The courage in standing up for yourself (in an Asian community)
I have been feeling very small and defeated lately.
Mostly, I feel unseen in both my professional and personal spaces, because I am repeatedly being undermined for my age by older, conservative folk.
I constantly feel that my being is reduced and my perspective discarded due to my being the ‘youngest girl’, despite all my skills, experiences, and achievements to back me up.
I know that I should not be treated this way, but I also feel a little helpless in navigating it. For you see-
As part of a larger Asian community, I recognise that young people have an obligation to stand down/show respect due to our reverence for authority and the elderly.
However, as a person with what I would think is a healthy sense of self-esteem, I also recognize that I should not be treated in such a condescending way and therefore, should do something about this.
To seek inspiration online, I asked the question to my social media community, “What does courage look like to you lately?”
Some mentioned having stood up against their family, some standing by their ideas during a work meeting, some setting up healthy boundaries for self-care in romantic/friendly dynamics.
Others admitted that they are struggling or that they have not shown courage at all. This could be due to complicated relationships or because they themselves are not at the capacity to fight back.
Reading this, I reflected that I am not in a complicated relationship nor do I lack energy. I am simply struggling to assert myself within this culture, as I fear the risk of offending others or worse, being kicked out of it.
When my personal + professional communities are so actively built around a culture of high power distance, to state something contrary against it would imply that I risk expulsion. Am I ready for this?
Not to mention, as someone who is admittedly conflict-avoidant, standing up for myself sounds unnecessarily dramatic! Do I really need to make myself anxious over this drama right now?
My reluctant answer is, yes.
I write this now, after yet another instance of being chided for my age, where the other individual explicitly talked down to me and cited my ‘mistake’ as a consequence of my young age. (okay yea I am a bit bitter cause I know it was not a mistake but bear with me as I try to process these feelings in a productive way)
As I always do in these situations, I listened and gave them space for their criticism hidden under the veil of ‘just giving you advice yea’. I apologized and I thanked them for showing me the error of my ways. The important thing is that the older person feels good, right?
Yet here I am again, feeling like I have let myself down and that I have compromised my values + self-esteem. How can I truly say that I am brave and that I am willing to fight against injustices in the larger advocacy sphere, when I am unable to show the same type of courage in these small private moments, for myself?
Which is why I say, heck yes. Even if it means being a bit dramatic/disruptive, I have to be brave and stand up for myself and assert that I be taken seriously. Me being young does not make me any less deserving of respect and/or professional courtesy, especially when I have my experience and skills to back me up.
I cannot constantly excuse others or give them the benefit of the doubt to keep up appearances of me being polite or to ‘jaga perasaan’ – not when my value, my self-worth and my credibility has to be reduced to enable it. (After all, I also have my own perasaan to jaga too)
But Roshinee, what if you get ostracised or expelled?
It is true, standing up for yourself requires vulnerability, which implies risking emotional pr physical exposure. I recognize that this is so difficult to do.
To guide me and centre me, I am reframing the question from, “What if I get punished for speaking my mind?” to:
- What if by speaking my mind, I am able to challenge the existing culture for the better?
- (if the system still refuses) Why am I even still staying in this system that is not open to acknowledging me fully and respectfully? Is there literally no other space that can provide this for me?
- Are my self-worth and values less important than my need to keep up appearances in this space?
Today I say enough.
Enough of being undervalued, undermined and unseen.
I am inspired by what Rep. John R. Lewis, who recently passed, had said,
“Get in good trouble”.
If I can say that I am an advocate and that I am ready to fight for so many different big causes, I sure as heck should not be afraid to fight for myself – to be seen fully and be taken seriously, for who I really am.
Wish me luck!
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