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Why standing up for ourselves makes all the difference

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

It’s International Women’s Day, and let us support that!! I’m going to do that here in my usual way, by making trouble instead of talking platitudes. But make no mistake: we’re all on the same team. We all want the best possible lives for ourselves. We want to live in a world not only without barriers. We also—in line with the #EmbraceEquity theme of IWD ’23—want not just equal opportunity but full support as needed in reaching our potential. You know, the kind of support rich white men get all the time.

This picture says it all:

We’ve barely begun the equality stage, which still leaves some over advantaged and others disadvantaged. What we need is full support like in the equity frame. The kid in the dark blue shirt needs two boxes, and the guy in the light blue shirt doesn’t need any boxes at all.

If we don’t give each other the support we need, and if we can’t create a society that also delivers that support, then we’ll always be living in a world of glass ceilings and empty promises.

So now having lifted up my heart in a rallying cry, it’s time for me to make trouble, and let me do so by beginning with a couple of confessions.

The solutions we need—the most powerful solutions—are on the level of political and social action. Laws enacted, minds changed, cultures reshaped. And I’ve done nothing on that level. Nothing. Instead I’ve done something really stupid: I’ve spent my life trying to change the world one person at a time. I’ve done this as a therapist and an author. But even with my books reaching hundreds of thousands of people, it’s still one person at a time.

Way too slow in the face of the tidal wave of history.

But so it is, and at least it’s given me an up-close view of what real women’s lives are like from the inside. There are the slogans of what we must have. But then there are our own internal realities, and—here’s where I start making trouble—if the slogans don’t integrate with the realities of who we are, then the slogans are just feel-good performances.

We gotta get real, folks.

A while back I was taking the train from Boston to New York City—in a snowstorm. The train itself was hyper-modern. A thing of beauty. But the train tracks were half a century old. The old tracks crippled the modern train. Infrastructure is everything. It took hours and hours for us to get to New York.

I thought of this when I read a story this morning on Quora. This is US, the infrastructure you and I bring to our hopes of progress (I’ve made cuts in the interest of brevity):

I had a person I invited for a late lunch stay late into the evening and then announce, “No way I can drive home safely, can I sleep on your couch?” She was already there and it was very late, so it was impossible to say no.

In the morning, I offered her breakfast and then she sat down and continued to visit with us. After a few hours, I indicated that I needed to work, so I left the room and did some work, but it was difficult because my workspace was actually in the room the “guest” was in. I then had to work around her as I cleaned the room, as it was my one day off that week. Then it got to be lunch time, so I had to offer her lunch. I pulled my sister aside and asked when this woman was leaving, and she said, “I don’t know, I can’t just kick her out”. I was wondering “why not?” at that point, but neither could I.

I then left and ran a few errands, and when I came back at 5 pm, she was still there. I went to my room and took a nap, as my living room was occupied. I woke up at 7 pm and our “guest” was still there. The guest suggested she was hungry but my sister and I indicated that we were still full from a big lunch, so we were not interested in going out for dinner.

Finally at 7:30 pm, she left to find herself some dinner. So we starved her out!

We were too nice to kick her out, but now every time we have lunch with her, we go to a restaurant near her house.

You know how you ask someone to leave after a late lunch or something? It’s polite, simple, effective, and transformational. You just say, “Mary, so sorry, but I have to ask you to go. I have a life...”

“I have a life.”

But this woman couldn’t do that. For 45 years of stupidly trying to save the world one person at a time, I’ve seen us—US!—mis-handling things like this constantly. It’s as if every time we actually have a leg up, we take it away, all for the purpose of worshipping the goddess of Niceness. We take care of people we don’t really need to care of, and leave crumbs for ourselves when we’re starving for support.

I do this myself, saying yes to someone else when I should be saying yes to myself. Just three days ago, to make a long story short, it was my husband’s turn to cook and he didn’t feel like it, so he asked if it would be okay if we just foraged for ourselves. I said yes, when I really needed to be eating hearty food. I screwed myself to make him happy. Worse! I provided my husband with a small benefit to take a huge benefit away from myself, and then had to live with my own self-engineered resentment. Sound familiar?

We say yes to houseguests we want to throw out. We say yes to husbands as if our selves and our needs were nothing. We say yes to everything but the very things that will make us feel nurtured and proud of ourselves.

It’s not either/or. We don’t have to choose between revolution beginning in the halls of power or in our hearts and minds. It has to take place everywhere. But how will standing up for each other even work if we don’t know how to stand up for ourselves?

Note: All the images here come from the International Women’s Day websites.


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