Q&A: Prove it to Yourself, Not to Them

How do you suggest handling people (men who are friends of family, in my experience) who insist women can’t fight even if they have passed the classes they needed (I recently started a job that requires it and these men have been acting ‘concerned’ as if me taking this job is naive). I wanted to include something like this in a story I’m writing, but it would come across as me always thinking women have something to prove, as opposed to something from my own life I’m frustrated about. 🙁

Honestly? They can go fuck themselves.

You’re a grown ass woman. You know what you want. You know what you need to do. You can go get it. Trust that the training you get will help keep you safe, and you’re facing the same threats as the men who also have this job. Remember, real men who value you as a human being are supportive. They don’t equivocate, make differences between the girls and the boys. At most, they’ll talk about the additional threats women face and some approaches for dealing with them but those aren’t news. You already know about those, just like I did. I was fortunate to have a whole slew of these sorts of men as instructors in my martial arts program as a kid, and in a bunch of different martial arts classes I took as a young teen and young adult.

The truth is that men like that often have egos which are very fragile. They crave power and control by controlling the lives of others. They dress their “concerns” up as concerns (and if you’re taking a job that is dangerous, they should have a reason to be concerned) because, well, it’s dangerous for a woman isn’t it? Why don’t you just leave it to the boys? The idea of a woman doing this job makes them uncomfortable. It damages their self-image, because they’d be frightened to do it, because they think women shouldn’t. You need to remember, their comments (while they’re directed at you) are actually about them. These are the men who build their manhood around this culturally enshrined vision that doesn’t really exist. The one where (white) men are faster, stronger, smarter, better, more suited to the hard, violent, dirty jobs. You know the type. These men are weak, entitled, and need others to fail. They need women to consign themselves to the roles that they have assigned them so they can feel strong.

They may dress the damsel up with pretty words about being kind, pretty, sweet, and good often those often relate to their vision of who a woman should be. Nothing dirty, nothing dark, you’re always somewhere safe where you’re quiet, and biddable, and in your place. You’ve gotta be safely up on that pedestal. After all… “That’s just not how I see you, sweetheart.”

While these men are likely not going anywhere, and nothing we say will give them an epiphany or change their minds, you should remember that you don’t need their approval. You don’t need them.

These are men who society has taught they get to spout off like they’re an authority whenever they feel like it, not because they’ve anything of substance to add or done anything to deserve sharing their opinion but because they’re (white) men. There’s nothing that terrifies this type of man more than irrelevance. And, the second you realize that the power they think they have over you because of a family connection or your gender is only there if you give that power to them, that you can take that power away, that their opinion doesn’t control you, is the moment you’re free.

Now, that’s going to be difficult because society teaches women (in a variety of different ways) that we should let other people’s (usually older men’s) opinions decide who we are and what we can be. We can’t always change someone’s opinion, but we can decide whether we let their opinion affect us. We don’t need to be liked, we don’t need their approval, we don’t need them to decide our course for us. Their opinion is theirs, but we can decide otherwise. This is your life, not theirs. Learning to trust yourself when you’ve been taught your whole life that you can’t, that you need outside guidance, that outside opinions define the reality by which you live, is hard. You can do it, though. You went into your job with eyes wide open, you knew the risks, and you decided to take them because you’re an adult.

Putting these experiences into your writing can be a great way to work through your frustrations with people in your life. However, the power fantasy that usually rings hollow is the one where a chauvinist or misogynist turns around and realizes that yes, you really can do it once they see or experience it first hand. This is the fantasy your fear that you’d be writing “women have something to prove” is coming from. The reason why this fantasy sucks is because it puts the importance on the man’s acceptance of the woman’s truth, and sends the message his acceptance legitimizes her.

You’d make her proving herself about the men in her life rather than about her journey.

True power comes from realizing you don’t need to prove anything. You were always powerful all on your own. You gained confidence through your own sweat, blood, and tears. You conquered your frustrations, pushed past the doubters, shook off the detractors, and walked into the sunlight on your own power. The greatest empowerment comes from self-acceptance and self-love. In self-actualization, you realize loving yourself is the greatest gift you can give. You’re confident in yourself and comfortable in your own skin. You’ll realize you never needed those men and their approval anyway, and if they come around, well, that’s great… for them. Their decision won’t really affect you or your emotional health and well-being. You’ll just be rolling your eyes less at family dinners.

In your writing, you can practice not caring. You can have your characters try, and try. They may fail, they may succeed. It may take multiple drafts until you find the right note. Finding the strength to be your own person without the safety or approval provided by authority figures in your life is a real life issue both men and women struggle with. You just need to make sure you’re focusing on the character’s personal development and self-realization (“Yes, I can!”) rather than their actions being a source of proof that their detractors are wrong.

The people who doubt you don’t get to decide who you are.

You do.

– Michi

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