The Tragedy of Being “Nice”

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Today I received and started reading an interesting – if slightly disturbing book – called Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller (it speaks to my Criminal Justice roots and is a topic I wanted to better understand if I’m going to write a violent scene in a believable way).  It is a phenomenally interesting read, but it doesn’t sugar-coat ANYTHING.

I sometimes forget that my minor was Women’s Studies…it’s hard to believe I graduated almost 20 years ago.  But between prominent politicians grabbing women’s genitals to issues revolving around birth control and abortion to the recent blow-up in Hollywood with a certain high-profile producer, these Women’s Studies issues are everywhere…and I wish they weren’t.  Things change…and things don’t.  I was studying about domestic violence, women’s self-esteem, the Glass Ceiling, etc., all those years ago…and turn on the television on any given day – it’s all still the same.  What exactly have we learned in these 20 years?

This article  was suggested external reading in the book, and it is a heartbreaking discussion of the mindset of a rape victim, written by that victim.  It is a frank exploration of her self-esteem, her self-value, and why she reacted to the situation as she did.  She’s quite candid in describing a little of what happened to her (if that sort of thing is a no-go for you, I’d recommend not reading this article), but what I found particularly disturbing is not the description of the rape itself – it was the author’s reason for offering so little resistance to her attacker.

The bottom line:  She didn’t want to be rude because she’d been raised to be a “nice girl”.

I have a hard time being assertive.  Ok, I have an IMPOSSIBLE time being assertive.  I don’t want to be rude to people…to do something that will have people thinking I’m not nice…and this article kind of scared me – about me.  I’d love to think I would have put up a brave fight, but am I being honest with myself?  Would I have had the courage to slam the door in that guy’s face?  To punch him and fight hard?  Good Goddess, I hope so…

I hope attitudes are changing and women are becoming more assertive.  I hope my girls will never struggle with the worry of being perceived as “nice” at all costs, especially to the detriment of their own self-worth or self-esteem.  And I hope women are learning that we can refuse to be stepped on or taken advantage of AND still feel good about ourselves.  As far as I’m concerned, this is a basic human right for anyone of any gender, because there are probably lots of men out there who struggle with the same problem, too.  We are all valuable, worthy human beings.

I want to be nice, but I also want to be strong within myself…and for myself and for my daughters.  My husband and I always remind our kids of this bit of wisdom from the 90’s TV series, “Babylon 5”: “Never start a fight…but always finish one.”

It’s a lesson I’m still working on incorporating into my psyche at this stage of my life as I’m treading close to the top of the hill.  I hope I’m smarter and more assertive as I cruise down the other side…

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