“Don’t Say Maybe if You Want to Say ‘No'”

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The power of Twitter strikes yet again, this time the people have spoken against a menswear t-shirt sold by Forever 21, which states “Don’t Say Maybe if You Want to Say ‘No'”, dubbing the shirt as “rape-y” and a proponent of a “rape culture”. 

Without a doubt the message of the shirt speaks loud and clear, calling for the reader to be plain about their consent. Consent of what you ask? Most likely sex, as Forever 21 menswear sells to a demographic full of testosterone raging dudes under the age of 25 years old, who can still rock skinny jeans and not look like a penguin.

Lets play devils advocate, shall we? If the shirt were a baby tee marketed for women, the phrase would be viewed as an empowering message. The wearer would be telling her fellow women to stand up for themselves, ushering women to a stance that we at B.A.B.E.S. in the Workplace strongly support, “Stand in Your Power.” For far to long, women have been taught to be nice, sweet and appeasing, and have subconsciously internalized that we should be ‘yes-women’, in order to be liked. We’ve been taught that saying no, means being disagreeable and consequently, it means being “bitch-y” and “unlikeable”.  The idea of softening a ‘no’, by not saying ‘no’ outright and remaining open to suggestions thrown her way, is a strategy taught to women to keep doors from being closed in their faces or to keep them from being harmed. Perhaps you’ve seen the video footage of a guy asking for a girl’s number, and him verbally attacking her when she says ‘no’. Or a women in the workplace may use ‘maybe’ to keep her boss from firing her for refusing his sexual advances. “Maybe” is often a tool of protection for women.

But as a shirt sold in the menswear line, the message instead speaks from the male perspective to the female perspective, and to the male brotherhood, requesting that women say ‘no’ rather than leading the males to believe there might be a possibility of consent. The tee is considered “rape-y” for allowing men to shirk the responsibility for only having sex when they have a clear ‘yes’. The shirt was deemed ‘rape-y’ as it affirms to men that ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ also means ‘yes’.  A rape culture is one which systematically push the notion that men should proceed with their objectives until they hear ‘no’ rather than respecting a woman’s body and not proceeding with sex unless they hear a ‘yes’. Let’s be serious, men are taught to hunt and pursue aggressively, and women who say ‘maybe’ are deemed merely a tease. Thus our culture encourages male entitlement and female objectivity. The tee is merely confirmation of that.
Perhaps Twitter challenging the tee, until Forever 21 removed it from their stores and issued an apology to Huff Post, is an indication that time are a’changing, and “we’re not gonna take it, anymore.”

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M. Reese Everson is an Author, Attorney and women’s Advocate. She currently works as a Sexual Harassment Expert, Corporate diversity instructor, and Director of B.A.B.E.S in the Workplace (Beautiful, Ambitious, Brilliant, EntrepreneuHERs), an organization dedicated to helping millennials develop workplace navigation strategies and supporting and empowering women who have been sidetracked and derailed in their careers due to sexual harassment and gender discrimination through rebuilding, rebranding, and retooling.

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