As women, we often find it difficult to say how we feel. When someone hurts our feelings, we suck it up or turn the other cheek, making excuses for the person who’s undermined us—telling ourselves they didn’t really mean it. We’re in denial. Or we decide it’s not worth the effort to call someone out for disrespectful behavior.
We need to stop enabling another’s rudeness, insensitivity, and cruelty—and the sooner the better. Author and motivational speaker Tony Gaskins said “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”
Take a moment to think about how and when you give others permission to treat you with disrespect. A particular person or event may come to mind. Or you may be able to think of several people you know that you’d like to give a piece of your mind, but you don’t want confrontation. Others know this from the clues you give. The bullies in particular will take advantage time after time, if you let them. Beyond this, even those who treat others with respect may overlook your right to considerate treatment, because they don’t see your value, especially when you’re self-effacing.
The phenomenon of men taking unfair advantage of their power over women has become blatantly evident today. While it’s disturbing, it offers us the opportunity to apply all our reserves of courage and integrity to put a stop to sexual, physical and emotional assault, abuse and harassment in all of its ugly forms, from groping and other offensive behaviors to rape, domestic violence and human trafficking. I applaud women’s show of support for one another in this crucial global endeavor. We all need to get on board to effect substantial positive change.
While it’s important to report any unlawful breach of women’s rights by men (or women), it’s even more effective to stop invasive and inappropriate acts of aggression against us before they start, whenever possible. Ideally, we need to become more financially independent to carry more clout in our struggle for human liberties. But women’s advancement has proven a huge challenge within our patriarchal culture. Although we’re gaining momentum, it will continue to take tenacious and unified effort to free ourselves from exploitation.
This means each of must prioritize our rights to humane treatment above our valid feelings of fear—based on our economic dependence, our vulnerability, and even our disposition toward compassion. This requires raw courage, which we’re progressively flexing in the face of intimidation. For many of us, it means breaking a lifetime pattern of excusing men for their unfeeling conduct toward us. But, in order to change, do we need to put up a hostile front that might further endanger us—and our children?
Actually no—at least I hope not—if only we can make our feelings known—in a civil but firm manner—not only with men, but with other women as well. When we establish boundaries and stand up for ourselves every time someone attempts to cross them, we’re teaching others to respect us as human beings, equal in every way to everyone else on the planet. While it’s best to establish our boundaries at the beginning of our relationships, in reality, it may seem too late to expect those we’ve known for months or years to begin to respect them, but still it’s worth an earnest try;
Especially if you’re responding to a verbal affront, telling a man (or woman) how you feel doesn’t necessitate fighting, yelling or screaming. You don’t need to say something hateful in return to someone’s callousness. You can simply say, “That hurts me,” or “Ouch” or “I feel disrespected.” Whatever you say, limit your observation to your own feelings and emotions, instead of calling the other person a jerk, a perv…or whatever comes to mind. Then—and only then— you can stop, listen and watch for that person’s reaction.
If he (or she) tells you that you’re 1) overreacting, 2) crazy, 3) silly, 4) imagining things, 5) paranoid, 6) a prude, or 7) a bitch—whatever they can think of to invalidate your feelings as well as your rights to fairness, consideration and respect, you can remain calm and confident in the truth of your position. It’s wise at this moment not to escalate things, because you want to avoid name-calling, threats, or violence. If the situation heats up, risking your safety, despite your best efforts, your best option is to remove yourself from the situation—at least for the time being.
On the other hand, the person who’s offended you might apologize right away. Only you can decide whether it’s sincere. If it’s the first offense, you may give him (or her) the benefit of the doubt. If that person is a family member, or someone you think you want in your life, it’s up to you to reinforce your standards in the future, by asserting your boundaries with consistence. The question becomes: how many times must you say “no,” or “that hurts me” before he (or she) stops the hostile, offensive behavior and treats you with respect? For your own wellbeing and peace of mind, not to mention your protection, I hope you won’t keep this toxic, predatory individual in your life—with license to harm or destroy you on ongoing basis. It’s really never worth it.
If you’re in a thankless place in your life where others seem to ignore, berate or hurt you with impunity, please know that you are a remarkable woman—intelligent, kind, and lovable—and you deserve respect. Seek out other caring people within your reach, who can help you take the steps you need to improve your life. Perhaps counseling will help. If you find yourself a target of someone’s violence, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656 HOPE (4673) or the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233: Keep your actions secret from the perpetrator and learn from professionals how to escape your dangerous situation in the safest possible way.
Finally, if you have a daughter or a son, or if you know a youth with issues of self-esteem, please say and do what you can to encourage that person to assert her (or his) rights to humane treatment.
If we work together, it’s our best chance at creating a more just and loving world and save lives in the process.
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™