After a video of Maxine Waters standing up to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s attempts to dodge her questions went viral, writer Will Saletan shared it and tweeted, “Advice to parents: Teach your daughter to say ‘No’ firmly and mean it. Men sense women’s willingness to yield. Make clear you mean business.”
While it’s good for women to be assertive, ending sexism is not as simple as “say ‘no’ firmly.” When women do behave assertively, after all, they’re penalized for being too “aggressive,” “bossy,” or “masculine.” Plus, if we focus on women’s behavior, men won’t learn to respect them, no matter how “firmly” they speak.
Even more troublingly, this advice sounds dangerously similar to the victim-blaming sexual assault victims often face. It shouldn’t matter how someone says “no” to an unwanted sexual advance. “No” still means “no.” In fact, anything other than “yes” means “no.” Saletan writes that men “sense women’s willingness to yield,” but a sexual assault victim—or a victim of everyday sexism—isn’t “willing” at all; they’re forced into the situation.
Many Twitter users pointed out that instead of holding women responsible for preventing something they’re not at fault for, we should teach men not to target them.
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