So I’m just a small town girl who grew up in Colorado. There really wasn’t all that much training in the art of speaking up. Even in my adolescence, when I tried my hardest to start controversy, or to raise eyebrows with my bleached out spray painted jackets and blue (then red, then blonde, then silver, then shaved) hair and nose rings and army men hanging from safety pins off of my ears – even then I would get a mostly warm reception from the good people of my rural community. Sure sure there were a few jocks who were all, “YOU’RE A FREAK!” but then they would secretly pass me notes saying they were sorry, and any chance we could hang out some time?
So my assertive voice was never really groomed. Fast Forward to 2010, and I’m living in Brooklyn, New York. I feel like my Old Mother-Hubbard age, combined with my experience in the world has put me in a pretty competent place to stand up for myself when I need to, but I still shrink a little when people are bugging me, and if the choice is suck-it-up and not cause a ruckus, I keep quiet. But this weekend, I got to experience two girls born and bred somewhere in New Jersey, who were not taking *it* from anybody. It made me think – do I have a lot more to learn in being assertive?
Let me set the stage: on Saturday, we went to The Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. This is sort of a Brooklyn community event, a nod to the Mardi Gras Parade, complete with tons of topless women, lots of body paint and glitter, sea creatures, floats, children, adults and New York icons (this year’s King and Queen of the parade were Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, and Neil Patrick Harris was spotted getting his groove on) mixing it up on a hot summer day. My crew arrived to the parade early, to secure a good view. As expected, the crowd was epic. But we were right on the front. Soon a boisterous woman elbowed her way to right behind us, with her young daughter clutching her hand. The woman poked me in the back and said, “My daughter wants to see”. My response, while not confrontational, was assertive enough in my own head when I replied, “Yeh, well I think we all do! Huge crowd, huh? We got here early to get these seats, and my son and his cousin aren’t going to give them up just yet.” Or something like that.
It kept her at bay for all of 30 seconds, when she started muttering, “My daughter wants to see, my daughter wants to see” and essentially was trying to walk through to the front. And then I got schooled by this girl to my right, sweet and slight and totally unassuming. She had talked to my sister and me for a while, just small talk, and couldn’t have been nicer. She turned around to the woman and said, firmly and snarkily and with no fear, “Lady, you’re getting annoying. You need to go.”
And the woman left.
And I was all, like whoa.
Soon, people were dodging the police barricades, climbing under them to get closer to the parade to take pictures. At first, it was just photographers with their fancy press passes. But soon enough, teenagers with their cell phones were snapping away, right dead in front of us, blocking the view pretty effectively. New Jersey wasn’t having it. She called a cop over, and the police man stupidly (I mean honestly, it was stupid) said, “Those are professional photographers taking pictures for the newspaper.” New Jersey then pointed to the teenager, with her celly, and said, “Oh really? Her? She’s professional? How about him? Her? Him?” She plucked each poser out of the crowd and got them put back behind the barricade, with us common folk.
And again, I was all, like whoa. Because she did it with no discretion, not hiding from the teenagers she was calling out. They knew who was ratting them out, and New Jersey did not care at all.
Both of the times she spoke up, I would have liked to. But I didn’t. I’m revisiting that now – I’m wondering now where’s the line between being assertive and aggressive, and did she cross it? Or am I just a natural-born wuss, whose time has come to step-it-up at least a bit more? How about you? Do you correct strangers? Or do you just avoid that kind of confrontation? Where’s the line?