I don't blog to solve the world's ills. I'm not usually too serious, too heavy -- unlike my actual books. No, the point is just to throw some thoughts out there so my readers and fellow authors can get to know me just a little bit, and for me to feel a little connections with you, my audience, on a regular basis. I'm afraid, as one of my favorite heroes would say, today is not that day.
There are a lot of ways I could approach this, but I think a straightforward story is the simplest. This week, I attended a women-only martial arts class. During this class the female instructor's husband, a man who has multiple upper-level ranks (as does she), began to disrupt class and badger my instructor because she was telling us to execute a move in a way he disagreed with. As the confrontation escalated, the women in the room got quiet, struggled to continue as if nothing was wrong, and even began to visibly shake. My instructor huddled against the wall, silent, making herself as small as possible, probably in an effort to soothe her husband.
And then there was me.
I was shaking too. I was watching my instructor and seeing not her but my mother, huddled in on herself, silent, hoping my father would stop his ranting and raving. I kept engaging with my instructor, confirming and affirming what she wanted and trying to continue doing it. But when her husband refused to stop, I did what I'd done so many times as a child and young adult. I stepped in and (politely in this instance) told this man, who had instructed me in other classes and been what I considered a family friend, to stop. And watched with heart-pounding anxiety as he blew up, just like my dad always did.
Thankfully this man kept it verbal -- and kept his hands, for that reason alone -- but still, that was no excuse. He lost control. Why? Because he couldn't force a bunch of women to acknowledge that he was right. That is the only reason he verbally attacked his wife and me. He intimidated the other students. He finally stormed out after threatening me for standing up for his wife. And his excuse, when my husband questioned him, was that he was a particular degree of belt (in another system of study) and had so many years of experience, and I should've bowed to that and respected him as superior (my words, not his, though that's the gist). He told my husband, essentially, that his actions were justified by his authority.
Now, my whole point here isn't to blast this situation into the blogosphere. Notice I haven't use any names and don't intend to, even down to the art I study. That's not what I'm going for. What I'm trying to say is, this man felt justified in his actions because of his "authority" over a bunch of women, including his life's mate, a woman he should be cherishing and treating with love and honor. Make no mistake; this would never have happened in a room containing even one man besides himself. I know because I've seem him rein in irritation when my husband was present. He is capable of pulling himself back. On this day, however, since "no one" was there to act as a stop on him, he felt justified. He was acting on, essentially, righteous indignation at the flouting of his authority. He was taking "appropriate action."
Then and now, I call bullshit. So did my husband.
I have many issues with feminism that I won't get into today. But one thing that feminism has done right is free women from the requirement to submit to a man's authority "just because." Even in the late '80s and early '90s, as a woman in the South, any man in a position of authority over me -- pastor, government official, teacher, boss, husband -- expected to be obeyed whether they were right or wrong. And not only that, but the rest of society, including women, reinforced that belief. When told that my father was verbally and/or physically abusive, it was "He's just disciplining you" or "I don't see any bruises, so how could it be abuse?" When a boss pulled me into his office to castigate me over alleged lack of "the right attitude" at work (for which he couldn't even produce examples), my female supervisors sat there stone-faced and told me to take it. When a male friend told me I shouldn't be teaching kindergarten-aged boys because they were male and I was female and the Bible said I shouldn't have authority over men, barely anyone blinked. This was the reality of female life not too long ago; in some places it is still the reality today. Not for me.
You see, I am not required to give you respect. You may demand it based on the fact of your title, your age, your experience, or even that your body has a penis attached to it, but I do not have to give it. I do not live in Japan or China, and therefore the fact that you have more stripes on your karate belt does not mean I have to treat you like God. Respect is earned, not demanded. And if you demand it and try to lord it over me like this man did? I have one response for you: Go f**k yourself.
Let me be very clear: Verbal or physical abuse is NEVER justified. You want respect? Earn it. No one is required to give it to you. My children are a prime example of this for me, given the background I came from. My husband and I deal with them with integrity, love, and consistency, and that is how we cultivate their respect and obedience. When we get upset at our house and lose our sh*t (never physically and never demeaning each other; I'm just talking about normal family conflict here), do you know how we fix that with each other? Not by demanding submission from the rest of the family. We fix it with humility. We say we are sorry (yes, even my husband and I, the parents). We ask for forgiveness. We are open and honest and deal with each other honorably -- and earn trust by never crossing certain boundaries, no matter how hot our emotions run.
I teach my children to act honorably and defend the weak, and I do it by example. That hasn't always been easy for me. I began studying martial arts because I was afraid. For the first six months of classes I could not bring myself to block a punch coming right at my face. (Actually I still sometimes can't.) Why? Because I'd programmed myself from the time I was little to be still. Defending myself only made the punishment worse (of course, I never trained my tongue that well). It took a long time to break that programming, to become strong, and it's still not easy. I do it anyway. I train for it. BUT I also train to gain control, so that I never use what I know to force others to my will. To justify my own actions. Any authority I have, any respect I am given, must be earned. That's what is right. Always. Anything else is just plain wrong.
One last thing. If you are in a situation where you are being subjected to verbal or physical abuse, you need to get out. Don't justify staying. Protect yourself. Protect your children, if you have any. Do it now, today. Don't buy into the myth that this behavior is justified. It's never was and never will be.
*Top photo courtesy of 迷花不事君 (http://cc.nphoto.net/view/2008/10424.shtml) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-cn (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/cn/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons