My ex-father-in-law, Donny, is one of the most ‘assertive’ people I’ve ever met. He’s so assertive that some people might call him rude. If they’re brave enough they might even mention this fact in his company, however, this calibre of person is a rare beast – or has had no previous experience, or hasn’t been forewarned of Donny’s ways. Either that or they just like being caught at the worst point in a typhoon. Bizarrely, I’ve never been intimidated by Donny. It’s a character flaw I have to be frightened of things that normal humans shouldn’t be, like driving in city traffic and speaking on the telephone to perfectly lovely people I’ve never seen before, but not of terrifyingly aggressive bullies that regularly tear rabid Rottweilers to shreds for wry amusement.
Donny’s exploits and verballings are legendary. Last Christmas Day on our afternoon visit he was in fine form. Princess 2 was asking him about his golf and there was a story about someone who dared to interrupt his game. “Oh Jesus. Me and Billy McAllister were out last week. We were comin’ down the 17th and this dickhead was over there on the green with about 42 friggin’ balls practicing his putting!”, he waved a hand in the direction of the imaginary green. We all nodded, as you do when Donny is in full flight. “’OI! I yelled at him, ‘piss off outta there!’”, we chuckled knowingly. “He looks at us and then starts to pick up his bloody balls and takes his time about it. Then the arsehole walks past, and as he gets up to me he says, ‘what did ya think you were gunna do old man, if I didn’t get outta ya way?’” I make eye contact with Princesses 1 and 2 and the First Born and we start laughing. “’What was I gunna do?’ I said to the prick, ‘I woulda come down there and slowly shoved those balls up your arse one by one, and then followed it with, hmmm, probably this two iron’. How dare he speak to a couple of old gentlemen like us like that”, he smirked.
Before he reached retirement and mellowed considerably he was really much more assertive. I remember the year when the horror Easter shopping was peaking at the Westfield close to where he lived in the city. It was the Thursday before Good Friday and people were psychotically battling each in the multi level car park like dodgem-car drivers on crack cocaine. Never afraid of using the two perfectly good legs that he’d been blessed with at birth, he’d parked his car outside and down the street (I know! A bind blowing concept, especially to country dwellers), and was walking up through the car park to the centre shops. This was very unfortunate for a young bloke who, in the manner of testosterone driven males under the age of about 25 – with a female passenger and under pressure to secure the unattainable prized parking space and by default indicate the impressiveness of his genitalia – had nearly run down a mother and child in a pram.
As the Gods seem to do for Donny, they provide him with an opportunity for a life-lesson, and had positioned these events about 10 metres inside the entry way to the car park. He’d been given a front row seat to the events as they unfolded and placed him nice and handy the driver’s door. The mother had screamed in alarm and then at the driver, checked the child and strode off. Without missing a beat, Donny put on his best “Wow, what a drama queen” sympathy face and knocked on the driver’s window, indicating he roll it down. The fool followed instructions like a lemming. Donny reached in, turned off the ignition, pulled out the keys and, like a fieldsman from the boundary fence, hurled them out of the car park entry and into the middle of four lanes of insane holiday traffic. Without another word, without a backward glance, as if nothing had happened to interrupt his sojourn to the shops, he was on his way.
The thing with assertiveness is in order to successfully pull it off, you have to mean it, or at least act as though you do. Donny really means it, there’s no doubt about that, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people may think that he’s a bastard, but A: he doesn’t care, B: he isn’t harassed by people who try to take advantage of him and he isn’t taken advantage of, C: people know where they stand, D: his life is VERY uncomplicated. He is also extraordinarily generous on his own terms.
However, and here’s the kicker, men are allowed to be assertive – women are not. It’s true. Donny might be called a bastard by some people, but those people can still be heard talking quite nicely about him. “Ooooh, bloody Donny rip into you did he? I can see your ears bleeding! Rude old bastard. Still… he has a point you know. And at least you know where you stand with him. You can’t say that about a lot of blokes around here, bloody backstabbing arseholes. And you knew what he thought about that BEFORE you did it.” Essentially, they respect him for who he is, and at the very least, his honesty.
On the other hand, if a woman is assertive or brutally honest, it’s simple. She’s a bitch. This is because women only fall into two categories apparently. They are either nice or they are bitches. There are no shades of grey for women. Either niiiiiice or a BITCH. Get the wrong coffee in the cafe? “Excuse me, I ordered a flat white and I’ve been given a latte.” Surly cafe girl tells you they’re really the same but in different cups. In fact, you got the more impressive looking one and they went to more trouble to give it to you. “Really? That’s nice”, you say in even tones. “I asked for a flat white. Three times this week I’ve been here and three times you’ve got my order wrong. I’ll wait for you to remake me what I ordered please – a flat white.” Someone in a booth behind you mutters bitch into their macchiato.
You’ve been waiting at the deli counter for ten minutes on a busy day. A corporate jock who’s been wheeling and dealing on his phone way back between the cucumbers and tomatoes dives forward as the deli assistant finally steps up to you. Before you open your mouth he’s snapped out his order for 700 grams of smoked salmon. “Excuse me”, you say to the assistant, “I was first.”
“Look, I’m in a hurry and I’ve already ordered. You don’t mind do you?” he says flashing what he assumes is an irresistibly charming smile.
Cocking an exasperated eyebrow, you turn to the deli assistant and say “half a kilo of green prawns, 200 grams of semi-dried tomatoes, 300 grams of Kalamata Olives and two chorizos thanks.” A phone shrills nearby and a familiar voice says in stage whispers,
“Hello? Oh yeah mate. You’re not going to believe it, this rude bitch has just bloody queue jumped me in the deli and ordered the place out. Yeah. I know. Bloody bitch.”
Could you have let him have his salmon? Could you have waited an extra 90 seconds? Yes, yes you could. But did he show you any courtesy? No he didn’t. Is his time more valuable than yours? Was he considerate to you? All evidence points to the contrary.
So women are left to be bitches while blokes are forthright and honest. Women who assert themselves in even minor ways are bitches, while blokes are to be respected. I shall contemplate this conundrum more on my walk to the neighbour’s to ask him to remove his car from my side lawn. The side that I “don’t use anyway and just sits there”…
I’m such a bitch.