Learn to Say NO

Children usually have confidence in their immediate entourage, including close friends and family. That’s how we raise them. We teach them to say, “yes.”

By Mélina Soucy

I was raised that way. She was, too.

“Today, I’m 19. My assault happened when I was 16. He was 23. He was my friend…

“At the time, I didn’t use the words ‘rape’ or ‘assault.’ What happened to me was my fault. At least, that’s what I thought,” a rape victim whose name I will not use in this article says to me.

I met her because I was researching an article on the availability of resources for victims of sexual assault. Her story opens up new routes for reflection, particularly concerning consent.

“Do we really teach children to say no?” Rachel Gagnon asks me. She’s the director of the Institut de recherché en études feminists (IREF) and an expert on the notion of consent. She says it’s an idea that we should teach children.

Certainly, I remember chanting, when I was in elementary school: “Mon corps, c’est mon corps, c’est pas le tien” (My body, it’s my body, it’s not yours). This song explained to us young students that we were the only ones who could make decisions concerning who could touch our body. But it didn’t give us a meaning for the word “consent.”

Cultural Heritage

“He and I had been drinking. His girlfriend left in the middle of the evening. He made advances on me. I told him no. He insisted. We kissed. I refused to go any further. He insisted. He continued. I let him go ahead. I told myself that it was my fault, that I’d given him false hopes, that I shouldn’t have been drinking, that I should have refused his invitation that seemed friendly enough, that my body language led him to not hear my refusal,” the victim recounts.

This should not have been an ambiguous situation. The young girl should not have felt guilty. “People don’t understand that consent can be withdrawn at any moment,” the victim tells me regretfully. Today she realizes that she felt guilty for no reason.

And if we teach children to say no, then what? And maybe the real problem is in the miscomprehension of the word “no.” In the end, we teach children to express their opinion, but the meaning of words, and their weight, often remain abstract for them.   

The man who insisted, the man who continued on: isn’t he the child who we couldn’t teach the meaning of the word “no” to? Isn’t he the result of society’s patriarchal educational system?

“We teach men that a woman’s body is an acquired right, that he doesn’t have to win it over,” says Rachel Gagnon.

This way of thinking comes from a heavy cultural heritage that places men in the centre of the system.

If the issue of consent is complex, everything that stems from it, including rape, is complex as well. Before 1984, rape wasn’t a crime against the person, but against morals. An aggressor raped society, and not an individual victim.

It was only in 1984 that the victim was counted in the equation.  

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