Awhile ago, a dear friend of mine was talking to me about being harassed and somewhere in the conversation, we decided that she didn’t owe him politeness. It’s a powerful statement:
I don’t owe him politeness.
In certain cases, it’s obvious when you don’t owe them politeness. Trolls. Bullies. Physically inappropriate dillholes. Certain situations are completely obvious, right? For many, though, those situations get fraught very quickly. If a colleague grabs your arm or your belly and tells you things about how you look, do you shrug them off and not make eye contact, or do you look them in the eye and tell them to get their hands and their comments off your body? If a colleague puts you down in front of your entire office, do you laugh it off or tell them their teeny weenie ego is showing and they should tuck it the fuck back in? If your boss tells you to smile and bake more (and your job is neither baking nor smiling), are you polite about it? Instead of telling them to shove a cupcake up their crusty sphincter of failure, do you just dissolve into angry, helpless, tears, report their ass, and then watch while absolutely nothing is done about it? While people have the audacity to defend them? Do you risk getting fired for being ‘unprofessional’ all for the sake of not owing that insecure fuck a single iota of politeness? What do you do?
My rules are pretty simple regarding politeness:
I default on the polite side until certain standards are not met.
If you treat me with contempt, I will always point that contempt out. The severity of the contempt will determine how I decide to point it out. I have a temper. I’m not always polite about pointing it out. If you dislike people being impolite then don’t be fucking contemptuous.
If you ignore boundaries that I have clearly delineated.
If you put your opinion/perspective above your respect for me as an equal. We can disagree till dragons come back (they will; shhhh you don’t know), but if your opinion is more important than talking to me like I actually matter, don’t waste both of our lives trying to have any sort of shit excuse for a discussion.
It seems so simple, right? Ok, so these are my terms. And yet, I have compromised these terms so many times. (Don’t worry; I hate myself for each and every one of them. Yay what was that about learning how to forgive myself? Oh right; hump a cactus. I’ve had wines.) I get worried about being out of a job. I’m terrified of dying because something something hahahaha no healthcare for you because we don’t feel like dealing with whatever the fuck went wrong this time/your tone is too aggressive. I’m scared of internet trolls who have zero boundaries and negligible repercussions for their behavior. I don’t invoke the need for a safe space much (there are people who truly need it, and I don’t fancy myself as one of them), but if I’m being honest, every time I’ve broken my standards for politeness, it’s because the concept of a safe space for women is exactly the same as regular equality for straight, white, men. The toxicity is so pervasive and so unchecked, that mimicry of the bullying behavior happens regardless of gender. The standards are set, and I can’t afford to not toe the line. Or, I can, but sacrificing huge parts of my passion and my health for the sake of my dignity is just left of a line that seems less and less sacred. The compromise is disgusting.
In the midst of all the unaccountable fuckery, I have met several men who have ceded. Ceding is, I think, the crux of everything. It’s hard to cede. I hate being wrong. I’m wrong a lot, though, and if I want to be wrong less, then I have to own it when it happens. And when it comes to people, particularly people I claim to care about, the issue is almost never as cut and dry as wrong or right; it’s about empathy and acknowledging that your discomfort and assumptions aren’t more distressing than the removal of another person’s dignity and sense of self. I’ve been very lucky in that there have been a few very powerful individuals out there who have ceded, without hesitation or deliberation, and welcomed my entire person into their world. That those occurrences were rare is a fact that I find horrifying.
So, it’s scary to decide to do something as simple as stand up for yourself. There are consequences that have nothing to do with fair and impartial assessment, and everything to do with power and manipulation. And, as I’ve stated before, I’m bad at both of those things. I can’t with the power plays; I don’t get it. But, it helps to know that my choices are still my own, even if the repercussions have little to do with what I have or haven’t done. Regardless of how many times I break my own rules, it is liberating to think of politeness as a choice. I plan on getting better at choosing.