French academic artist: Pierre Carrier-Belleuse
How do you handle confrontation? Do you fear standing up for yourself? Many of us silenced our voices because a narcissist retaliated or raged when we disagreed. As a consequence, we struggle for balance going to one extreme or the other: saying too much; or saying nothing at all.
Sometimes, I silence myself because I fear alienation from people I care about, but with whom I have countless differences. However, silencing myself has negative repercussions because I retaliate for having been silenced. The hilarious thing is: I do it to myself. Well, you know the old saying, "Short-term compliance results in long-term resentment." (You probably don't know that old saying since I butchered it something terrible but maybe it's close enough to get the gist of how we react passive-aggressively to silencing. Even self-silencing).
Two days ago I had the opportunity to assert myself at Home Depot. Yup, the Home Depot: a whirlpool of machismo that's In Your Face. Especially if you're an oldish woman expected to praise strong, buffed men lifting heavy plants. The reason I'm writing about this is because I’ve changed. For the past six years, I’ve been working a Recovery-from-Deference Program. I may have understood gender differences on an intellectual level but didn't know how to manage my reactions if Pollyanna met Paul Bunyan and was expected to praise his muscles while diminishing her ability to help herself.
Here’s the scenario: My sister and I have been landscaping our front yards this spring and since she has the pick-up truck and I have the green thumb vision, we've become inseparable shopping buddies. That day, I selected eight heavy arborvitaes for my yard along with ten huge bags of compost-enriched garden soil and who do you think loaded it on Home Depot’s flatbed? Yup. Me, myself and I. When I got to the check-out counter the cashier asked if I wanted help unloading the mini-forest and I figured some help would be good so I told her, "Sure."
She asks a thirty-something-aged employee with the nametag Rob, if he was available and he agreed. We walked together towards my sister's truck (evidently, he thought I was shopping alone) and the first thing he said was, "You can't fit all this stuff on your little truck."
"Well, I did it before, so I see no reason why it can't be done now."
"Maybe you did it before. But there's no way you bought this much stuff."
"You're right. I bought a lot more."
"No you didn't. I've been loading trucks for years and it's impossible to fit this much stuff on a truck this size."
I took note of his invalidation concerning my girl-truck. I also took note of the fact he wanted validation for his superior skills fitting numerous items in a limited space. Pray tell, what man in his right mind would argue about a woman’s ability to cram lots of stuff in little-bitty spaces???
I said, "You might have a valid point. Let's load whatever we can and I'll come back for the rest later. Would that be acceptable?" He grimaced---unwilling to acknowledge my pragmatic solution.
I dropped the tail-gate and he started hefting massive pots of shrubbery, sliding them onto the truck bed. The whole time, he was groaning and moaning and pizzing-in-his-britches about how BAD his back was; how his TENDONITIS was killing him; how his shoulder was SUFFERING excruciating pain because of my giant-sized shrubbery.
The gender appropriate thing would have been for me to gush, "WOW! You are so STRONG! I could never do this without you and gosh, aren't I lucky a wimpy thing like me can be rescued by a big, strong guy like you!" The woman who was expected to demean herself by making him my rescuing hero. But I didn't say anything of the sort.
The big deal about this is that my gut was grumbling with anger and I knew sumthin' was up since I don't get mad very often. The bigger deal is that I didn’t silence myself or react angrily. I replied kindly though maybe a tad cynically, "Why don't you go inside and let me load it myself?"
Without waiting for his answer, I picked up a bag of dirt, aided by the adrenalin coursing through my body, and threw it on the truck. Grabbed another bag and threw it on the truck. When I glanced at him, he wasn't appreciative of my muscle mass. Instead, he said, (can you believe this??) "Well, those bags of dirt aren't nearly as heavy as the shrubbery pots I'm lifting."
So I replied, "You’re right about that. But who do you think loaded those pots on the flatbed in the first place? And who do you think is gonna unload those pots, dig the holes and plant the monster shrubs?"
He didn't like that answer. I knew he didn't like it because he started huffing and puffing even louder than before. After loading the final item on the truck, I said, "Well, lookie there. It's a miracle. Everything fit after all."
The interesting twist on this scenario is that my sister was still checking out at the register when Rob sauntered through the doorway. He had no idea she was shopping with me. He also didn’t know she was the owner of the sissy truck. When she carried her purchases to the truck, she said, "What’d ya say to that guy, CZ?? When he came in the store, he was rolling his eyes and nodding his head back towards you."
I think I'll write a customer complaint. Home Depot ought not hire men who need to have their egos soothed at the expense of paying customers. Even if those paying customers are middle-aged women with an attitude.
The thing is, this was a huge change in my typical behavior that had painfully been pointed out during my divorce. The attorney mediating my divorce after thirty-four years of marriage said, "I've observed, Mr. soon-to-be-X, that CZ automatically defers to you."
DEFERS? O man, that 'bout made me vomit though it was an accurate perception of how I had done my gender well enough for a machismo maN to continue believing he was the only one who could lift heavy things. Ever lift a ballerina's tutu? It weighs almost as much as she does; but her job is creating an illusion of delicacy floating around the planet while the tips of her toes are bleeding.
My Home Depot experience was a very big deal for me, though some people might not understand how difficult it's been asserting myself when we intuitively know the correct-thing-to-do is shushing our mouths, mushing our brains---maintain the status quo at the expense of our integrity. I didn't yell at the guy, nor did I tell him to shove that arborvitae up his you-know-what. I simply took over the job myself and reminded him that men, who can't lift heavy things, ought not be working at the Home Depot.
I think I did 'good enough'. It was definitely an improvement over my past behavior. Being assertive means validating myself rather than seeking validation from others. I’m pretty sure Rob would have willingly validated my helplessness by stealing my sense of competence. It would have been easier to silence myself or give the guy a pat on his back. But if we say we want the status quo to change then we must change our status quo behavior. Even when asserting ourselves makes some folks roll their eyes.
His arrogant behavior was basically…well…it was basically just tutu much. Even for this ol’ gal, raised in the day and age when women were deferential to authority figures. Which included deferring to the head-of-the-household, otherwise known as her husband.