Monday, July 8, 2013

The importance of self-respect

I’d like to presume on my senior status & take the bully pulpit to speak to young women, especially working women who grow up with few expectations for themselves. Life is a hard thing to navigate & harder when you’re fumbling without a compass. You form friendships & relationships with many (men & women) who betray your trust. And the betrayals confuse--as if you did something wrong to invite trouble or you have “stupid” emblazoned on your forehead.

Those from the upper classes are raised with a stronger sense of their place in the world & they often bully those they deem inferiors--especially women. It took me a long time to learn how to stop internalizing this stuff, to stop feeling small when someone insulted me. It took me longer to learn how to deflect & not tolerate it. But in the meanwhile, it caused a lot of grief & second-guessing myself, & doubting my worth.

I don’t want young women to endure what they should not have to. I was always a rebel but I didn’t learn the art of self-defense against abuse until I worked with mostly men. I was tutored by men who could not tolerate seeing someone victimized. One coworker said to me, “I could fight your battles for you--& I’m willing to if you want--but if you’re going to win your place in this world, you’re going to have to fight your own battles.” And they were mighty battles, including against men three times my size who threatened me physically. Other men (some from the WWII generation) taught me what to say to management, how to stand up against sexual harassment, how to run an abuser around the block. I was using assertiveness training which didn’t work because aggressiveness training was necessary. They created a monster--because standing up against abuse puts a stop to it & is very empowering indeed.

I learned to ream abusers out like I was one of those furious goddesses of vengeance; I harassed the harassers until they were afraid to look in my direction. At first it took me days to recover from such encounters; then I learned to walk away laughing up my sleeve with nary a rise in my adrenalin.

It doesn’t take eloquence nor even a lot of words. You don’t have to use insults or cursing--though judiciously applied, an “eff you” can be very effective. All you have to do is take your stand in no uncertain terms, with the firmest tone of voice, & with a steady, unflinching gaze. And if you don’t think you can muster that, practice in the mirror until you do. Make a commitment to yourself that you will not accept abuse from anyone--including in your family--& you will save yourself years of heartache.

That’s the end of my sermon. Amen.

(This is how Nemesis, the Greek goddess of vengeance is portrayed in popular culture. Note they’ve changed the gender. This is how you want to look to your abusers.)

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