One student’s experience with being told “no,” and how that led to an epiphany
A few weeks ago, I was at my aunt’s house with my parents, my cousins, my great-aunts and uncles for Saturday supper. It’s a tradition that after our family’s Sunday supper together, the men go to a local Italian bar to have coffee. Every time, not one of the women is asked to go, simply because it’s not customary.
Recently, I’ve been super busy and, although I had brought my laptop to supper to work on assignments, I decided I wanted to take a break and get a coffee. I was looking forward to a freshly brewed espresso and some down time with my cousins away from my laptop. That is, until I was met with a sentence I’ve never been told in my life: “No, because women aren’t allowed to come.”
I immediately got defensive. I told my great-uncle I just really wanted to get a coffee; it’s not like I was intruding on anything. To no one’s surprise, I guess, arguing with an old Italian man and getting around being told “no” was futile. I got upset and emotional, struggling to hold back tears.
You may think I was being dramatic and that my reaction, while not unwarranted, was not necessary. But this experience made me realize a plethora of things I hadn’t really put too much thought into before.
My entire life, my parents—my mother, in particular—have raised me to be able to do anything and everything. As a small child, I knew how to use a hammer and a screwdriver; I could paint a wall, install pavé-uni (yes, even that), do basic plumbing, change a lightbulb, and maintain the pool. In our house, being a girl was never a factor for discrimination. I knew how to do all of these chores because they were the tasks that needed to get done.
My mom passed that mentality on from her childhood when she and her three sisters were taught how to do everything and pull their weight too. That was passed down from my grandparents. My nonna knew how to paint and fix things around the house, and my nonno would cook, do groceries and even the laundry, which was super uncommon at that time. Likewise, my 70-year-old aunt is and has always been the one who does the gardening, mows the lawn, all while being the one who cooks and cleans up after 15 people at family gatherings.
She and my great-uncle are of the same baby-boomer generation. Since the incident, I struggled to understand how two people of about the same age, especially from that generation, could have such different values. Then I realized that even within my own generation, which is supposedly “woke” and informed about social constructs, there is disparity. I have come to the conclusion that it all comes down to what you were and continue to be exposed to.
Luckily for me, I come from a few generations of feminists (I use the term lightly here, although it’s applicable nonetheless) even if they didn’t know it. My nonno raised four strong daughters; my mom went on to teach me the same values and, along with my dad, instilled in me that I don’t need a man and I should never take “no” for an answer.
Graphic by Ana Bilokin