He was the third contractor my husband and I brought in for an estimate on a new roof, a major renovation we never saw coming, were not sure we needed and were agonizing over.

He talked on and on: shingle types, slide after iPad slide of water damage and hail destruction. Finally he got to the numbers: $16,000 for the roof but — for us, just for us! — $12,000.

“What do you think?” he asked.

I said we could use some time. He leaned in closer.

“What more do you need?” he pressed.

I told him we would look over all the facts and make a decision. I said this gently, nicely, so as not to bruise his ego. I was not interested — I’d been turned off by his pomp and swagger — so I used the common parlance for “no.” But he wasn’t having it.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “You don’t think your house has a problem?”

I stammered. “Well, yes,” I said.

“Do you think you need a new roof?” he railed, he bellowed. “Do you?”

This is when I got it. He saw me as the weak point, the woman, who could be made to feel defensive, who would fall into agreement with his superior experience and wisdom. But I was done with that. Many women are done with it. I was done with demure, done with I-don’t-know, done with well-yes-sir.

“I don’t appreciate being mansplained,” I said.

He laughed, scornful. “I don’t even know what that means,” he replied, and I said, “And you just lost $12,000 worth of business because of it.”

For the rest of the afternoon, I fumed. I felt the lingering frizz of aggression on my skin, as if I’d been grabbed, or followed.

In the weeks after this encounter, I thought back on another from my freshman year of college. I had gone to a house party with a friend, and an older guy led me back into a bedroom. We were kissing. He tried to climb on top of me. I said no. He berated me: Why had I come in here with him? I was being ridiculous, unfair. I don’t remember all the back and forth, only that some primal impulse rose in me and I yanked a bedside lamp cord out of its socket and threw the lamp against the opposing wall. He scrambled off me. I ran. I shook for a while, then laughed about the incident later with friends.

It is difficult to say no in sexual scenarios. It is sometimes a greater struggle to say no in the everyday situations in which men attempt to coerce women’s time, energy and attention, perhaps because these situations often don’t feel as urgent and the power dynamic isn’t as blatant. The Me Too movement has generated an important conversation about consent and sex, but not nearly as much has been said about the dynamics of saying no in these myriad other scenarios.

When a male writer asked me for a “small favor” that turned out to involve more than 10,000 words of writing, I said no, but only after consulting a female friend and discovering that he’d asked her too; it seemed he’d only asked women. It was the first time I had ever said no to a man who held a degree of power and prestige over me, a shocking realization for a “strong” woman, age 36.

Women writers with multiple publications under their belts laugh quietly, later, at the haughty, amateur male who dominated the workshop conversation with declarations about literary technique. Young women smile and nod at an uncle’s illogical and inane black-and-white generalizations. We so often let the world be written by arrogant men, giving in to their windy confidence and inability to listen.

“I just wanted a no,” the roofer had said as he left. I told him I had said no many times. He just refused to hear it.

This is not only a problem of women standing up for themselves but also of what our society values. Instead of asking women to be like stereotypical men — more aggressive, assertive and dominant — why don’t we ask men to embrace the qualities that tend to be marginalized as feminine. Why don’t we ask men to be humble and curious? To sit back and listen? To question themselves?

We celebrate the “strong woman” who is the closest possible option to maleness, whose femaleness is redeemed and qualified by a common male adjective. Meanwhile the rhetoric in our country has never been more belligerently masculine, or more shallow, oversimplified and destructive.

At the same time, women hold more power than ever: in Congress, in universities, as artists and entrepreneurs. Instead of emulating the old male models, these women can lead and rule and create in a different way: by listening, really listening to other people; by asking questions and pausing to reflect; by emphasizing humility, curiosity and care.

I want my daughter to feel empowered to say no in every context — to the man who tries to explain Mexico to her, or the man who asks her to do just this one little favor, make this one simple decision. I want her to say no to the boy who pushes in front of her on the slide — there is always at least one, and most of the time, his mother does not intervene. The other day, a boy elbowed his way around her and she let him. I called her over, sat her down and said, “Elena, the next time that happens, you say, ‘No, it is my turn!’ Do you understand?” She nodded. I repeated it. “You say no.” She looked relieved.

I know she’ll go on to have classes in which boys raise their hands more frequently and are called on more often. I know she’s growing up in a system in which men are paid more than women and make up 75% of Congress. But this will change, and a huge part of that change will be women saying no in all sorts of ways that seem minor but erode the male entitlement to women’s time, attention and decisions.

This isn’t about being strong. It’s about a world that runs on more than strength, than bluster and brag, than dominance and coercion. It’s about the bold claim that such a world is possible, and women will make it.

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

(11) comments

Dwasserba

"It’s about a world that runs on more than strength, than bluster and brag, than dominance and coercion." As I am watching Nancy Pelosi on TV. Our star.

DickD

We went in to buy a car. Leasing was an option. They gave us a list of costs. It included the usual dealership fees, $300 in Maryland, tags and title fees, and then they added in a processing fee for a bank plus extra insurance cost of $995 for the bank, in case there's an accident and the car value is diminished. But that's not all, they wanted the full sales tax for a car we were never going to own along with the full sales price. There was just no reason to consider most of this and they don't explain anything until challenged. We walked out fully disgustedand refused to answer their sales calls for the next month. . We bought a car with more than twice as much discount, in Virginia. If dealer don't want to be reasonable walk out on them. And it's not just females, they do it to anyone that they think they can.

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Exactly Dick. Do not be intimidated. If the sales pitch gets too hard, stand up, tell them they just lost a sale, then walk out. If they chase to get your business, tell them that they should have done that the first time, and keep walking. The business will either change their tactics, or fire the schmuck that thinks doing business that way is OK. Either way, someone else gets your business.

cebcnb

I am not sure how this commentator comingled getting bids on a roof replacement with men being overbearing towards women. It seems the person had an aggressive salesperson problem and not an aggressive male problem. I too have been victim of the same construction sales tactics....it was a lady trying to tell me how the 9 replacement windows, at a cost of $27,000, would make my home so much better.

threecents

Yah, it is often not about men taking advantage of women, it is about people taking advantage of anyone they can. On the other hand, certain men think it is cool to take advantage of women, mostly so they can brag about it to other men (see "locker room talk").

richardlyons

Strong salesperson who happened to be a male. Weak comparison.

gary4books

Of course men can hear. But they also hear "No means maybe." And women can say "No!" Best to say it early and often. When I studied Spanish there were two words that were the same in English and Spanish - "Taco" and "No." I do know them.

thump1202

"Gently so as not to bruise his ego" so the writer wouldn't give a clear answer, he kept asking because he wanted the job getting frustrated over time, and then writer pulls feminist terminology that isn't part of his world and shames him for not being woke. Yeah, all his fault. I say think about it and let me know if you want to proceed and walk out when I run into people who start waffling and this guy will learn to do that. I'll think about it and get back to you is fine, no is fine, but all that "Well I don't know.." is a total waste. Learn to appreciate that these men are busy and every minute you cost them trying not to bruise their oh so fragile ego is time taken away from their family and people who say yes. You're not doing them any favors and they cannot read your mind.

sevenstones1000

“ I want her to say no to the boy who pushes in front of her on the slide “. I don’t know, the little girls I see at the playground are every bit as fierce as the little boys. Maybe stop raising your little girls to be princesses.

jsklinelga

sevenstones Let me jump at the opportunity to agree with you. There is no doubt that women, as a group, have had to fight for social equality. They have made great strides. But stereotyping men or women benefits nothing. I have known many women, strong in their convictions and self assured, who are fierce as you say. The writer seems a bit misandrist

DickD

Our daughter played dodge ball with all in her class in the elementary school. She was always one of the last to be hit. And she always had good grades. She was a real tom boy. We still argue about everything. Hard to beat her.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominen criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.