Hello, it’s staff writer Isa Dominguez here! I’m so excited to share the following narrative that I wrote called To Be a Lady, which explores the role of gender norms in American society and how they impact a female’s relationship with the word “no”. Enjoy!
She waved at him, rushing into the garage, thank God that ten-minute workout’s done –
“Wait!” His eyes—there was always something strange in them—burned into her. “Can’t we go into your pool?”
Immediately, her gut tensed, her mind whispered, No, no, NO, don’t you dare let him in, not without anyone home. We can come up with som-
“Sure,” she sighed.
At a young age, nearly everyone knows two simple phrases: “Yes” and “No.”
However, her good-mannered family taught her differently. “Yes” was “Yes, please let me do this for you” and “No” was reserved for “No, thank you” and “No elbows on the table.”
She didn’t know how to blatantly say “No” to people without shame coloring her cheeks.
So when this guy asked if he could sit next to her on the bus only to crush her against the wall, when this guy crept increasingly close to her, when this guy asked if they could practice basketball together, when he apologized for making her feel uncomfortable and that he’d get better, she shoved down her instinct every time and nodded.
The incident wasn’t her parents’ fault. They loved her, she loved them, and they raised her to be polite, honest, compassionate, and patient.
How did I let it happen? Was I too detached?
They entered the pool, him droning on about himself while she wished, she prayed, she hoped that she could breathe underwater so she wouldn’t hear him, see those eyes. But even then, he could touch her.
Several times, he attempted to place his arm around her. She avoided it. At one point, she scooted over so much that she fell off the shallow bench and swam for it – anyplace away from him – but he grabbed her by the leg and held her tight. He held her there.
What do I do, what do I do, what do I –
What must have been three, four seconds could have been months, years. “No’s” and “Leave. My. House. And. My. Life. Now,” resounded in the air, in her mind, but they were hushed by the water.
She couldn’t lie; she doesn’t like to say yes, but she couldn’t say no; he was a “guest.” She couldn’t punch him; she didn’t want to touch him.
So he stayed for two more hours.
In an attempt to get him to leave, she told him, “I have to go shower” (which was true, she told herself). She climbed upstairs and almost reached the bathroom door until she realized he was walking behind her. She shut the door, guided him downstairs, spent another five minutes nodding, staring at the floor, until she urged him to leave. He hugged her tight, kissing her on the cheek—because Latino customs are awesome in uncomfortable situations—and waved “see you at school.”
Trying to forget horrible days is like soaking in hand sanitizer—you feel clean until your skin cracks, reminding you that “No, you can’t really forget.”
As it turns out, other girls have undergone similar encounters with him. This isn’t new—too many girls have suffered through sexual harassment or assault in different forms, with different men, and different results.
One thing remains the same: if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with anyone, if anyone you know feels the same around another person, if you need to escape from a possibly dangerous situation, trust your instinct.
It’s your most powerful weapon.