I shared with him an incident that took place just a few days ago that really set him off. A colleague of mine became enthralled with my exposed, toenail painted feet. I was so taken aback by his interest and his gall in touching them when I had my feet propped up on a chair that I assumed it was an impulsive act so I said nothing. Nor did I say anything when the action was repeated; I just moved my feet to the floor, stood up and said it was time for me to go. He did another out-of-character act that I allowed - he hugged me. Again I did not protest the encroachment into my personal space.
My husband says I should have spoken up immediately and let this man know his actions were most inappropriate, but I did not. I said it was because I didn’t want to be rude nor did I want to make him feel bad.
This, I know and my husband has made loud and clear, is a problem of mine.
You’d think at my age I would have developed the skill to assert myself by now. I am assertive in many other aspects of my life; just try and mess with my family and see what happens,
The above-mentioned scenario has happened over and over in my life and I can say that I can recall perhaps only a couple of times where I have stopped a man from going too far, but never have I vocally (or better yet physically) expressed the outrage I should have.
Is my reaction common in women? Is it a result of childhood abuse or conditioning? Whatever the reason, one time I set out to try and develop an appropriate reaction to such inappropriate advances.
When I was a university student I experienced an incident that caused me to question my ability to be a good role model for my daughters. I allowed myself to be in a situation that while it was happening I knew should be stopped, yet I didn’t want to make a scene so I instead removed myself from the situation as soon as possible. Once on my own I scolded myself for being so gullible and not wanting to confront the man who made me so uncomfortable.
I went to classes later that day and headed to the Women’s Center on campus. I asked if there were programs available to help women become more assertive and when they said there was not, I asked if I could start one.
For that entire semester I facilitated group meetings with women who felt as I did, that they needed to be more assertive in their lives. It was a wonderful program and one that I am proud of.
However, the lessons learned have been all but forgotten, as is evidenced by my most recent encounter. It’s hard to admit these failing in myself, especially as my husband said, I present myself as being so empowered and strong. Why do I allow my feelings to be placed aside in order not to hurt the feelings of a man I have no obligation to protect?
My good friend Celeste is someone whom I have admired for her ability to be outraged. She told me a story once about being in a drive through and the person in the car behind her began to honk their horn in impatience. As they became increasingly rude, she reached down below her seat and pulled out a crowbar. She got out of the car and headed to the one behind her. Apologies came fast and furious from the occupant and without a word Celeste had stood up for herself. I often think about that and wish I could think in the moment on how to act.
Maybe I need to start holstering a crowbar....