Expectations are a weird one, aren't they? We're all expected to be normal, to be healthy, to cope with anything, to be social, to be pretty, and a whole host of other things I can't even remember right now. But what if that's all made up? What if no one feels like they have all of these things? What if we're all striving to meet these #goals that don't exist in real life? That is what I think is the case.
This is something that has been bugging me for a few months now, and I really wanted to sit and think about it all before I wrote this (you should probably prepare a cuppa - this is going to be a long one). I don't know if it's mostly a British thing, stemming from the ol' fascination with that stiff upper lip, but we seem to live in a climate in which it's frowned upon to say no, or to even admit that you're not comfortable with something. And I'm not even talking about an ancient idea of being frowned upon, i.e. you won't get invited to that next ball to meet the man of your dreams (I really need to stop reading 18th Century fiction), but a tangible one in which saying something 'is not okay' can have serious repercussions on your life.
This post is kind of a call for things to change. For an environment to be created in which you don't have to put up and shut up, or face the consequences. An environment in which your voice matters, and you have the power to truly decide what you want. I'm asking all of you, and I'll be trying to do it myself, to actually stand up for yourself, and tell people when something is simply not alright, rather than glossing over it.
You may be thinking already: you're being so vague Steph, what the fuck are you actually talking about? Well, I'm going to be splitting this into four categories: work, sex, relationships and mental health.
Work is something that I've always been terrified to say no to. I work in the customer service industry, so frequently get asked to come in to cover someone when they're sick. Now, even if I've already had plans to do something on my day off, or really need a rest from work I find it really hard to say no. And why? Because from a young age I've always been taught to make myself useful to employers. So the idea of saying no to me would involve the manager or supervisor on duty being upset with me, perhaps my shifts would drop, or perhaps even if they were looking to get rid of someone, all those times I hadn't come in would rack up against me.
The same goes for extending shifts, or being asked to perform extra duties without a pay rise. Ultimately it's not okay. You are under no obligation to come in on your days off, you are under no obligation to add to your already long list of work duties, and it's perfectly fine to say no.
A similar thing goes for being asked to do something you're uncomfortable with. In a previous job that I worked in a bar I needed to tell an aggressive middle aged man that I wouldn't serve him anymore alcohol because he was far too drunk (it was 3pm, I have no idea what he was doing). I was absolutely petrified. I went to my manager, asked what I should do, and he told me to simply tell him I wouldn't serve him, and was I okay with that? It took all the guts I had to tell my manager that no, I wasn't, I felt unsafe and nervous because it was my first time turning someone down for drinking. This actually worked out beautifully: my manager offered to come and help me, and provide back up if it was needed. It really taught me that it was okay to say I wasn't okay with the task at hand, and now I let people know all the time, and ask them for help.
This is a bit of a big'un. And before I start I'm going to give you all a trigger warning for rape. We've got this very strange culture at the moment, in which speaking out about rape is shunned. And this is not okay. If you've not been following the Ched Evans story in the news recently, then you may have missed all of the online bullying that has occurred as a result of it. Ched Evans' defence team paid a woman's previous sexual partner/s a massive sum to come into court and testify to all of the sexual kinks she had. This was in order to overturn the ruling that came a few months ago that he was guilty of raping her. Partly due to these witnesses, the ruling has now been overturned.
As a result of all of this, the media has been awash with victim blaming recently. Hundreds, or even thousands of vile tweets have been sent out about the woman in question. And even more worrying is that those who have stood in defense of her have been attacked by twitter users supporting Evans.
In this climate, in which we're bombarded with massive stories like this, is it any wonder that the majority of rape victims don't speak out? And in a world in which far too often the victim is asked whether she had been drinking, what clothes she had been wearing, and whether she was sexually active amongst other questions by police handling these investigations. This is something that is 100% not okay. And if you have ever been one of these individuals, mistreated by the justice system or the media, what they did to you was not okay, and there should be no shame in admitting that.
On a similar note, rape, or sexual assault is not always violent and not always committed by strangers. Even in a long term relationship, if someone forces themselves upon you after you have said no to sex that is still rape. And even if they apologise afterwards, or even just make excuses you are under no obligation whatsoever to make them feel better. Let them cry, let them plead with you, but don't ever be convinced into thinking that what happened is okay. Even if you tell family, friends, teachers, anyone and they pass it off as being fine, remember that it is not, and you have the right to feel upset and angry at what has happened.
I'm not just talking boyfriend/girlfriend shizz here, I'm talking everything. If a friend is being a bit of a dick, making jokes you're uncomfortable with or talking about you behind your back, then you have the right to tell them you're not happy. Hiding how you feel, and letting people use and abuse you (which I did with friends for far too long) will just end up with them getting away with worse and worse things, and with you just ending up miserable.
Family is another big one here. Yes, there are supposed to be bonds of love between you and all of your family, but what if they have been fractured or broken? What if they've hurt you in a way in which you could never bear to do to them? It's okay to be hurt, and you do not have to forgive them. Family is a bit of a weird one: unlike with friends, if you cut one of them out, it is likely to have an impact on your relationship with the rest of them. This is one I find very very hard to deal with. Saying that something is not okay is very hard to do to a family member, as they can easily become upset, and nobody really wants that. But, unless you tell them, whatever is on your mind is going to stay there, and what you're unhappy with is going to continue to happen.
This is a massive one. There is such a stigma around mental health, and it actually makes things quite hard to talk about. If you tell your boss or friends or family that you're stuck in bed with the flu you'll get some sympathy and tips on what to do. But, if you tell them you're stuck in bed because your mental health state is terrible, you'll get a lot off disbelieving glances and the advice will probably come along the lines of 'suck it up and get out of bed'. They are both illnesses, and ones that can be very serious. And in both cases you should be able turn around and say 'I am not okay' and find a friendly ear. If there are no friendly ears then you need to switch out your listeners.
Saying that something is not okay to do with my mental health was a very hard thing for me to do, and I had to go on a massive learning curve in order to come to the place I am today. One example of how inconsiderate people are is something that still scars me to this very day. When I first started university, my self harming was very bad, and only a handful of people I trusted knew about it.
One day I walked into the kitchen, having forgotten to cover myself up, and one of the international students seized me and held me up for the other eight or so students in the kitchen. He got up in my face asking 'what the fuck was this, and what the fuck had my boyfriend done to me?' I can't remember the rest of what was said, I just know that I backed into a corner, with a little rabbit in the headlights expression and didn't respond. Thankfully my friends came to the rescue, ripping him away from me and telling him how not okay that was. Yet, after it happened I was nice to him, I pretended everything was okay, and for over a year I considered it my fault for having gone into the room without covering up. it was only much later that I realised I should have said something: I should have made him realise how not okay it was, I should never have blamed myself for what happened.
This is just one example of an incident in which my mental health was brought up, and I was judged for it, and I accepted it. So many people are doing the exact same thing right now, and I want all of you to know that you should not accept this. You have the right to stand up and make them realise they're the one with the problem for acting like an asshole, not you. Just like any other illness, mental health is a part of you, but it is not you, and it does not mean you should put up with shit from other people any more than anyone else does.
All in all, it is perfectly okay to say it's not okay in any situation. Let your voice be heard and fight for the right you have to respect yourself and your situation.