You are allowed to say no.
I know, revolutionary right? There are lots of things in life that I almost always say yes to: adventures, cups of tea, spa treatments, the chance to stroke an animal. There are also many things that you will get offered and asked, and which a patriarchal society would have us believe that good girls; nice girls, acquiescent girls, don’t make a fuss girls and for chrissakes CONFORM girls, should say yes to.
And I say, respectfully: bollocks to that.
If you want to do these things, then hurrah! Crack on and enjoy. But know that you have a choice. Know that you are allowed to say no. I really wish someone had told me that you are never, under any circumstances, obliged to say yes (or meekly and silently acquiesce) to:
Requests for dates / hugs / kisses / being touched / sex if you don’t want to. Might you get called an ice-maiden, no fun, a bitch? Quite possibly. But it’s your body and your life, and if your inner voice says ‘no’, say it with your outer voice too. You can say it politely (unless the person asking is actually being a jackass) but do say it. I wish I had known this a very long time ago.
Anything in the bedroom that makes you feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Ditto in the workplace and indeed life in general as far as disrespected goes. I’m a big fan of choosing discomfort in life because that’s how you grow your confidence and comfort zone, but it must be YOU who’s choosing to take that path and not someone else backing you into a corner.
Having a traditional job. Now don’t get me wrong here, you should definitely strive to be capable of supporting yourself independently as early in life as is practical. But how you do that is entirely up to you – and the great thing about gaining financial independence is that it’s then nobody else’s damn business.
Having babies. Oh man. The baby dilemma may be the biggest one you ever face; or you may have known from childhood, as I did, that parenthood wasn’t your voyage. I have the utmost admiration for parents and I adore the youngsters in my life, it was just not for me. If you want kids with every fibre of your being then fab, may you have all the luck and joy in the world. If however you decide to remain child-free, be prepared for a LOT of people who are not happy with your decision. When you are told that ‘you’ll change your mind’, all you need do is ask this simple question: ‘are you me?’ Happily, the only straight answer to this has a 100% response rate of ‘no’, at which point you are at liberty to suggest (again, politely – they probably don’t realise they’re being a dick so there’s no need to be a dick back) that they might like to jog on. (This line of enquiry peaks in your mid 30s, but once you’re into your 40s people ask less, lest the choice no longer be available to you. There are definite advantages to getting older.)
Drinks. See point 1 – you are definitely allowed to not want a drink, especially if you don’t know the asker or are remotely suspicious of them.
Alcohol. Is it ridiculous that I was fully 42 years old before I realised that alcohol consumption is not compulsory? I’m English, I live in Australia, and I’m in the music business. Booze is so tightly woven into the fabric of all these societies that it hadn’t occurred to me that I could just…. not. It’s the only drug which it’s borderline socially unacceptable NOT to take. Which, considering that it’s actually a poison to the human body, is bonkers.
Eating something to please someone else. If you want the cake, eat the cake. But don’t be guilted if you don’t want the cake – the cake is no more compulsory than the booze.
Space invaders. Ugh, spare me the airline seat spreader, the queue jostler, the ‘I’m going to sit right by you even though the whole waiting room is empty’ person. I’ll admit this is still a work in progress for me (like I said I’m English, ergo I find confrontation excruciating and prefer simply to tut ferociously), but I’m working with ‘sorry, could I have some space please?’ (Definitely feels more comfortable with every English person’s favourite word, ‘sorry’, in the sentence…) Alternatively, where possible, you are allowed to simply move.
Unwelcome lengthy conversation. I’m happy to pass the time of day, but if we are seat neighbours on a flight we are NOT going to be best buddies by the other end. Sorry. No.
People dropping by unannounced. No. No no no no no.
Fashion. If following the current styles floats your boat, isn’t preventing you from doing something like saving for your pension, and you genuinely enjoy it rather than do it to keep up with the Joneses, brilliant, may it brighten your world. But know that you are also allowed to dress exactly as you like, regardless of what anyone else is doing. Your style can be your own. Fashion: you are allowed to say no.
Make-up. Likewise! If you feel cheered by a bit of daily slap, or relish the artistry and drama of creating a whole different interpretation of you, make-up can be a friendly tool. But if you honestly feel that you can’t nip out for a few groceries without the whole shebang, then there might be a bigger issue. You’re a perfectly fine human exactly as you are.
Cosmetic intervention. Maybe some time in the next 20 years I’m going to change from ‘no no no no no’ to ‘argh ok hit me up with a full facelift’, but I like the idea of ageing totally naturally and I HATE the thought that injecting chemicals / cutting bits of me off / adding under-skin scaffolding is a required beauty standard. I know my carcass isn’t me and is simply my home for this trip, but will I feel like making surgical home improvements in the coming years? Honestly I hope not, but I’m sure as hell not going to condemn anyone else’s choices. I do think it’s gone too far at the moment though. It’s becoming very…. normal. I think if we do it we have to really ask ourselves why (is it simply to prefer how we appear or is it some dark sexist societal bullshit? Why are most of the men not doing it?) and remember that we are allowed to say no. See also: hair removal. If you wax /shave /whatever your body hair because you like the way it feels / looks, more power to you. But if you’re spending time and money de-fluffing yourself simply because someone else / society expects it…. well, you are allowed to say no.
High heels. Binning off the heels was one of the best choices of my life. Are the men hobbling around, half crippled, unable to run or even walk home, unable to think straight for the pain? They are not. Oh, they are wise. A few years ago I found myself at a music industry event talking to some highly influential people, and only half able to concentrate because my beautiful bloody shoes were so agonising. I decided there and then that heels and I were OVER. The next two events I went to, I wore a) a gorgeous sequinned dress and no shoes at all – it was a garden party, and b) a long floaty number and cowboy boots. On both occasions I was pain free and as happy as a clam. High heels can, as far as I’m concerned, do one.
Energy vampires. Relationships of all kinds are like joint bank accounts – you both need to pay in your fair share. Naturally there will be times when each of you make more withdrawals – heartbreak, grief, depression – or can’t pay in as much as you’d like – small children, crazy times at work. But the balance needs, over the long run, to be fair and equal to both parties. If you’re in a relationship of any kind, including friends, family and professional, where the other person only ever withdraws and you’re consistently left feeling drained, it’s time to raise the issue. You are not required to let yourself be used and you are allowed to say no.
Help. I am REALLY bad at accepting help. This has often been pointed out to me as though it were a failing, and I can agree in one sense but not another. You see, whilst I’m not great at ASKING for help when I need it, and I do recognise that as a problem, I don’t feel obliged to accept help simply because it’s offered. I’m fine with saying, ‘thanks but I’m fine’, if I am indeed fine (and if I’m not just being a stubborn arse, which does also happen). It’s very kind of people to offer help. Equally though, I enjoy feeling strong and capable, and so feel lucky to be able to decline. As always, there’s no need to be a dick when declining (except if, as once happened, something I was working on was physically snatched from my hands in the guise of ‘helping’ – I might have been a dick then), but it’s one of those things, like the others in this list, which are entirely optional. If you like it, say yes. But keep in your back pocket the inalienable right that you always have: to say no.