Give Yourself Permission to be Not Nice

As anyone who follows my Facebook feed knows, I’ve been reading “Meditations on Violence” by Rory Miller this week. I’ll post a review when I’m done, but today I wanted to call attention to something I was reminded of while reading. It’s an important lesson, especially for women, so I wanted to take a moment to talk about it.

One of the things Rory talks about in the context of self-defense is around giving yourself permission to act in the face of a threat. Rory mentions an article by a woman named Debra Anne Davis, who wrote poignantly and with insight about the circumstances of her rape. The article is available online here, but be warned – Debra doesn’t pull any punches.

Reading Debra’s essay, I was struck by how the decisions she made during the attack were driven by a lifetime of cultural conditioning to be nice. In moments when decisive resistance might have ended the attack, she was instead flattering her rapist, even (in her words) flirting with him. ” I’ve learned about flirting and how it works and what it can do,” she writes. “(It can get people to like you, to do things for you, to treat you well.) It’s a skill I have honed. And I’m using it now. To save my life. (And, hey, it worked! Unless of course he hadn’t planned on killing me in the first place.)”

But the most telling moment for me came when she described how her attacker took of her pants before raping her. She writes:

He was having a little trouble because the pants weren’t slipping off as, obviously, he’d envisioned they would. He tugged, and then began yanking. “Stop fighting!” he growled at me. Ooh, that pissed me off! “I’m not fighting!” I sassed back at him. And I wasn’t. How dare he! Accuse me, I mean. Of fighting.

Isn’t it funny how, in that moment when fury of thought and word and action was as surely justified as it could ever be in a woman’s life, what made Debra angry enough to talk back to her rapist was being accused of fighting, of not being nice? For women who are considering their own safety and learning to defend themselves for the first time, learning to overcome this cultural conditioning is absolutely essential. When we’re faced with peril, the only way to stay safe is to be strong, to be decisive, and to be focused on the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. To be worried about the rapist’s feelings is a recipe for victimization or worse. And it turns out that making that mental shift, although, critical, is decidedly challenging for many of us.

Men get this conditioning too but, I think, in less strong ways. It’s more socially acceptable in some ways for men to be direct, to be honest, than it is for women. Men aren’t, in my experience, as strongly condemned for rude behavior as are women, and not as strongly conditioned to be nice at all costs.

These are some things Rory says in his book, and just as he does, I think there’s power in words. I’m using his words here, especially for the last item, because I doubt I can improve upon them. Read these, and then say them to yourself in the mirror. Read them until you believe them, until you know deep in your soul that they’re true:

  • You have permission to defend yourself.
  • You have permission to be rude.
  • You have permission to survive, no matter what it takes.
  • You have permission to act when the scary man reaches for his belt. You don’t need to wait until he hurts you to take action.
  • You have blanket permission to grow and live and survive and fight and run and scream and talk and play and laugh and learn and experiment. You have permission to win, and you have permission to decide what winning is. Be amazing!

All the weaponry and training in the world won’t help you if you haven’t given yourself permission to use it. Even if using it means being rude. Even if using it means being angry. Even if using it means being aggressive or “un-ladylike”. Even if the bad guy gets hurt. Even if the bad guy dies. Give yourself permission. You’re worth it, and your life is worth it, and your safety is worth it.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. Rob Omer says:

    The book “Gift of Fear” covers the same . old book maybe early 1990s. Buy it for all of the woman in my life.

    • “The Gift of Fear” is a terrific book, and one I highly recommend as well.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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