For Women, “No” is a Dangerous Word

For women, one little word – “no” – can be very dangerous. Janese Talton-Jackson, 29 and the mother of three, is dead because she said that word to a man who was interested in her. He followed her out of a Homewood club early Friday morning and pumped a round from a shotgun into her chest. Because she said “no.” And he believed he had the right to hear “yes.”

Janese Talton-Jackson (source: Facebook)

After a car chase, police captured Charles McKinney, age 41, and charged him with homicide, aggravated assault, fleeing and eluding police, possession of heroin and crack cocaine with the intent to deliver, and gun violations. [Post-Gazette, 1-22-16] A state constable, who happened to be at the bar that night, reported seeing McKinney twice make advances towards Ms. Talton-Jackson. [Post-Gazette, 1-26-16] She said “no” both times. Dangerous word.

It’s a dangerous word when men like McKinney presume their right to have access to the bodies of women they desire. Being rebuffed is an insult not just to their honor and pride, but to their sense of masculinity and the status they derive from it. This is patriarchy in its rawest form and illustrates why gender is really a system of relationships of power. Her “no” threatened his authority and he used his gun to reclaim his position.

I can’t stop thinking about Janese and this tragic story. I know and have deep respect for her brother, state Rep. Ed Gainey, and my heart breaks for her entire family. I want to cry thinking about the women we lose in this country every day because they said, “no,” and because too many people will blame these women for their own murders. As Pittsburgh based writer and Ebony contributing editor Damon Young wrote this week: [The Root, 1-15-16]

 I know there will be people—men and women—who will hear about this murder and will immediately think, “Well, she must have said something disrespectful” or “She didn’t have to embarrass him by saying no. Just give him a fake number” or “How was she dressed?” or “What was she even doing out that late in Homewood?” As if this—men responding to disinterest with violence—weren’t epidemic. As if any of this were her fault. And as if “What could she have done to prevent this?” matters at all, and “What can and should men do to stop men from doing this?”—which, ultimately, is the only relevant question here—doesn’t.

I like his question, “What can and should men do to stop men from doing this?” We need men as full partners in the feminist struggle to re-define gender relationships, so that “no” is not a dangerous word.

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