Just in case someone has forgotten, let’s refresh what it means to say, “No means no.” When a person–even a woman–says no to some activity or behavior or request, it stops. You don’t keep going or asking or insisting. This is frequently alluded to in a sexual context (as in, the woman said no to more sex), but it applies to any situation that the woman wants to call a halt to. This includes repeatedly asking a woman for a date, or giving her information she doesn’t want (like how to get to Ballroom B even though she’s holding a map and already said she could find it), or forcing assistance onto her (like helping her carry a box she doesn’t want help carrying). No still means no even if the woman has said yes before. A woman may say no for a variety of reasons and in a variety of different tones, but they all mean the same thing. None of them mean “ask me again and I might change my mind.” If a woman might change her mind and wants you to ask her again, she’ll probably say that. Badgering her after she has said no is at best presumptuous. At worst, you start getting into predator territory. If you don’t think of yourself as a predator, back off at “no.”
“Yes means yes” is a new concept that hasn’t really gotten a lot of press. It’s the catch phrase of something known as “enthusiastic consent,” and it means that unless you are perfectly clear that the woman is definitely saying yes to whatever it is you want to offer (from help setting up the projector for the laptop all the way to sex), then you cannot assume she is OK with it. Unless you get enthusiastic consent, you should assume that she doesn’t want it. There are no loopholes. If there’s a woman at a skeptical meeting that you want to talk to, go up and introduce yourself! If she wants to talk to you, she’ll put away her cell phone or stop shuffling her conference bulletin or remove her earbuds and turn off her iPod or lift her purse off the chair to make room for you to sit, and she’ll face you and smile and engage in conversation.
Everything between “no means no” and “yes means yes” means no. You might go up to talk to a woman who doesn’t want to talk to you. However, for a variety of reasons–is trying to be polite in a room where she doesn’t know anyone, is afraid of confrontation, thinks you might have a skeptical business reason to approach her, misunderstood what you said first, for example–she might not say “No!” definitively. She might keep her book open instead of closing it to pay attention to what you are saying. She might answer in monosyllables. She might check her watch. She might excuse herself and try to walk away. She might do any number of things that do not include the word “no” and might be considered nice, polite behavior, but if you aren’t getting “Yes!” from her, she is not saying yes. These hems and haws and non-yesses are not challenges, or loopholes, or shyness, or opportunities. They are “no.”
Only “Yes!” means yes. If there’s no enthusiasm, be polite and just go your way. Treating a woman with that basic respect makes her more likely to revisit your skeptical group.