Dear Daughter, Say No.

I was born in 1969 to a Jewish mother and Puerto Rican father. They were from two very different cultures. My mother was the daughter of Comedy royalty. Her mother was a woman named Jean Carroll, who was arguably the first ever, female stand up.

My mother's father was my grandmother's agent, and Dean of the Friars Club. So my mother grew up in a family where the mom was just as successful as the dad. Pretty groundbreaking in the 1950's. My father was from a traditional Hispanic family where men were the boss, while women quietly did all the work.

My mother met my father in 1966 when she got a part time job teaching ballroom dance at the studio my father was managing. He was good looking, and very charming, and she fell in love with him right away. My father was not so smitten. He enjoyed my mother's attention, but let her know he could do better. She wasn't pretty enough, thin enough, or submissive enough, she wasn't his cup of tea.

So did my mother, who was raised by feminists, kick him to the curb? Nope. She made it her business to become everything he wanted. She stayed on a strict diet of vodka and Tab, she went to my father's mother's house in the South Bronx and learned to make my father's favorite foods, she turned her head when my father cheated, she would wake at 2:00 in the morning when he came home with friends and cook for everyone. When he said, "there's really no reason for us to be together if you aren't going to have a baby", she got pregnant.

Are you angry yet? Who are you more angry with? Him or her?

I grew up angry at her.

I was also in love with my father. He was the sun, the moon, and the stars in my eyes. I hung on his every word. He taught me that I should always be the first one to jump up and clear the table at dinner because then people would like me. He said women should always wear high heels and have pretty feet, he taught me to be smiley, and charming, and to be ladylike.

Fortunately, he wasn't actually around a lot. But he was around just enough to do some very serious damage to my brain. I learned from him to be submissive, that I shouldn't stand up for myself, that men are more important than women. I learned what I wanted didn't matter.

I grew up to be the kind of woman my father thought I should be. I cook, I clean, I wear high heels, I say yes, a lot. I dated any man who would ask me, because to say no would be impolite. I would drop everything, cancel plans, do things I hated doing, watch hours of football. I was raised to say yes, all the while seething inside.

The worst of it is I've had way too much sex I didn't want to have. Sometimes silently crying while it went on. I have never been raped because I never said no. I did what I was "supposed to" and even tried to make it good for men I wasn't even the least bit attracted to. Maybe they bought me dinner, or opened my door, or were just nice to me, and I felt I owed them. Mostly, they were men.

Now I'm a mom, and I have both sons and daughters. And I have to admit that after I had been a victim of misogynistic socialization, I then went on and perpetrated it. When my oldest daughter was five, she was taking swimming lessons. I would sit by the pool and watch with pride as my gorgeous little towhead squiggled around the water. At one point the instructor asked her to put her face under the water and my daughter said "no". I walked over, pulled my daughter out of the pool and explained to her that she was not to say "no" to a teacher. She could say she was afraid, she could say she was nervous, she could express her feelings, but she wasn't to say "no" outright to an authority figure. I wanted her to be pliant, easy, and submissive. I have never done anything more wrong.

I bet you've done it too, maybe not in the completely awful way I did, but you have probably known a three-year-old boy, and when he didn't listen you chalked it up to "boys being boys". Girls are not "just girls" when they are disobedient. Our boys are "so strong and brave", our girls are "soooo pretty". Boys are "big", and girls are "good little helpers".

I keep reading about the "yes means yes" consent laws. They don't sit well with me. I can't help but feel like if we as a culture would just teach our daughters to say no we'd be better off. We should make a pact to teach our daughters to say "no". To say "fuck no". To say, if needed, "go fuck yourself". To say, "touch me again and I will call the police". Let's teach our daughters they are powerful, and valuable, and then "yes" will mean "yes".