I have a tendency to accept annoyances — in my health, out in the world, and in relationships — as just the way things are. Many of us, I think, grow complacent about trivial irritations, from allergies that get a little bit worse every year to potholes in our neighborhood. I’ve been learning that I can’t expect anyone to advocate for me — but I can, and should, advocate for myself.
With some very left-wing views and non-traditional values, national and even state politics largely disenfranchises me. I sometimes joke that you can tell how the election will turn out by looking at my ballot: it’ll be the opposite. My political resignation from neverending losses has trickled down. I’ve also felt disempowered to advocate for change in my community (despite working in local government) because I hold what seem to be unpopular local opinions (I live in the suburbs but have urban values) and am younger than average. The issues I care about are not the issues my neighbors support: bike lanes and affordable housing versus parking and traffic.
But a local blog focused on biking and walking surprised me by posting photos of problematic bike and pedestrian infrastructure in my town. I could do that? I could point out the problems I noticed in my town? It seems silly, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I could call out anything. That blog gave me the permission and the push I didn’t realize I was waiting for. Other people do care about the things I care about. I can advocate for the things I care about, even if they aren’t what the majority of the community wants. Even minority voices deserve to be heard. I count, too. What’s embarrassing is that I’ve always supported minority voices — except, apparently, my own?
At a personal level, I have mild hypochondriac tendencies, so I tend to ignore any ailment I have. I’m probably imagining it, right? It’s only a little pain, right? Unhelpful doctors, the few times I did seek relief from symptoms, disheartened me. Why bother trying to solve it when I can just put up with it?
Except, I don’t have to put up with it, even little things. The symptoms aren’t in my head. I’m the one who has to deal with them; accepting them only hurts myself. No one else is inconvenienced by my seeking help. I finally got allergy medicine, after probably needing it for several years. Now I’m finally going to physical therapy for a knee that’s bothered me on and off since high school. Turns out I had a growth spurt and my kneecap’s been in the wrong spot — a problem that can be handily solved with physical therapy :/ Why did I wait for so long?
This realization, that I don’t need to suffer all these minor bumps, that I can ask for help to get them resolved, ties back to my growing resolution that I, as a person, am allowed to take up space. I’ve caught myself leaving a coffee shop where I was the last patron, even though it was still open, because I felt like I was imposing on the baristas. For years, I didn’t buy mushrooms under the mistaken belief that my husband didn’t especially like them, even though I love them (and they’re great for vegetarian cuisine). Just last week, getting paint matched, I tried to argue that the color was too light, but the workers assured me “it would get darker” and I gave in, which cost me another $10 quart of paint and my DH another trip to the store when, just as I’d argued, the color was blatantly wrong. As a feminist, it’s embarrassing to realize that I continually put my own needs below the perceived convenience or preference of others.
Our culture conditions women to put others above themselves, to be caretakers and nurturers, but not to ask for care or nurturing for ourselves. Self-care is often neglected below caring for our loved ones, or culturally belittled when we enjoy entertainment featuring women (chick flicks and romance novels). We’re still fighting to be valued as people in our own right, not only for our relationships to others, as mothers and daughters and wives.
I have as much right to voice my opinions as anyone else — and my opinions have as much worth as anyone else’s. I’m allowed to claim the good table when I get to the coffee shop first. I’m entitled to manage my own pain. I can ask not to be charged for underripe avocado on my burger. I can’t wait for someone else to speak up for me, after I willingly sacrifice my own voice. And so, day by day, interaction by interaction, I’m working on becoming my own advocate.
Have you struggled with advocating for yourself?