When I was younger and another girl or woman took verbal shots at me, I’d get very uncomfortable and likely handle it awkwardly. I’d perhaps smile nervously or say nothing. I might try to explain myself. I rarely stood up for myself or hit back. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Their STUPID feelings.
I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I believe for a long time I soft-pedaled with those of my gender. I interacted differently with women than men. You might argue that most of us do. I however, became conscious of this business. Why did I let women talk shit to my face? Why did I feel so ill-equipped to respond?
It isn’t that I wasn’t used to girls. I grew up with sisters. I aligned myself with them. As the youngest of the girls in my family and thanks to mostly large age gaps, I didn’t feel competitive with my sisters. A lot of things, but not that. I considered myself cemented in their ranks but being who I am, well, I was always my own person and only became more so, thinking my own thoughts, pursuing my own interests, and having separate nonfamily friendships. I didn’t aspire to BE any of my sisters. (Full disclosure: I did look up to and trail my sister who was just two years older but predominantly when I was very young, and in part because we were constantly thrown together for our mother’s convenience and expediency, to the point of almost being considered one child!)
My relationship with my mother, a woman two generations older than me, was decidedly more complicated. She sold me, as well as my brothers and sisters, up the river quite regularly over one matter or another, and her combative relationship with our father was the overriding dynamic in our home. Still, I was the one who tried to help her, and for a long time, one who ultimately felt quite protective toward her. Because for a long time I viewed her as the victim she saw herself. In a crappy marriage saddled with all these children and all these chores. Living away from her beloved home state and family. Poor mom.
So. Here’s what I think. I approached other females with no malice, no ill intent. I thought, because of my sisters, that I was one of them, and further, because of my mother, felt protective toward them. This approach was not good; other women, from the looks of it, were not having reciprocal thoughts about me. In fact, they may have gone after me because there was something in my demeanor that suggested they could get away with it. Further, some women wait for the buffer that is the presence of several other women to say ignorant or spineless things they wouldn’t have the nerve to say otherwise. That certainly happens or happened; the ganging up. And all the previous is assuming I’ve figured it out correctly. Yet, it doesn’t really matter whether I have or not in terms of how I think now or my conclusions. Namely, I didn’t like it. I needed to do something, be more proactive.
Over time, I started standing up to women who were nasty or rude to me. Who tried to push me around. Both women I knew and strangers. I didn’t smile any more and act complicit. I’d had it. I started talking to women more like I talked to men, especially if they were going to be firing zingers at me. I no longer thought of them as too delicate to take it, the more so if they felt free to say catty things to me. Which, it need be said, they still do.
I don’t take everybody on. There are some battles not worth pursuing. And — I think once you know you can do something, in this case not roll over when a woman shows me she considers me, for her own reasons – which could well be behind how she reacts to many or even all women – an enemy or competitor, it isn’t always necessary. Knowing you could is enough.
Once in awhile, I still get annoyed with myself for letting a woman show disdain or contempt or ignorance toward me. Still, even if I do nothing, I’m on notice. I’ll be paying attention.