non-verbal cues do not work, what else will?

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