Monday, September 19, 2016

The right to take up space

Some time ago, I was watching a comedian on television do his routine.  Comedians are sometimes the only people who can get away with telling truth because they tell it in a funny way (they hope). This comedian's name was Greg Rogell, and the line I remember most is when he started talking about golf and golf caddies. "Golf is the only sport that comes with a slave." He then started to demonstrate. He held his microphone like it was a golf club, made the classic golf swing with it, and then dropped the mike on the floor and walked away.

While that was funny, Mr. Rogell was also highlighting an attitude that exists not only in golf, but in everyday life.  Some people, for reasons that still mystify me, have a really hard time with the simple concepts of saying Please and Thank you.  If someone puts themselves out to help them, especially if that putting out is physically or psychologically hard for them, you'd think that "thank you" might be on the list of things to say.  Treating people with courtesy, respecting their personhood, would seem to be a basic skill.

But no. Instead, such people are more likely to find fault with something else that same person is NOT doing, but which they never said they expected. Since different people have different priorities, it is impossible to read minds; expectations need to be stated at the outset, even if it might seem like a no-brainer.  For example, I'm more of a sit-and-visit kind of person; the housework can wait.  For others, housework is this huge thing and they can't sit and visit until it's out of the way. So my sitting and visiting is like laziness to them, perhaps even inconsideration. Yet their refusal to sit and visit until the housework is done tells me that things and appearances are more important to them than friendship and spending time with people. Dishes don't have feelings. People do.  

And yet, who is it that apologizes when the topic comes up? Typically it has been me - because no matter which way you slice it, for whatever reason, I usually end up looking like the one in the wrong... and I have been cow-towing to guilt trips my whole life.

All of my life, I have been fighting for the right - taken for granted by most - to take up space in the world, to be appreciated, and to own my own feelings and opinions without being told (verbally or non-verbally) that they are insignificant. Or wrong.  Or whatever other negative adjective you might want to use.  I'm uncomfortable with confrontation, and my natural response is to withdraw or feel bad for friction existing between people - even if I'm not one of those people. The fact that it exists makes me feel and act guilty.  I lose sleep. I get far more upset for far longer than I need to. Often, I feel like if I screamed at the top of my lungs to be heard, nobody would listen anyway; even if I have something important to say, a large part of me doesn't believe anyone will pay attention to it. 

Photo "Businesswoman Asking To Stop" by imagerymajestic at
Maybe (and I know that this is a rather big logical jump for some) maybe a big part of it has to do with the fact that I'm under five feet tall. Not being taken seriously because of my height, not having my short legs taken into consideration when doing tasks that take an average-sized person about half the number of steps it takes me, and being twitted (or laughed at) for something over which I have no control, is one of those sore spots with me, because I've had to put up with it all of my life.  

People do it without thinking of the consequences, and they think that by doing so they are funny, or somehow superior.  As if it is by some accomplishment of theirs that things are easier for them (when it is simply a fluke of DNA), they criticize (or laugh) and tell me to keep up. (By the way, these are the people who treat me like a slave without saying thank you...)  Or they laugh and tell me to stand up (when I'm already standing.) Or they worry out loud (like someone did once), when I drop a few pounds, that I'll "disappear."  One person even looked past me and asked where I was ... pretended he couldn't see me.

Ouch!  That behavior and those kinds of statements convey dismissal of my existence and (knowingly or not) they are an attack on my worth.  They reduce all that I am down to what I look like on the outside, and they fail to acknowledge accomplishments that a regular-sized person would be proud of and never would expect to have called into question. Yet it happens to me all the time! Because of that patronizing "I'm better than you, and you don't even have the right to exist" mentality, this kind of belittlement (no pun intended) really hurts. 

In the past, I wouldn't say anything when people treated me this way (or worse yet, I would try to laugh it off), but all that succeeded in doing was (a) send the message that I was okay with it, and (b) make my resentment grow and grow so that finally, I would explode - and not in a nice way.  Someone would invariably get hurt.  And then I would end up looking like the bad guy.  After all, they were "only having fun." Or worse yet, they considered their fun-loving nature (read here: cruelty) to be part of their personality, and took my affront to their unthinking behavior as a personal attack against them.  Suddenly they were the injured party.

Wow. What is worse, I would beat myself up for weeks, months, sometimes even years, for something that at the source, had more to do with someone else's thoughtlessness and insecurity than it did about my reaction to it. It's what kept me in abusive relationships with some people for far too long.

So I'm looking at things a little differently now.  I am telling myself that I have a right to take up space, that my feelings and opinions matter and are valid, and that I have the right to tell someone who is behaving like a jerk toward me that they're behaving like a jerk.  I have the right to expect an apology from them, (not the other way around) and I have the right to require them to be accountable for their actions, to realize that they can't just say any old thing they want to and to blazes with the consequences.  I have the right to be angry when that happens, to work through that anger and to take the time that I need to do that fully before moving past it and on with my life, with - or without - them.  

Maybe someday soon, I might even act on those new ways of thinking. 

Stranger things have happened.

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