Sunday, October 4, 2009


On a whim during my sophomore year of college (and perhaps because I needed a PE credit, I'm not sure anymore), I enrolled in a class called "women's self defense." I'd never really felt a need to defend myself; my optimism ensured both 1) that I never thought I'd actually be assaulted and 2) figured that if I were, I'd be able to take care of myself. Yet there I was, in women's self defense, learning how to wrestle out of strangleholds and flip people much larger than me over my back, kick them in the knees, and run away.

Years later, I'm not sure I really remember any of the physical details of that class. If someone grabbed me from behind, I think my instinct would be much the same as it would have been before I took the class: wriggle away to the best of my abilities, aim for the nuts or throat with my elbows and heels and knees, try to summon up every ounce of my strength and wiliness. It's the mantra, not the physicality, of the class that has stuck with me: every time we got to the bi-weekly end of class, we'd all sit in a circle, drum our hands on the floor, and intone "I am a strong and powerful woman! I have the right to say no!"

It got to be kind of a joke. Any time something was hard, I'd just say "dammit, I'm a strong and powerful woman!"; any time I didn't want to do something, "I have the right to say no!" And over time, those words, perhaps like any words, lost their meaning.

To take a step backward: I'm a pretty easy-going person. I will do what people want to do, adjust my schedule to accommodate others, redefine my goals to better align with others' conceptions of what should happen. I don't like confrontation; rather than ask someone to change something--do the dirty dishes in the sink that piss me off so much, for example--I will assume the problem lies within me and try to adjust my attitude. It usually works out pretty well for me. Until I get to a point where I feel I've stretched too much--and at that point, it's too late. I'm grumpy, I'm surly, I'm even sarcastic. It's the evil side of stasia that not too many people see because I don't like that side, and in typical stasia fashion, I don't want it to show and cause any sort of confrontation. Only the people closest to me see it (which is lame, and a whole other issue).

So this weekend, it was a huge shock to me to go back to that college class mantra and realize with a blinding flash that--holy shit--I do have the right to say no! I can tell people that something doesn't agree with me. I can tell people that I don't agree with what they're saying or doing. I can dissent respectfully, bow out gracefully, make requests of people kindly but firmly, and that is okay. I don't have to accommodate to everyone. I shouldn't accommodate to everyone. I can define and even enforce my own boundaries, and other people will be okay with it. How much I love someone does not necessarily correlate to how much I am willing to bend for them.

It's not an epiphany that will change the fact that I am easy-going, don't like confrontation, and want to please others. But it is an idea that I want to spend more time with: love is not about doing anything for anyone. (This is also the same problem I run into with my students sometime: boundaries--firm boundaries--don't mean that I'm mean or that I don't care about them. Quite the opposite. It means I care about them enough to make sure they know there are consequences to their actions.) So I'll be practicing how to speak my mind in a nice but unyielding way when I need to. Just remember that it doesn't mean I love you any less, just that I'm trying to respect my own boundaries:)

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