A Declaration of Independence for Women (from being nice at any price)

A smart, wonderful client who lives in Manhattan recently got a lesson in the high cost of being nice. While riding on the subway, a bedraggled man got on the car, sat beside her and, in a series of escalating advances, attempted to engage her in conversation and then began to touch her.

Frightened, she quietly waited until the train came to a station, told him it was her stop (it wasn’t and yeah, she actually gave him an excuse for leaving), and left the car. She re-entered the next car which had more people on it.  He followed her, continued his advances, and luckily this time several men on the car restrained him, and summoned the transit police who took the very mentally ill man away in handcuffs.

My client was grateful because it could have been worse, but she was tremendously upset and shaken.

What was she thinking? As we deconstructed the event, she realized that she saw him initially approaching her, felt uncomfortable, but she sat still because she didn’t want to seem impolite.

We do it all the time don’t we? We’re such nice girls. We are literally conditioned to be nice.

After all, little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” We’ve heard it since we could literally understand the words.

I once visited a new hairdresser, walked into an elegant salon and was greeted by a man dressed in black and chains.He looked like an old, grizzled British rocker who’d partied hard back in the day.

I didn’t like his looks or his vibe, but I politely sat in his chair anyway.  As I picked at my hair, trying to describe what I wanted, he abruptly told me that I was paying him to cut my hair, not drive him crazy, so I had to keep my hands out of my hair.  I was taken aback but, nice girl that I was, I folded my hands in my lap.

As he roughly raked through my hair, my eyes welled up with tears.  “I’m extremely tender-headed.” I told him.

“Well I’m not known for being gentle,” he growled. And I still sat there, blinking back the tears.

I was aware of a sickly feeling growing stronger in the pit of my stomach.  But I did not leave. I was frozen and didn’t move.

You know the ending of this story, right?

Of course.

I left with three inches less hair than I wanted, a lousy, unflattering haircut, and the prospect of finding someone else to repair the damage.

What was I thinking? I was operating on the same frequency as my client was in the subway, as the woman who doesn’t get off the elevator when the creepy guy gets in, the woman who doesn’t get up, walk out, make a fuss, or do whatever it takes to live her exactly as she pleases.

I ignored all the signals from my gut, because I felt too uncomfortable standing up and leaving.  I ignored my feelings because I was afraid to tell him the truth.

We’re such good girls aren’t we?  In the name of being nice, of not making a fuss, not offending, not drawing attention to ourselves, and a load of other unhelpful motivations, we tolerate all kinds of inappropriate people and behavior.

We ignore the clues in our bodies, as they sometimes whisper and  sometimes scream at us–get up, leave, walk, run, speak up, yell, don’t sit here, don’t stay here, don’t do business here, get the hell out of here and don’t turn back.

Enough!  I for one am declaring my personal independence and I invite you to join me.

Let us declare our independence from being nice above all, no matter what it costs.

Let us declare that from this moment forward, we will put our desire to be safe and happy over our desires to be nice, polite, good girls.  Let us listen to the signals from our bodies, to our discomfort, to our gut feelings. 

Whether it’s to protect our personal safety or our hair or anything in between, let us give up sitting quietly with our hands folded in our laps. 

Let us never, ever again fail to speak up for ourselves, and not leave, speak up, shout, or whatever it takes to look out for our best interests. 

Will you join me?

12 thoughts on “A Declaration of Independence for Women (from being nice at any price)

  1. Erika

    I’m with ya, Terry! When I inventory this topic in my own life, I can see how I have fallen into the same trap.
    Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention!!! Enjoy your independence days!!!

  2. Terry Post author

    Thanks Harmony! I am usually perfectly capable of speaking up for my interests, and it shocked me to find, once again, that the old behavior was still with me. It’s a much bigger issue than hair, of course, but hair is something that, as women, we can all relate to!

  3. Terry Post author

    Yes, Janette, and INDEPENDENCE is the key word, isn’t it? We want to be nice, of course, it is the kind and loving way to be in the world, but to be able to make the choice–that’s freedom.

  4. Vanessa Vinos

    Hi Terry (from across the pond in Spain). I just found your wonderful blog via Jeanette Maw.
    Wow, what a fantastic post!
    I am regarded as quite a strong woman, but I can’t tell you how many times that hairdresser scenario has caught me out. What is it about that hairdressers chair that seems to render the most savvy women to become mute?! I’ve actually printed this thread to re-read (especially before I go to the hairdressers next Friday!!)

  5. Katie

    Terry- Thanks for this. I had a hair dresser that I stayed with for too long because she did a good job on my hair. But, I always left feeling like c^@p! She made me feel bad about things I would talk about while there — she would ask about my life, I would share and then she would basically laugh at me. I finally quit her. Today, I did a 180 and did not leave my dog at a groomer that I could feel was not a good place for him. I was feeling bad, because my dog really needs a hair cut. But, after reading your post, I feel better that I recognized the ick factor and didn’t subject my dog or myself to it. Thanks!

  6. Katie Andraski

    I got a third degree rope burn across my hand and a horse taking off across the park (thank God not into an an oncoming car) because I didn’t ignore someone suggesting things I could do to load Tessa onto the trailer. This woman was as gentle as could be, but still I didn’t stick to my own way of working things out with this horse. It’s what she’s pointing out to me, this not standing up for her or myself.

    We’ve been so trained to make nice, it takes practice to counter that voice when making nice is not good. I think of the Dixie Chicks’ song. Might be good to download and listen to again and again.

    As always, thanks for sharing how it is for you as you practice your independence from inappropriate niceness.

  7. Lin Eleoff

    Terry, your question “what was I thinking” is key. Sometimes we don’t bother to even answer that question, right? Thank you for the reminder that we must not ever stifle ourselves, especially when it comes to men in chains! 😉 You rock!

  8. Pernille Madsen

    Terry, I love your post!!!

    Those who trained us did “a good job” 😉 – we were definitely trained “properly” and we so do remember our training, also in situations where it is not serving us at all!!

    Thanks for inspiring us to listen to our own guidance in stead 🙂

  9. Anna K

    Great post!!!

    I am ready to declare my independence along with you. I have a good teacher right here– my little girl. I notice how often my urge is to make her ‘be nice’ because I’m embarrassed, not because it is really the right thing to do. Stop, breathe, and reboot!

    For me, being nice is tangled in with old lessons I learned as a child about how to be safe. It’s so amazing to get to reexamine those old tapes– as a grown, powerful woman, I have so many choices, and usually sitting tight and hoping someone comes to my rescue is NOT the best course of action!

    One last thing– Gavin DeBecker writes brilliantly about this stuff The Gift of Fear and Protecting The Gift. It’s like he’s a Martha Beck coach disguised as a security expert. Great stuff.

    Thanks, Terry!

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