Not Here For This Shit Anymore

I started being treated like an idiot in the seventh grade. I’d transferred out of a school where I was so nerdy and ostracized that a pair of “popular” twin boys took to leaving death threats on my parents’ answering machine, and entered a school located all the way across town, where nobody had any idea who I was. I had a blank slate. Over the summer before I entered my new school, my bangs grew out, I shot up a couple of inches, the beginnings of breasts appeared, and I started to emerge from that tragic awkwardness that plagues middle-schoolers of the large-toothed sort.

Boys noticed. I noticed them noticing. I loved it.

I also spent a lot of time observing my new environment, and specifically the girls who seemed like they had a handle on it all; like they were important. I noticed that it wasn’t cool to be smart, or to do well on tests, and so I started lying. I moaned over my grades when I was actually getting solid As; I asked for homework help that I didn’t need; I giggled and pretended not to know what James was getting at when he and his friends came over to me in the cafeteria and he handed me a banana and told me they wanted to see me eat it.

I ate it.

My pattern has been the same ever since: I get talked down to, or made fun of, or made to feel silly or stupid or (much) less than I am, and it feels bad, but I don’t want to make anyone else feel bad, so I smooth it over.

I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone.

A few months ago – horrifyingly late in my life – I realized that I am sick and fucking tired of this. More specifically, I’m sick and fucking tired of making the protection of the fragile male ego my priority, when my own feelings have never even been in their top ten. This moment was a sea change in my life, and since then I’ve discovered that the power of speaking my mind is so incredible, so empowering, so impossible-feeling that it sometimes makes me cry from relief – even joy.

A contractor talks to me about voltage and says, with a wink, “Let me know if I’m going over your head, honey.”

“You’re not,” I say. “I’ll let you know if I have any questions.”

A man I’ve hired to help me with a renovation project shows up while I’m unloading supplies from the car. He looks at me carrying boxes full of lights, looks at Kendrick buckling helmets onto tiny heads, and tells Kendrick he should be doing the lifting.

“I’m pretty sure she can handle it,” he says. “Besides, I have to watch the kids.” And he runs down the street after our three year old, who is pedaling all by herself for the very first time.

(My husband, in case you were wondering, is my hero.)

I can lift the lumber; I can build the steps; I can hammer the nail and wire the light and install the appliance, and the fact that I smile and laugh a lot while I’m doing all of these things doesn’t make me one tiny bit less capable.

What I’m getting at here is that I’m done with it. I’m not here for this shit anymore, and I’m SO PROUD of myself for having finally come to terms with that.

And then, last night, I disappointed myself, and I am furious.

I had spent the day hanging Christmas lights – more Christmas lights than I’ve ever hung by a million (yes; crazy early; I know – it was for an integration with Ace Hardware, and I’ll post about it next week). When dusk fell, I ran outside to look at my house all lit up and beautiful. I’ve just never lived in a house that looked so much like Christmas.

I was wearing short shorts and a tank top, which I shouldn’t even mention except goddamnit, I feel like it matters in this story and that makes me feel sick. A couple of male neighbors – good friends of mine – called out to me from across the street. They threw up their hands and yelled that I was showing up everyone on the block; that I was stressing them out. “Now we have to spend all weekend putting up our lights so we’re not the lame unlit house; thanks SO MUCH.”

We all laughed and I felt so great – about my lights, sure, but mostly about the fact that I’d landed in a place where I have real friends – male, female, whatever; it doesn’t matter – and we rib each other and we joke and we yell friendly jibes at each other from across the street. I felt really safe in that moment, which makes what happened next worse.

Another male neighbor – another friend of mine – came walking down the street, and we did the back-and-forth about how I jumped the gun with the holiday season and ugh now he has to do it and etc etc, ha ha ha. And then he said something semi-obnoxious about the massive storage container that’s been sitting in front of my house for three months, but he was clearly joking, so I laughed and gave him the finger: Yeah yeahfuck you.

“Anytime, sweetheart,” he said.

Then he walked over to my other two friends – all three of them just far away enough that I could absolutely hear them, but could also pretend not to hear them if I wanted – and said, at the exact same volume: “Am I right? I mean, if she’s going to dish it out, she can put her money where her mouth is. I’m here anytime. …Am I right?”

You know what I did in response? I broke into the age-old, much-rehearsed routine I call, “Oh I Didn’t Even Hear You!” I adjusted lights. I checked my phone. I tried to figure out how to go back inside as fast as possible without making anyone feel weird.

One of the other guys called out something else to me, a question about Halloween decorations. “What? What?” I said loudly, cupping a hand over my ear and leaning towards him theatrically. You know, so everyone would be sure I hadn’t heard all the other stuff.

I mean, I wouldn’t anyone to feel embarrassed.

Except I am embarrassed. I am furious. I am a capable, badass woman who is just as good as this guy is at absolutely fucking everything, and he knows that as well as I do – and I know that the fact that he knows that is probably what made him act the way he did. I know better. I want to do better. But still: when it came down to it, I protected him.

Old habits die hard.

  • Laura

    ugh that sucks. I probably would have done the same thing too which annoys me just thinking about it. this post really reminds me of another annoying habit of mine: that I don’t ask people (read: men) what they do for a living as one does in social contexts, because then they will ask me, and I would then have to say “lawyer” and watch as many of them try to figure out if I’m being serious or, my favorite, if I’m a “real lawyer or paralegal”. which isn’t insulting because of the mention of paralegals – they work twice as hard as most lawyers do in my experience – but it amazes me the lengths some men will go to try and diminish who you are. there are multiple reasons why women are so strong – but one reason certainly is that we don’t have some bullsh*t fragile ego to constantly prop up!

  • Sarah

    I know I am missing something but I am not “getting it.” What was he meaning?

    • jordanreid

      giving him the finger was tantamount to me saying “fuck you,” and saying “anytime” suggests I meant it literally. so f-ing gross.

      • Sarah

        Oh barf. Yes. I missed it. I get it now. Barf. I’m sorry. He was a friend and now forever that’s there.
        Sweetheart. Ew.
        Yes, your husband is a hero. We have a backwards-ish set up in our house. I seem to be better at the “guy” jobs and my husband is excellent at laundry, etc. So mine is a hero too, he could give zero f’s about his “male” ego.

        • Sarah

          What a dick. I am only now processing how this all came together. Why didn’t your other friends not say something? So uncomfortable. Not cool.

          • jordanreid

            oh, I don’t fault them. I wasn’t looking, but it was like I could feel their discomfort from across the street. and also…I mean, I didn’t say anything, either.

  • shilpi

    you know what I think? It’s actually scary for a woman to give an honest response in a moment like this. For many years, over thousands of stupid encounters I’ve played demure and kept my face neutral (if not SMILED?!)… the one time I didn’t — when I just shot the guy a hostile look straight in the face — the guy turned so fast and it was seriously scary — “you bitch. you ugly bitch.” I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about it — we have to do what we can to survive those kinds of situations.

    • lara

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I had a similar situation, I said something back and got verbally attacked even worse. I would have done exactly the same as Jordan did, because I would have been afraid the other guys would’ve protect him, since they didn’t defend me. Or they would’ve just say “it was a joke” (typical male response), and end up being the one who cant take a joke. We can never win.

  • Lili

    I probably would’ve done the exact same thing you did. Of course, the sad part is that “James from middle school” (and let’s be honest, we all knew a James) IS now that guy walking down the street and still saying dumb shit like this and it makes me sick that he’s gotten this far in life without someone slapping him in the face. I too played along from an early age, this complicity in degrading behavior and the bizarre need to save these guys from the embarrassment that would surely come from putting them in their place. And now that I have perspective (and two little boys of my own) I’m angry as hell when I think back on my experiences and read about other women’s. “Boys will be boys” is such a bullshit excuse for bad behavior. I’ll tell you, it completely re-shapes my parenting goals.

  • beca05

    Hey Jordan,
    Just wanted to say something because I had a similar yet different and incredibly incredibly frustrating incident with one of my neighbors a while back. In which I certainly was being attacked but took the high road, or in my case, the road of less conflict,,,, which I have a pattern of doing. All the while I have been working on standing up for myself and asserting myself more. And while I did address the situation, afterwards I found myself questioning my response, questioning how I dealt with it, thinking ” I should have given that lady a real piece of my mind. Who does she think she is that she can treat me this way?!”…

    Needless to say time has passed and now when I reflect on the situation, there are somethings I realize.. first off is I live in this neighborhood, and that means my child, and my family calls this place their home too. If I have to take the high road and be the mature one and that means not address the stupid crap that comes from people lips from time to time, so that we can live in a peaceful community, I am certainly willing to do that for the sake of our family. And now after some time, I feel like yes, I did the right thing. I am proud about the restraint I showed, while my neighbor came off as a nut screaming at me. The passive aggressiveness, the poor behavior and the disrespect she showed are all her problems, hers ALONE. And my home is a safe, happy home, and I credit some of that to my self control and to my dislike of conflict ( which used to be what I thought an issue for me- I’ve since learned its got its benefits. I know my intentions are GOOD).

    I am ALL for speaking up from time to time, and especially when people just flat out cross the line. But I also think it might just be as equally important to be kind, forgiving and reflective, not reactive ( which I am- because like you, I am always concerned about everyone else’s comfort level). There is some value in being this way too Jordan. Honestly if more people were like that, we’d live in a kinder world wouldn’t we? I guess what I am trying to say, is I struggle with the same thing, I second guess my reactions from time to time. Especially during this era where people are stepping up to bullies and letting their opinions and experiences out at the mere drop of a pin,,so I think we put the pressure on us to stand up to everything we encounter. And while we should from time to time, try to remember it might not be the answer to everything, and just because you did not react to this pain in the #@# neighbor, you did not do wrong. Do not let someone else’s and lack of empathy and kindness make you second guess your intentions. Sometimes its your kindness and patience that is the more impressive and admirable quality and something to be proud about.

  • Allison

    I had a situation this morning, that while I don’t think I would’ve been protecting the guy’s ego by not saying anything, I felt like I had to say something. I was attempting to get off the train at my stop and it was packed at the morning rush hour and I said excuse me at least 3 times, but as I was getting out the door, a guy who I’d had to nudge out of the way said pretty patronizingly, “It’s nice to say excuse,” and I turned back and glared at him and said, “I said excuse me multiple times!” and then continued on my way.

  • Ronja Stavrou

    Ugh! I hope he reads your blog 🙂

  • Ashley

    I hate hearing this story, because I’m pretty sure I would have done the same thing. Even my ‘telling him off’ would have probably been to dramatically roll my eyes at him and say something like ‘very classy.’ Wouldn’t want to say something too direct to put him on the offense! And what really sucks is if you would have turned, looked him in the eyes and said ‘That’s disgusting’ or ‘don’t talk to me that way’ you’d have probably been perceived as the downer, not fun, girl who can’t take a joke, a bitch. Fuck those other guys for not saying something (I started by prefacing that sentence with, ‘they might be nice guys sometimes but…’ which is a good indication of deeply ingrained this bullshit is).

  • Oh wow. How this WHOLE POST resonated with me. “Sweetheart” – GFY. I don’t know what to say, except – how awful, how utterly bewildering when things turn on a dime like that. When you feel safe and heard, and then all of a sudden, you are outside of the group, the object of derision. It makes it extra, extra sad when it’s someone you considered a friend. I’m so glad you wrote about this – this sort of microaggression and, as you said, a hypermasculine culture that encourages the sexualization of women to minify them, to take away their power. I struggle with how to respond in those instances. I’ve responded inappropriately myself, by calling them, pointedly, “Buttercup” or some such diminutive nickname. But that’s part of the problem, the culture of disrespect. And sometimes, you just don’t want to have that whole “You hurt me” heart to heart with an aggressor, even one who considers themselves a friend. I don’t know. I’d love to hear how other women might handle that moment. How you wished you would have handled it?

    • jordanreid

      I honestly don’t feel like there was a great option for handling that particular incident. Maybe just “Hey, watch it”…? I spoke with Francesca yesterday and she said, “Next time that happens, say, ‘Excuse me? What did you say?” And then they’ll make some joke, and you say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Can you tell me what, exactly, you’re getting at?” I think that’s a good tactic – basically make them confront the reality behind their insinuations or “jokes” – but for me that would feel too confrontational in this specific context.

      • I like that. To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting you *should* have behaved in any way at all. I was thinking through my own plan (sad that it has to be planned) for the next time that happens to me or someone I know.

        • jordanreid

          oh, I know 🙂 🙂

  • trybecca

    Okay. Reading this and have been there a million times… and I would have done the exact same thing as you did, Jordan…but I am going to be tough on all of us. If we are going to call out men & hold them to a higher standard, then we have to live the example. By using the middle finger curse, which stands for “fuck you,” you, meaning all of us, brought sex into it. I know, I know, I know – we do it because that makes us more like “the guys” and I’m sure you don’t use it all the time – but words have power. I’m hoping if you had said “shit you,” he wouldn’t have responded in the same way!
    & I get it – it is the MOST satisfying thing to say!! But his response was a reaction, not a considered response… It’s the convo after that was horrifying.

    There is so much work to do… I think you are amazing. This is not a criticism of you – just like to turn things on their head & see if there is a different way to look at it, and a different door in…
    Please understand I am not blaming the victim. I

  • Rach

    The next time you see him, take him aside. Say, “I heard what you said. And itcs not okay. I am not a piece of meat, and you cannot and should not talk about me like that.”. And walk away. Because you can take the power back – and you should.

  • Anya Wyers

    You said it yourself in one of your replies to the comments, but I just wanted to touch on what you said about protecting neighbour-douchebag. I disagree that you were protecting him. From immediate embarrassment that he deserved, maybe. But I fully believe you were protecting you in that situation. You and your family and the status quo in your neighbourhood. And while it obviously doesn’t feel nice, you did what was best for you in that situation and for that I applaud you!

    I went through a similar experience recently, though I wasn’t bullied by a man, I was bullied by my female boss, and I sat there, feeling utterly ashamed in the moment, knowing that what she was saying to me was not in any way right, but doing nothing about it until I told her I hadn’t done any of what she claimed on purpose (which includes expanding my family and having a miscarriage in the process) and I walked straight out of her office. I will not be looking back. I initially felt bad that I hadn’t stood up for myself, but then it was pointed out to me that I was protecting myself and my unborn child, which is a much more valid point than focusing on what I didn’t do or say.

    So I think we should both move forward knowing who our “aggressors” are and what they are capable of, and also knowing that while we didn’t directly stand up to them, we respected ourselves enough in a shitty situation to just walk away and let them be the shitty people.

  • Kirstin Bunton

    I was just wondering if you have had much interaction with this person since and how are you handling it? I think I would still see red, and probably be wildly uncomfortable.
    thanks for sharing