What Does it Take to Defend Yourself?

I have always had a hard time standing up for myself. Somewhere along the lines, I was indoctrinated into the belief that women cannot be aggressive and being aggressive is anything that can cause a conflict. When I was in elementary school I would get into fights with my friends all the time over the stupidest things and so I fell into the trap of turning a 180: instead of causing conflicts, I would be a good girl and bring peace. Being a proper girl and being a peacekeeper were interlinked in a way I didn’t question when I was a child.

Unfortunately this way of thinking is still hardwired into my brain. And so when a man the other day called me a “little girl” (see my previous blog about the incident here) I lost my voice and didn’t say anything to refute his statement. Women are especially trained to not contradict men.

But I was able to stand up against a sexist comment I heard the other day claiming that all women were uninterested in sports and could amuse themselves by talking to other women while the men watched the NBA finals. He tried to justify his comment by asking me a question about which player got the basket in the last game, thinking that my ignorance of sports proved his point that all women don’t like sports. I told him his comments were sexist, unappreciated, and not funny.

It didn’t feel as if it took that much courage to tell this person off, but it felt impossible to stand up for myself when a sexist comment was directly aimed at me.

When you stand up for a movement-say the feminist movement-, you can claim righteousness in that you’re one among many who believe that women need equality. When you stand up for yourself, there might not be anyone to back you up. And that is terrifying. I know I get a gut feeling where I immediately question my worth: did I deserve the comment that was slung at me? Am I actually the little girl he pins me as? Is his perception of me my own fault?

All of these questions are worse than useless because I am playing into the hands of the person who insulted me. By the time I process all these questions, the moment has passed where I could have stood up for myself.

And I’m increasingly realizing that if I don’t stand up for myself, then it will be a self fulfilling prophecy where no one else will stand up for me either. But I’m also realizing that defending myself is more than just speaking words in my own defense.

I can defend myself by defending my ideals. This is very circular: I have an easier time standing up for a movement than I do standing up for myself, and standing up for myself includes standing up for a movement. And it’s so difficult.

I was at a party last night and I watched someone log his friend’s computer where his friend’s was logged into facebook. He posted as his friend’s status: fee fi fo fum; I want a penis in my  bum.

No one but me saw him do this to his friend’s account and I turned my back to him and pretended to be invisible. I didn’t know him. I barely knew the friend who was being pranked. But I knew I disagreed morally with what was going on.

And we’re back to women being taught to never contradict or confront men. We’re back to ingrained sexism and the shame of falling prey to it.

So what does it take to defend yourself? The way I see it, you can only defend yourself when you truly believe in what you’re fighting for and don’t care what the opposition says. Then you can defend your dignity, your sex, your race, your intelligence, your sexuality. Then you can defend your morals.

2 thoughts on “What Does it Take to Defend Yourself?

  1. A few months ago, I was invited to my boyfriend’s house to play games with some of his friends. I ended up being the only girl there, which was a little surprising considering they all have wives or girlfriends. My boyfriend’s roommate was playing music videos on the TV while we played cards. And these videos slowly progressed to having more and more female nudity, until we were basically watching naked girls rolling around on the beach to music. I was disgusted with the fact that this was happening in mixed company. But more than anything, I was appalled that the guy who chose to watch this was calling these women bitches and sluts. I honestly have never seen anything so degrading and morally upsetting than this. I did say something to him, but I’m afraid it came out as a joke. I am a very laid back person, but there is a line! And it was definitely crossed. I hate having attention on me and so I often don’t speak up, especially since I was meeting some of these friends for the first time. I was SO upset at myself for not being more explicit in my disapproval. Thanks for writing this!! It’s important for us to all stand up for ourselves and each other. Because some men don’t think sexism exists.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this. I think that it is very brave of you to share this instance and the injustice of it all. I agree that all too often when women do speak up, our words are not taken seriously. This is another reason why we need feminism.

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