Courage

I’ve come up against quite a few moments requiring courage lately.

Nothing so violent or criminal as this courageous young woman, but courageous nonetheless.

Since deciding to not let my comfort level be sacrificed (or perhaps, more aptly: be eviscerated) to male preference for silence on my discomfort, I’ve had some confrontations so urgency-inducing that I heard my heart in my ears and I couldn’t quite see clearly.

In short: standing up for yourself is not easy, and standing up for yourself in the face of massive societal cluelessness is often completely terrifying. It is terrifying because it goes against everything we’re taught.

I’ve always been a nice, confident, self-effacing person. Recently I am a friendly, interested, confident, vocally dissenting, respectful person, capable of being wrong, and committed to no longer being generically nice or self-effacing. And when something happened today that required me to raise my voice and speak my utter discomfort in the situation and it was probably THE boldest I have been, to date. And THE most terrifying. Because, I had everything to lose, even though I was absolutely in the right.

I have been on adrenaline for two weeks since I became the above person and decided to call Bullshit when I see Bullshit. When not feeling immediately threatened, I am of the conviction that the more direct, clear, respectful, human, and redeeming the interaction can be, the more likely thoughtful, respectful change can take place.  This was not the case on the street recently but generally I work under this philosophy.

Firm, accurate descriptions of the transgression and how it makes you feel are key. I’ve found men are usually floored when I say: “I feel uncomfortable when you do that.” Many times they (many of them friends and work colleagues) are surprised by my unequivocal directness, and after initial fluster, seem to reflect on how their action is impacting me. Their action having emotional impact on the women/woman around them hadn’t even been considered. Sexism is so deeply ingrained it is indeed usually unconscious. Not always, but often.

In addition to, “It makes me feel uncomfortable,” I have also started saying point blank, “I feel bullied” when verbally dismissed, threatened, or mocked for upsetting a man’s comfort level, upsetting his state of “coasting along in unaware bliss.”

And, “I feel like you’re trying to discredit my voice and I’m not okay with that” when being talked down at.

I have been working on not justifying my emotion, which is a common tendency for a lot of women, myself included. The justification just isn’t needed. You don’t owe an explanation or need to be apologetic for a feeling. I will certainly state clearly WHY I feel that way, what he has done specifically to make me feel bad. But no bonus explanations, apologies, or saying “It’s ok” when, actually, it’s totally not.

I am working hard on being concise in my “I feel” statements, so the depth of my discomfort is both heard and felt.

These have been very instructive, important weeks. My gratitude to anyone who has encountered my assertiveness and has responded with concern for my feelings. I do everything I can to honor you while expressing my concerns, so responding honorably back is deeply heard and felt and acknowledged.

This Radiolab story raises a lot of concerns about women’s voices and courage.

(Note: That’s not how Radiolab frames it, but I think you can’t ignore that the tale is about two women encountering when to speak up. It’s an interesting topic, since lack of voice for women is generally assumed, and even when we say “I’m not sexist, women can share their voices, and stand up for themselves”, we sometimes unknowingly act in ways that demonstrate we all still hold residual beliefs that women’s voices are threatening or don’t count as much as men’s voices.)

This episode is about being nice, being apathetic, being assertive, being brave, being too brave, and being angry. The exchange involves two women, and a crucial encounter that forced the nice one to think about what putting your foot down can mean, including how can drawing lines be mutually beneficial and an act of expressing concern for the other.

The courage involved in making your voice heard is tremendous. Don’t think for a minute it doesn’t matter. It does. It changes the lives of everyone who runs into you. And if we all do that, imagine the courageous, exponential shift towards something better, more personal, more equitable.

UPDATE:
I would like to close this post with recommended reading.

This email from the insightful, spot-on Tara Mohr arrived in my inbox the day after posting about courage. I’d love for you to read the interview and check out related link 30 days of courage.

I am not affiliated with either person, I just thought the 30 days of Courage guide was a useful resource to know about and an potentially impactful way to jump start action towards a more courageous life.

 

 

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