On the first day of Emergency Medical Technician school, I wore my best smile. A time when I stood politely listening to a male classmate as he said one invasive comment after another about my body. I stood there over and over again for six months, speechless as he kept spitting out unwanted sexual innuendos. For the sake of not re-living those moments, I won’t share his exact words, but his words stuck with me and to this day, I ask myself, Where was my bravery? Why did I stay quiet? Truth be told, I went along with what he said to me because it was scarier to imagine myself fighting back then saying what I truly thought.
As a physical therapist aide, it was my job to memorize the patients’ charts, which included knowing what side of the body they were injured on, what their exercises were, and whether or not they got ice at the end of their session. So, why when I wrapped a bag of ice around his right shoulder, did he feel the need to tell me that I was pretty and that he was honored that I remembered something about him. I guess my nervous laugh invited him to then say I looked “good” in my pants that day. Unafraid, that man spoke to me without a care in the world who heard him, and I bet he didn’t think for a second if it was appropriate or not. But, here I was, being targeted for my body once again and my first reaction was to laugh. Where was my bravery? I wasn’t going to fail myself again. As I grabbed my male coworker to the back office, my head flooded with thoughts like, “He won’t believe me,” “This is going to be brushed off,” and “There is nothing my coworker is going to do for me.” Afraid of being assertive, but brave enough to say something, I then watched my coworker approach the older male patient and he said, “If you are going to be a patient here, you will respect my staff.” If you think the patient took that well, then, I am sorry to disappoint you. The patient asked me, “Why can’t you just take a friendly joke?” I stood there for a moment, considering to shrug it off and stay silent, but, I chose to turn away from helping him.
In that moment, for a split second, I was not a perfect employee, but I felt brave walking away. I chose to defend myself and every day after that. For two days a week for four weeks, I greeted him at check-in and scheduled his appointments, all while dodging more inappropriate comments. The difference between this story and my first story is that this time, I practiced using my bravery muscles. I made a choice to speak up, and for that, I went from a pleasing, perfect employee to an empowered and brave women.
I share these two stories with you because I want to raise awareness of how our culture has shaped generations of girls and women to please. A culture that raised us to be afraid to speak up and defend ourselves. Well, it is time to re-teach our girls and women how to be brave. It is time for parents to model bravery for their girls so that when they grow up to be women, they can skip the part where they feel like they have to smile through yet again another man questioning their self-worth.