Being assertive and having the confidence to say "No" can be a tricky skill to master. There have been many occasions in my life when I have been mistreated by somebody, and not quite had the guts to step up and say "Actually, I don't deserve to feel like this, I want you to stop doing X and do Y instead." For me, it stems around a guilt complex - I don't want other people to feel like they're doing too much for me, so I subconsciously take it too far and end up doing too much for them instead. But sometimes certain situations can get too messy if you don't step up and empower yourself.
Here are some examples of situations where I either took control or let it slide, and the impact that had on me. Both of them centre around being a woman.
The other day, I had to call 999. I'd felt rough all day, but by the evening I'd developed severe shakes. As in, if I'd tried to hold a cup of tea, I would have just thrown it across the room. I was also freezing cold. I was wearing two tops and three jackets but felt like I was sat in a freezer. When I found it difficult to breathe, I decided to call for a paramedic.
Now, I find it hard to admit I need help. I've been through a lot of stuff on my own. So it was hard for me to tell the call handler: "The call is for me, here's what's going on, please can someone come and help me." But the fact I was struggling to get the words out because I couldn't breathe, and I could barely hold onto the phone, I was shaking so badly, told me that I was doing the right thing.
I was unable to get out of bed to answer the door when they arrived. My housemate had to kick my door in to get to me with them. They took my temperature and told me I had a fever. My breathing and shakes had improved well enough for me to handle myself by the time they ran tests. I began to feel guilty that they were there, and apologised for wasting their time. The male paramedic said: "Well, you're a woman. So you're.......lovely. Really lovely." The female paramedic looked at him. "You had to backtrack fast there, didn't you?" Damn right he did, because I knew what kind of thing he'd been about to say. I'm a woman, so I'm melodramatic? Emotional? Hormonal? All of the above? Way to disempower me.
I was facing two medical professionals, and the man's colleague was covering his back. The way they were looking at me told me that I shouldn't comment on the dialogue. So I didn't. But I wish I had.
Now, the irony of the next example is that it happened a few hours after I wrote my post about the sexual harassment I experienced. I was up late that night and noticed an old work colleague was online. I checked the time. It was 4am. This colleague was a man I'd worked with on a newspaper near where I'd lived last year. I'd worked with him for the best part of a week on a double spread about sugar tax, back when the council were first sending letters out to businesses in town about it. He'd promised me a glowing reference for when I moved on to another newspaper.
I commented on the time, and he sent me a long message. He told me he was coked up in a club with his girlfriend. He was having a great night but wanted me to let him know something so he could either take himself off the leash or put himself back on. Was I attracted to him? He was just about to chop up a line, but I should let him know while he sorted himself out.
Hang on a minute. A man I had professional conversations with on Facebook up until this point was suddenly admitting to doing hard drugs in a club with his girlfriend but wanting to know if he could get some from a woman 12 years his junior? I immediately told him I had no interest in him in that context, and that he needed to think carefully about what he was saying if he was with his girlfriend. I also reminded him that I now lived on the other side of the country and was seeing someone.
His reply? "Just because you're seeing someone doesn't mean you have to close your eyes to other thoughts. I see an interesting collaboration between us in the future." Oh, I bet you do. He also told me my behaviour indicated I was attracted to him. Excuse me? A conversation every few weeks about the paper we've both worked at does not translate to me having the hots for you.
I told him I'd talk to him in the morning when he had a clear head. He replied telling me he was fine, I was just an attractive lady, and he wanted to know if we both felt the same way. The message was followed by kisses. I tried to call him, and he sent it to voicemail. Probably because his girlfriend was nearby. He then disappeared for an hour, coming back at 6am to tell me he'd message me later. I went to bed because I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
The next day, my phone pings at around midday. "What were you doing calling me at 5am??" That's a joke, right? I tell him he's got more explaining to do than me. I recap the situation for him - he's either deliberately playing dumb because his girlfriend's around, he was too wasted to even remember what he sent me, or his girlfriend saw the exchange and now he's on the offensive to defend himself. I remind him of the fact he told me he was in a club at 4am chopping up a line. "Of course I was drunk at 4am, it's the weekend," he defiantly tells me. Yeah, you don't chop up a line of alcohol, mate. I'm not stupid. I tell him to leave me alone and delete my messenger app.
He doesn't leave me alone.
The next day I get an email telling me there are messages waiting for me from this guy. Reluctantly, I log in again, to tell him once and for all to jog on. I'm at work at this point, I don't have time for this. "I told you to leave me alone, it's a simple enough message," I tell him. "Wow, you're one angry lady," he replies. He then keeps messaging me, telling me I'm the one who's been intense lately, all over his Facebook (a blatant lie) so I make a decision.
I report him to the newspaper he works for.
I immediately get an email from the guy I used to work with, after sending him all the screenshots of the messages with an overview of the situation. I tell him he won't leave me alone despite me explicitly telling him to stop multiple times. The guy at the paper tells me he will see that he gets a talking to. I don't know what happened next, but I've not heard from the journalist again.
It makes me sad that people think they can make disempowering comments and harass people to such an extent, especially in this day and age. I wish I'd felt able to say something when the paramedic made the ambiguous comment about what being a woman means I'm going to be like, but I'm glad I said something about the journalist. If anyone says anything that makes you feel inadequate or harassed, you have every right to speak up about how you feel - if everyone was able to do one small thing, such as making a complaint, in situations like this, we'd be moving towards stamping out this type of behaviour at a much faster pace.