The fine line between “pushover” and “mean”

Fairly recently, I wrote a post that included my frustrating experiences with being frequently asked for money or cigarettes while I’m outside during the workday. While I don’t intend to go on another unintelligible rant this evening, let me start by telling you about my day at work today:

I go out for my lunch break at 11:00, light a cigarette, pull out my phone to call my boyfriend, and start walking to the side of the building. A guy is walking with a woman about his age (maybe early twenties) and yells at me, “you got a cigarette?”

“No, sorry,” I tell the sidewalk in front of me, even though I just opened the pack I have in my pocket. I did not just spend $6.90 on a pack of cigarettes to give any of them to someone who doesn’t even have the decency to ask nicely. An unintelligible and disapproving grunt, followed by some kind of disbelieving words I didn’t catch, were uttered by him as they walked away.

After I smoke, I go back to my desk to surf the internet, because I ate breakfast today and wasn’t hungry enough to eat lunch so early. When there’s about 15 minutes left of my lunch break, I figure I’ll just go back outside and maybe call Jesse again, because I’m bored. We chat for most of my 10-minute smoke break, and as I’m headed toward the ashtray on the way to the door, still on the phone, I hear a man yelling very loudly near me. As I have learned in the past 2 years I’ve worked downtown, ignoring people who yell their way down the sidewalk is generally the smartest option, so I don’t pay attention. As he keeps yelling, though, I hear that he’s saying, “WHERE’S NICOLLET?! WHERE’S NICOLLET?!” Now I see that he’s clearly addressing me, and needs directions (Nicollet is a street near my office), so even though I’m on the phone, I turn toward him, point toward Nicollet, and here’s the ensuing conversation:

Me: Nicollet is one block that–


Me: …I don’t know what time it is, but [I point to the giant digital time and temperature display on the side of the building] there’s a big clock over–


Me: I need to go in now.

Him: FUCKING BITCH! FUCKING BITCH! [and several more profane things that I didn’t hear, because…]

Me: Excuse me?! FUCK YOU!! FUCK YOU!!! [I go inside, shaking with fury]

Jesse, from the phone: Uh, what just happened?

I was shocked. Absolutely shocked that anyone had the nerve to be so fucking rude, followed by calling me a fucking bitch because I wouldn’t give him my lighter.

You know what happens, 9 times out of 10, when you lend your lighter to someone downtown who’s been screaming at you? They don’t leave you alone. They ask you for money, or a ride, or a cigarette, or they follow you for blocks and blocks until you finally take shelter in a nearby convenience store until he leaves you alone. That’s what fucking happens. And anyway, I was on the phone, and I was CLEARLY headed inside. I did not owe him my lighter, and I do not owe him, literally, the time of day. This man has been yelling at me, for no apparent reason whatsoever, and I most certainly am not required to reply in any kind of polite way to him. Yet, I have, and I even told him that I was heading inside incredibly politely, considering the way he was treating me.


This brings me to a larger point. What I was talking about with Jesse on the phone today was a phone call I’d gotten at work from a man who was very upset that his fraud claim was not being resolved more quickly than the time outlined by Visa and the Federal Reserve, which we were complying with perfectly. I calmly explained the process to him, and he uncalmly and quite condescendingly cut me off and, well, I won’t bore you with the details, but he was just a general jerk throughout the entirety of the phone call. I hung up feeling bewildered, as I usually do, at customers who are so unreasonably rude, when I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve such behavior. That’s neither here nor there, as I get it, people can just be jerks, especially when they call their bank. But then I went outside and the two incidents above happened.

I wonder. See, I consider myself to be a “nice” person. I consider people’s feelings before acting, and I try to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings when I can. This translates to me being a big ol’ pushover most of the time, though. I rarely say “no,” and I rarely have the wits about me to stand up for myself when insulted or verbally attacked, because I’m so utterly shocked that someone would be that mean, that I freeze.

This time, though, nothing stopped me from screaming “fuck you” at that ass hole, and it felt good. I didn’t go upstairs wishing I’d said something more or done something different; I just went upstairs and told my coworkers about the incident and received much sympathy and heard many similar stories from the other men and women I work with.

Anyway, I can’t help but notice this dramatic dichotomy with myself, and I wonder if other women possibly feel the same way. Either I’m a pushover, or I’m a bitch. I’m never just treated like a reasonably assertive person who states what I want or need, or what I don’t want or need, for that matter. I know that many women talk about being socialized to be “nice” and sensitive, and talk about the double-standard where men can be assertive, but women who are assertive are called bitches or other derogatory names. I’ve never been able to identify with that particular experience, as I can’t recall a point in my childhood or early adulthood where I’ve been explicitly told to “act like a lady,” or discouraged from standing up for myself. My mom is, and always was, one of those women who proudly wore the “bitch” label, and didn’t care if people thought she was nice. I’ve always admired this about her; unfortunately, I just didn’t seem to inherit that particular gene.

This past weekend, our roommate had a couple people over. I was lying down watching a movie, because I was pretty sick all weekend, and I heard, “April, can I bum a smoke? If you don’t want me to, I don’t have to!” I said yes, they’re in my jacket pocket. “You can say no!” was the response.

This confused and irritated me. I was asked for a cigarette, I had some, I wasn’t going to smoke a single one of them in the condition I was in, and I said yes. Being told that I was allowed to tell someone that they couldn’t have something of mine seemed a bit excessive. Of course I can say “no.” They’re my cigarettes.

Of course, I then thought that the only reason I would be told that I could say “no” is because I never do say no. Usually, if a friend or coworker asks me if they can bum a cigarette, I say yes, without hesitation. I don’t mind bumming smokes every so often, and in the rare time when I don’t have any, I know they’ll give me one if I ask, which I have not hesitated to do.

So there we go. I’m seen as a pushover. No one can believe that I’d willingly give away cigarettes (to people I know; not strangers outside, demanding them), so they think there is something wrong with me, and want to let me know that I am allowing myself to be walked all over. This isn’t the case.

Or is it?

I can’t tell. I’m honestly at a loss right now. I’m a pushover, I guess, then when I assert myself, I get called a fucking bitch. Granted, the guy who called me a fucking bitch was clearly on crack, but this is not the first time I’ve been surprised by a hostile response to an assertive statement that I made that I felt was perfectly reasonable.

Interestingly, I read in a book about astrology that I (as a Leo) am likely to cause unexpected violence in people. I’m starting to believe this.

Anyway, so my question is this: Am I probably actually just a pushover who gets so fed up that I’m actually not reasonable by the time I finally assert myself, or are people just assholes? Or, is this actually related to gender expectations to a degree? I’m hesitant to agree that it is, but man I am tired of feeling like I’m just an unreasonable and irrational bitch. I know the majority of people who are reading this do not know me in person, so you can’t exactly tell me if I’m a perfectly reasonable individual, or if I really do deserve such hostility in response to the things I only think are reasonable but actually aren’t, but what are your experiences with this? As a woman, do you feel similarly to what I described? As a man, do you often notice, or feel, that women are being more irrational or unreasonable in their assertions?

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2 Responses to The fine line between “pushover” and “mean”

  1. FW says:

    People are just assholes. Really. All the situations you describe show you (imo) properly reacting to the stimulus that other people give you to respond to.

    I smoke too, and one of my favorite fun things to do is spend a little while at the casino, and those places are the WORST for people hitting you up for money and smokes. The good thing about that environment was that the begging was so frequent, and the beggers were clearly NOT desperate, they’d merely gambled away cab fare or gas money, that I’d go into total bitch begger denial mode.

    If I want to be less bitchy when people hit me up for money I like to say “You have NO IDEA the sorts of things I had to do for this money. I’m not giving it away.” That’s just some sex worker humor right there, course, they don’t know it’s official sex worker humor, they just think it’s kinda creepy. :/

    And OH! My apartment complex is almost entirely immigrants, and I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, but people come knocking door to door selling homemade food every so often. One lady sells cheesecake. Which I gotta say I don’t mind when the cheesecake lady comes knocking, but the guy with the frijoles just bums me out because I wish he was the cheesecake lady. I try to hide my disappointment from him, though. 🙂

    • April says:

      Dude, your apartment situation sounds heavenly 😀

      I’m getting better and better about my bitchiness since writing the post. No wait, let me rephrase that: Now I flat-out ignore people. Rudely stare at the ground instead of answering them when it’s obvious I heard, that sort of things. It’s working out pretty well for me, actually…

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