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Green Eggs and Ham: Dishing Out Coercion

Character Being Offered Green Eggs and Ham

“What happened next? Can you guess? I did not stop until he said yes.”

So reads one of the final lines in I am Sam-I-Am, a book by Tish Rabe that is based off of the children’s classic Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess. In both stories, Sam-I-Am faces conflict when he wants to share his green eggs and ham with an unnamed character who refuses to try the dish. Sam-I-Am pesters the unnamed character in a house, on a train, with a goat, etc. until the weary character finally says yes and the dish is consumed.

As a parent of small children, I used to feel a small thrill of victory when that unnamed character finally took his first bite of green eggs and ham, only to discover that spoiler alert he actually likes it. The odd concoction quickly becomes his new favorite dish, and he vows to eat green eggs and ham in all the places he previously refused his companion. Yes, I would think, if my toddler just tried the stupid insert totally normal human food here, they’d realize it’s actually good!

My feelings on these publications have changed, however, as I’ve stepped into the sexual assault awareness and education space. Time and time again, as I read aloud the classic story and listen to Sam-I-Am’s constant pressuring, all I think is, Can’t you just give him a break?

Seriously, how many times does a grown adult fictional character have to say “No!” before it’s understood that he knows his own wants, needs, and desires, and he’s allowed to be left alone?

Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by use of force or threats. Although this may look like threats of bodily harm or threatening to leave a romantic partner if sexual acts are not performed, it’s more than just that. Imagine yourself as the unnamed character in Green Eggs and Ham for a moment. You don’t like the look of some weird food that a stranger who’s name you didn’t know five minutes ago is trying to get you to eat, and now he literally won’t stop following you around because you’ve refused to try it. You’ve tried going to your house, you’ve taken a train and a boat trying to get away, and he just won’t leave you be. Finally, your boat sinks and you’re left sopping wet and treading water in the middle of nowhere, far from home and surrounded by all the random animals you refused to eat the food with initially. 

Can’t you imagine finally thinking, This just isn’t worth it anymore. If taking one bite is all it takes to get this guy to leave me alone, fine. I’ll take the stupid bite.

That’s coercion.

It’s the feeling of, “I really don’t think I want this, but you won’t stop asking and it’s consuming our relationship. Maybe if I give you what you want, things can finally be back to normal again.”

It’s, “You told me there were other people who could do this sexual act for you if I didn’t. I’m financially/emotionally dependent on you. I feel as though I have no choice but to say yes.”

It’s, “You told me it was my duty because you took me on a nice date/we’re married/in a long term relationship.”

“It’s, “You threatened to release embarrassing/shaming/personal images or information about me if I didn’t say yes.”

It’s sexual assault. Coercion is sexual assault. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and it isn’t your fault, no matter the context. If you experienced coercion, it doesn’t matter whether or not the partner who coerced you knew what they were doing. It is still wrong.

That’s why we discuss it. Because coercion is wrong and it hurts people. Can we talk for a second about how this guy in Green Eggs and Ham isn’t ever even named? Coercion is a silent form of assault, despite how loud the perpetrator’s voice may be. Many survivors are left not even knowing they’ve ever been victims. Our goal is to educate both survivors, would-be perpetrators, and potential victims. As we come to recognize coercion in its many forms, we can receive healing, commit not to perpetrate, and notice red flags.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that the unnamed Green Eggs and Ham character did like the dish. This isn’t about whether or not someone likes sex. It’s about trusting that an individual knows their own wants, needs, and desires. This means accepting “no’s” with grace and gaining ENTHUSIASTIC consent- not a halfhearted, “sure, I guess,” or a, “if I have to.” This means respecting someone enough to give them the space to decide what they want and when.

And, if it turns out they do want some “green eggs and ham” at the end of the night, booyah.

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