All I could do in the moment was laugh at the 40-something security guard’s attempt to be a woke bro of the 21st century, as he hobbled behind me in his uniform to the parking garage where he worked. He’d attempted, half-heartedly, to compliment me. He didn’t realize that saying “with respect” is not a pardoning pass for sexism. It’s equivalent to saying “all do respect”, and “no offense but…”. In effect it only primes the receiver for the impending offense. It only warned me that he was about to say something completely disrespectful, and furthermore that he had no idea why it would be offensive.
“With respect” he said, gesturing a hand toward me as if in miniature bow, “you look beautiful - WITH RESPECT though, ok? That part very important. With respect.”
I finished the two block walk home in Koreatown where I live, to the apartment I share with my partner who is, by all accounts, the ultimate feminist. (I live securely in the mindset that the days of the chauvinist mindset are numbered. As in Post-Weinstein in full effect.) Upon hearing the story, his only response was of pity, a small laugh, and an anger that lacked any kind of energy. We both knew the poor, ignorant security guard had no idea how big a part of the problem he was.
As the day waned on, bright blue of Los Angeles turning to burning orange and finally to a pitch black lit by man-made street signs, my mind does at it always does; it wanders into fictitious conversations. It crafts rebuttals of the most enlightening and sarcastic kind. For this, it had me laying in bed awake thinking of all I might have said back, how I could have efficiently and effectively both reprimanded him, and educated him as to why his comment was not acceptable. But my thinking was interrupted--
Later at 12:30am, laying awake counting that I only have seven and a half hours to sleep. Which progresses: if I don’t get enough sleep I can’t work out and I won’t out the door on time. If I don’t work out I’ll feel flubbish and bloated all day and I’ll be disappointed in myself. I should be asleep. Not being asleep at this very moment ensures my disappointment in myself tomorrow. Just sleep, stop thinking. Sleep. Sleep.Sleep.Sleep.I.Can’t.Sleep.I.Can’t.Sleep.Why.Can’t-I-sleep-why-is-this-so-easy-for-everyone-else-what-is-wrong-with-me-go-the
(but i can’t sleep.)
I am more rude, condescending, and condemning to myself in my own head and I let myself get away with it. Every. Single. Day. (and night.)Then a more terrifying thought arose from the sleeplessness, from the black void of the night: if a stranger had been saying the thoughts running through my head to my face, I would have reprimanded them. If, say, the sexist security guard had told me I’m a disappointment for not being able to sleep and prioritize rest and get ready on time, I would have slapped him. I have standards of how I’ll be talked to for total strangers, and none for how I’ll talk to myself.
A self-professed self-care-queen, a self respecting woman, a feminist of the resistance, and yet speaking to myself more kindly, more respectfully seems such a radical idea I hadn’t considered it till now. As a freelance writer of personal essays, my honesty of this bad behavior is as essential as it is to have committed. I must both be brashly and vulnerably upfront with myself about breaking my own morals, and yet have allowed myself to do what was natural which was to be my own bully. It was not the man and his comment on my looks or the opportunity to educate someone of the male sex what language is the new norm. It was for me to hold myself to my own fire; to live by my designed and desired standards of ethics if I am to require that others do the same.
Buddhist principles, among countless others, identify the following as a crucial step in finding internal, eternal peace: honoring those people who were most hurtful to us as teachers. Acknowledging the challenging behavior and mindsets of others as the very iron that will sharpen our own mental blades. In their stubbornness, they reveal to us our weaknesses. They enlighten us the areas in which we have been diminishing or curbing our power, smothering our resilience and strength as if to drench our own fires with cold water. Had you told me it would be a small, aging security guard commenting on my velvet pants that would change my internal ethical standards of dialogue, I would have dismissed you like I did him.
But now instead of refuting him, I look inward to where I can be more kind. I try to pinpoint exactly how I would like to be talked to, by none other than myself. If I am to give the same kindness, the same grace and forgiveness to others, I am surely able to do the same for myself. If I am to demand that others - especially men in this feminist era - honor the divine feminine in me, I must also do the same.
Am I living, acting, and speaking (to myself and others) in accordance with my own morals and values?
Is my internal monologue one of kindness, love, forgiveness and respect?
Is there someone in my life that challenges me in a negative or uncomfortable way, whom I can redefine as someone who strengthens my ability to be kind, self-aware and to stand up for myself?