The MeToo movement is a powerful tipping point that’s giving voice to victims of sexual harassment and assault. It’s shifting the power dynamic between victims and perpetrators and leading to real changes in and out of the workplace.
But while the MeToo movement is an important step in the right direction, it doesn’t address ways people can avoid becoming victims in the first place. THAT is my mission—to teach women and girls how to claim their power to protect and defend themselves.
Nearly 100 percent of the women I’ve met as I’ve spoken around the country told me they experienced some form of behavior by men that made them uncomfortable or afraid, or that left them traumatized. They got creepy phone calls late in the night with heavy breathing on the other end of the line. They were harassed by rangy herds of young men who followed them halfway home while they tried not to cry. They were felt up on the bus by strangers. Their uncles drunkenly French kissed them when they were just getting used to their training bras. They were drugged and raped at frat parties. They were kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted.
And most of these women blamed themselves, some so harshly that they played judge and jury—sentencing themselves to life in emotional prison for something that wasn’t even their fault!
If you’re sick of living like this… If you’re tired of feeling afraid every time you walk by yourself through a deserted parking lot… Tired of scurrying with your keys clenched in your fist until you can breathlessly throw yourself into the driver’s seat and slam down the door lock… Tired of not feeling safe to move around the world in peace and security, you are not alone.
Making ‘Nice’ is Killing Us
In my new book, The Badass Girl’s Guide: Uncommon Strategies to Outwit Predators, I help women and girls own their power and live safer, more confident lives. The guide covers everything from how predators select and groom their victims, to how to out-think, out-talk and out-fight them using your body’s natural weapons.
I don’t know about you, but I was raised to be nice to everyone. I was taught to avoid being rude at all cost. To smile through awkward situations. To giggle when I felt uncomfortable rather than risk embarrassing someone who was just “playing” with me. To subsume my needs in favor of others’. To expect men to be my rescuers if I was in danger. Basically, to be a good girl and not make trouble for anyone.
How many times in your life have you ignored the blaring sirens from your intuition and sat silently as someone violated your boundaries? I sure did; more times than I can count and all in the name of being polite.
It’s a strange paradox—we spend so much of our lives being hypervigilant about potential danger but become utterly helpless when we’re confronted with uncomfortable or dangerous situations. We smile when someone pays us an inappropriate compliment at work. We roll our eyes when a man makes a crude joke or gesture. We stiffen but don’t necessarily move when someone brushes up against us.
Why? Why do we “make nice” when we’re treated with disrespect? After all, these people clearly don’t respect us! Our instincts are correct, but we override them because our early training was so strong.
Part of the reason is fear—that the situation will escalate if we object, that we’ll embarrass the other person or ourselves, or that the person we confront won’t like/love/employ us anymore. We’re also often clueless about how to respond. Then there’s the pervasive, personally-held belief that we can’t take care of ourselves, so we demure rather than react.
We feel helpless, which leads to a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. Denial is also a huge factor; we deny what’s happening to us in favor of making excuses for the perpetrator: “He was just kidding.” “I’m just being overly sensitive.” “He didn’t mean it.” Or, my (least) favorite, “Boys will be boys.” This twisted perspective lets predators off the hook when they behave badly.
An alarming number of women and girls, even those who’ve never been victimized, state that they feel a general sense of self-loathing and shame. And for those who have been victimized, add self-blame to that toxic mix.
As a result, we give away our power to others and allow them to dictate our lives. Yes, we do. Every time we let someone lead us into a decision we’re not comfortable with, or allow them to violate our boundaries, we’re relinquishing our power.
These feelings are at the heart of why we remain so vulnerable to predators. I’m bringing them to light so you can understand how this mentality sets us up for victimization. And, more than that, how this self-defeating mindset denies us the joy of self-love and self-esteem that are essential to living a happy, healthy life.
It’s time to reject the negative messages bombarding us in the media and society in general, to be gentle with ourselves, to embrace our perfectly imperfect selves and claim our power! We must take ownership of and responsibility for our own lives, every single second of them, understanding that we are the only ones who have our best interest in mind at all times.
Summoning Your Super Powers
I want to briefly share with you, dear reader, the three super powers each of you can summon to protect yourselves from emotional and physical harm. They are:
- Your boundaries
- Your intuition
- Your moxy, meaning your willingness to honor that intuition and defend those boundaries
The first super power consists of your boundaries, which represent the line you allow people to cross (or not) in your physical and emotional space.
Predators will test your boundaries to determine whether you’ll make a good victim. They often first attempt to cross your emotional boundaries by making suggestive or inappropriate comments or jokes to see how you react. If you make it clear they’ve crossed a line, they’ll usually back off. If you giggle nervously or “make nice,” they’ll push further in an attempt to manipulate you into a bad situation.
If someone crosses a boundary with you, you must let them know right away—whether it’s a stranger or someone you know well. A simple, “I’m not comfortable with that,” may be all it takes. Sure, you may both feel uncomfortable for a few moments after you set a firm boundary, but isn’t your body, your very life worth that small and passing discomfort? Of course it is!
Your second super power appears when you trust your intuition, or gut. Your body is a finely tuned instrument of wisdom and knowing. It’s constantly giving you cues about your environment and the people in it.
Don’t, I repeat—do NOT give someone the benefit of the doubt if you feel uncomfortable around them. Whether you firmly tell them “NO” or walk away, you decide what’s necessary.
Don’t be afraid of being wrong or looking silly. When you tell someone to back off and give you space, if he’s a good guy he’ll do it and likely apologize. If he’s a predator, he’ll get angry with you and try to make you feel badly it. This is your clue that he’s not to be trusted. And while nothing may come of it, you might actually have thwarted an attack against you.
Your third super power is your moxy, also called “brass” or “chutzpah.” It’s your willingness to stand in your power to honor your intuition and defend your boundaries. It means summoning your inner badass and walking your talk. It means being as rude or aggressive as necessary to someone who’s setting off alarm bells in your body and pushing your boundaries past the breaking point.
A Quick Huddle
For those of you who are right now thinking, “I couldn’t possibly call someone out like that—I’m too nice/polite/timid/afraid/whatever.”
Ladies, we have GOT to get over this outdated and outright dangerous kind of thinking if we’re going to make it through this life with any sense of security and sanity. Tell that voice in your head to shut the hell up.
It’s harming you; it’s harming us all by perpetuating the false belief that we, as women, don’t have the ability or right to protect the integrity of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
So, before you agree to let that person carry your groceries into your apartment or go to that location that makes your gut clench, THINK about what you’re doing. Check in with your intuition and your body to get their opinions first. You don’t owe it to anyone to do what they want, even if they’re persistent (and bad guys will be persistent).
If you want to do whatever it is you’re considering, and it aligns with your intuition and integrity, do it. If it doesn’t resonate with you and you have doubts, don’t do it. It’s that simple.
Trust your gut and defend those boundaries, and then use your moxy to ACT!
About CJ Scarlet
CJ Scarlet is an author and motivational speaker on the topics of self-empowerment and common-sense self-defense for women and girls. A survivor of sexual assault, CJ is an expert in criminal justice and victim advocacy, has given speeches and workshops at national and international events; and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including MSNBC and NPR.
CJ holds an interdisciplinary M.A. in Humanities with an emphasis on Human Violence and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies from Old Dominion University. She is the author of The Badass Girl’s Guide: Uncommon Strategies to Outwit Predators and Neptune’s Gift: Discovering Your Inner Ocean. Named one of the “Happy 100” people on the planet, CJ’s personal story of triumph over adversity is featured in several books, including bestsellers Happy for No Reason and Be Invincible.