I’ve been getting a lot of flack the last two months or so because of my attitude. Friends and acquaintances have always known me for my passion for all things social justice and human rights related, and how outspoken I am about sociopolitical issues, but I rarely ever stood up for myself, or even my loved ones. My voice would shake, I would try to come to some sort of agreement with whomever the disagreement or disrespect is coming from, and walk away. There were times I spoke up when I was drunk, like when I saw a transgender woman get surrounded by a group of guys at a bar and I jumped in front of her and demanded the guys leave her alone, but that is an extreme.
I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like arguing. I don’t like any of this because I can’t stand the thought of being responsible for hurting someones feelings. Sounds corny, but seeing someone sad breaks my heart and all my instincts tell me to try and amend it. I’ve befriended people I got bad vibes or energy from because of this, and ended up in shitty situation after the other. I’ve fallen in lust with guys who treat me horribly because of my need to make sure others are okay over myself, (but I always end up exploding in the end, and looking like the crazy one). Plain and simple, I just never stood up for myself.
That all changed this past summer. I thank the organization I interned with for this newfound confidence. I interned with a radical, grassroots organization on Skid Row in L.A. that is fighting for the rights of the Skid Row community, against the police, business owners, and city. I watched them spell out the law to 10 – 15 officers who harassed them over a free flower giveaway. I watched the codirector stand up at a city meeting and call out a prominant business owner for lying about breaking the law and throwing away homeless peoples property, and watched him eye her as he went to sit down. These are a group of people who come from the most embattled, abused, marginalized, policed area in the United States, and the second most policed area in the WORLD (next to Iraq). I learned that I should have no fear. That I can stand up for myself, and that if I know I am right, if I know who I am, there is no loss in vocalizing my disdain, or approval, or ideas. It is okay to stand up for myself and others.
That brings me to the backlash. There are people who commend me for my newfound confidence – such as my sister and mom who are happy to finally see me speak up, but then there are the folks who try to guilt me into submission, or tell me that I’m a horrible person.
Case 1: I lived in L.A. this past summer, and went out to the bars with a few people I lived with midsummer. After the bars we went to a Jack in the Box for food. One of the guys started disrespecting the woman taking our order, and all I said was, “You’re being disrespectful. She doesn’t deserve that.” That is literally all I said. Cue a couple hours of screaming back and forth, and then him yelling at me, “I thought you were in human rights?” He kept trying to guilt me and call me horrible. So, apparently because my line of work is human rights I should allow someone to be disrespectful, or to sit their in submission. NO. The argument lasted a couple hours until I stormed out of the house and got a cab home (it was a hostel type setting, and I had just moved out to a new place anyway).
Just because I care about people, and believe in respect, doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with everything you say, or not challenge an opinion you’re posting on my timeline that I completely disagree with.
All of this backlash stems from this belief that women who take care of others, who work for others, believe in kindness, etc., should be doormats, or that we are not supposed to speak up for ourselves. Women can be one or two things at once: strong and opinionated, but lacking in the kindness department; kind and strong but not extremely opinionated; kind and opinionated, but not in a strong way; etc. etc.
I hold strong beliefs because I come from an immigrant, working class, mixed race, mixed religion family, and I’ve fought my way to where I am today. I’ve been silenced. I’ve tried appeasing everyone, being friends with anyone, and doing what I thought others want for me. I’m 28. I’m over tiptoeing. I’m over apologizing for myself, or standing back in fear. I care for others with all my heart, and dedicated my life to supporting others the best I know how, and however the community I’m in wants me to.
Caring doesn’t make me a sucker, fool, naive, or weak. Caring doesn’t anyone any of these things – it makes you strong and amazing. You’re worthy of respect, and if you don’t receive it, or someone else isn’t receiving it, raise your voice and demand it, even if it’s shaking.