- Jen Wise
This is my mad face. I mean, my truly, for real, no joke, take a step back, mad face.
It had started about a week or two before. I was sitting outside working on a coffee shop patio when a stranger approached me with a message, “the man behind you is pretending to use his phone but is really taking pictures of you.” I was so shaken, so unnerved, that I got up, moved inside for a while, and then left.
My fear turned to anger as what happened began to sink in. What gives him the right? Who does he think he is to make me feel unsafe in my own community? Where are these pictures landing? I wished I had stood up for myself. I wished I had demanded he delete the photos. I wished I hadn’t slunk away as if I were the one who should be ashamed.
A week or so passed and I swung in for coffee one day after having lunch with a friend. When my order was up I grabbed my cup and headed out to the patio to squeeze in a few hours of writing. He was there. I didn’t want to leave—I shouldn’t have to leave. I’m not the one who did something wrong. I sat down at a table behind him, out of his view. Within minutes he turned around, held his phone straight at me, and began snapping photos. To. My. Face.
“What are you doing?” I demanded. He quickly began fumbling with his phone.
“Uh, just using my iPhone… uh… just talking….” He fumbled his phone back and forth between his hands like a hot potato, held it a few inches form his ear, fumbled some more. Then turned back around. I was in shock.
I froze. What was I supposed to do? This man was beyond brazen, and had brushed me off with astoundingly little effort. I had tried, right? And wasn’t this embarrassing enough already? Polite women don’t get into arguments in public. And, didn’t he look like a normal, upstanding citizen? Should I really escalate this in front of people?
Well, I did.
I gathered my thoughts, marched over, and ES-CA-LATED it. And of course he tried to blow me off. And of course I threatened to call the cops. And of course he thought I was bluffing. But he clearly doesn’t know me.
And as it turns out, only one of us needed to feel embarrassed: him. And only one of us was cited for harassment: him again. And only one of us is welcome back for coffee: me (yay).
I felt victorious, and not just because I was free to enjoy these beautiful fall days sipping coffee without a creepy audience. I felt victorious because I had almost whimpered away. I had almost retreated, embarrassed to have attracted this sort of person, and this sort of problem. I had almost sat back, ignoring his violations, but instead I chose to stand up.
We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to advocate for ourselves. We need to be able to say no to little things and big things. And we need to be able to say yes, when we want to say yes, without others propping us up and pushing us forward. We don’t need permission to take care of ourselves and protect ourselves. We don’t need permission to take time off, to rest, or to let things go.
And this is something I continue to tell my sons. You can tell me that you don’t like something, or that you’d rather not, or that you have a different idea. You can say it respectfully, and I might override you as a parent, but not only can you speak up, I want you to speak up. Use your voice! Because if they can’t speak up to me, how will they stand up to a bully, a predator, or a pushy friend or future boss? How will they cultivate a healthy life if they don’t know how to go after the things that are good for them, and speak a confident ‘no’ to what isn’t?
I’m beginning to ask myself these same questions. I’m beginning to become the confident self-advocate that I’ve envisioned for my children.
We walk confidently. We hold our heads high. We know what is good and healthy for us, and we go after those things. And we know what is harmful, hurtful, or just plain draining—and we firmly and bravely say no.