I’d like you to remember the last time you found it difficult to give an explicit “no” to somebody in a non-sexual context. Maybe they asked you to do them a favour, or to join them for a drink. Did you speak up and say, outright, “No?” Did you apologise for your “no?” Did you qualify it and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t make it today?” If you gave an outright “no,” what privileged positions do you occupy in society, and how does your answer differ from the answers of people occupying more marginalised positions?
This form of refusal was analysed in 1999 by Kitzinger and Frith (K&F) in Just Say No? The Use of Conversation Analysis in Developing a Feminist Perspective on Sexual Refusal. Despite the seeming ambiguity in question/refusal acts like, “We were wondering if you wanted to come over Saturday for dinner,” “Well, uhh, it’d be great but we promised Carol already,” they are widely understood by the participants as straightforward refusals.
K&F conclude by saying that, “For men to claim [in a sexual context] that they do not ‘understand’ such refusals to be refusals (because, for example, they do not include the word ‘no’) is to lay claim to an astounding and implausible ignorance of normative conversational patterns.”