Speak up, even if your voice shakes

speak the truth, even if your voice shakes

Image Credit: Nerdy Feminist

I was finishing up my morning workout at the gym when he spotted me.

It wasn’t normal, the way his eyes lingered and gazed up and down my body. I looked at the floor and focused on my workout. He approached me and I felt panicky and breathless, trying to brush away concern. There were plenty of options for him being in my area of the gym, I reasoned.

“When will you be done?” he asked.

I exhaled relief, thinking he just wanted to use the machine I was on. Calm down, I thought. What’s gotten into you this morning?

“Oh, just one more set.” I mumbled, out of breath.

But then he continued.

“Well, I’m just going to sit right here and watch you.”

He sat about five feet from me, locked eyes on my body; the way he starred made my skin feel hot and sticky. I wanted to disappear.

Then said something that isn’t worth repeating because it doesn’t add to the point of the story. But those hate-filled words disguised as a compliment paralyzed me with fear.

I said nothing.

I ended my workout early, smiled, and told him to have a nice day. I walked calmly to the lockeroom that buzzed with chatter from the regulars. The tears didn’t come until I was safely in the shower, my crying muffled.

I wasn’t upset because he was a jerk. I wasn’t really bothered by his sexual comment.

I cried because I let him and didn’t say a word. I felt so weak. In that moment, I brushed all concern aside and let him make me afraid. It crushed me to think about how weak I was, because I’ve worked hard on becoming strong. Why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t I use my voice? 

Why don’t we speak up in these situations?

A friend shared a similar story with me yesterday. Her boss’s boss asked her to run by his house,  alone with him. Then, he offered her wine and asked her if she’d had sex before. She described the story in the details many of you can unfortunately relate to that get to the heart of the feminine response to unwanted sexual advances:

I had a bad feeling, but I didn’t want to make things awkward by speaking up. 

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I continued on as planned. 

It really wasn’t a big deal, so I just ignored it. 

Then, when he tried to kiss her after the inappropriate question she didn’t focus on his scumbag actions, but rather found fault with herself. See if you can relate:

It’s my fault, I shouldn’t be here. 

Why didn’t I tell him upfront I wasn’t coming over?

If he really made me that uncomfortable, why didn’t I leave or run away?

I’ve read and heard hundreds of these stories over the last few years. There’s the girl who said her youth pastor gave her a very sensual massage. The woman who shared that her husband’s best friend lit candles and stood shirtless when she dropped off his kids. The friend who stood frozen when men haggled her on the street and called her dirty names.

This topic is a difficult one for me to write about because I’ve spoken up before and been told I was ‘overreacting’ only to discover I was right about him. But it’s so hard to trust ourselves, isn’t it? It’s easier to remain silent and hope we aren’t seeing that someone we’re supposed to trust is in fact dangerous.

We tend to blame ourselves, because that’s the easy road. It’s easier to say we tempted him, maybe didn’t dress modestly enough, whatever your excuse may be and find fault with ourselves. Because the alternative is acknowledging we live in a world where we do have to be on guard, where no matter how respectable he is or how modestly we dress, safety is an illusion.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking I don’t understand your exact story and believe you contributed to his actions. I can’t change your mind, but I can promise you one thing: it wasn’t your fault. You can’t control the thoughts or actions of others. And it’s time to stop believing that we can.

But what we can do is stand together and learn to trust ourselves. Give yourself grace when you remain silent, like I had to do that morning in the gym.

You aren’t crazy, nor are you imagining things. Trust yourself and speak up, even if your voice shakes.

What’s your experience? Have you found the courage to speak up or have you remained silent? I’d love to hear stories because we need to support each other. 

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11 Responses to “Speak up, even if your voice shakes”
  1. Ellen says:

    Thank you for this post — I don’t know why it is that we feel guilty and ashamed when men treat us in such a way, but I do know that it’s a relief to read what you have to say about it.

  2. mo says:

    I appreciate you bringing this up and hits home as an older single, divorced woman. It’s the stares, comments, etc at the rec center, grocery store, church, on the street in some way or form. I need to hear the different types or levels of deviant behavior we might come across then share what would be normal male-to-female attraction behaviors and how to handle those in a Godly way?…..thanks so much, mo

    • alice says:

      Now being a woman of 63, I advise caution. Remember we are Christian women and are to respond accordingly. It is not necessary to “shame” the shamer. Silence and walking away may be the best thing to do, and the safest thing.

      • Ruthie Dean says:

        Hi Alice, I’m glad you brought this up…”shame the shamer”. Very interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Mo,

      Oh goodness. I honestly struggle with this, so I don’t know. Does anyone else reading have some thoughts??

  3. Eden says:

    One of the only times I’ve spoken up was to a friend in college who, one night at dinner in the cafeteria, wouldn’t stop staring at my chest. I asked him to stop staring at me, and when he got defensive, I told him he was supposed to be looking out for me as a friend, not objectifying me. He got really quiet, so I just left. He was pretty angry, but I stood my ground on that one. I am not friends with him anymore, but I know he knew after that night that I wasn’t just an object. Unfortunately, this is not the norm for me. Usually I am just horrified and ashamed both of myself and of the perpetrator. Sometimes though, God gives us the grace to say what we need to say in the moment we need to say it. Other times, God gives us the grace to walk away and forgive that person. Whatever the case, I appreciated this post and think it warrants further discussion.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Eden,

      Wow! What courage you had to stand up to that guy. Thanks for sharing your story. What do you think contributes to our being able to stand strong versus remain silent? What we believe about ourselves? Our parents? Our friends? How well we know the guy?

  4. Sofia says:

    I am so sorry you had to experience this.
    I love you sis :)

    Can you please pray for me? I am having a hard time dealing with a bully at work. I want to be kind and show her God’s love, but I also don’t want her to tread on me so my flesh responds with wrath. I have an internal struggle going on.
    Thank you.

  5. Felicia says:

    Here’s my suggestion because I find it interesting that you have such great suggestions for women on how to talk to someone they are dating, but maybe they could start by “practicing” on the jerk at the gym?! Might weed out a lot of neanderthals too, what a bonus. Anyway, I really think a better approach considering what he did was completely intimidating, harassment really, and he’s probably doing it to others, would be to say, “I’M NOT FINISHED HERE YET. I DON’T WANT YOU STARING AT ME, SO MOVE ALONG”. If he laughed or didn’t go I would stand my ground and repeat myself, this time not yelling but a lot louder! When others in the gym began to notice or the management, I would briefly explain that you wanted him to stop bothering you. I’m betting a feisty fifty year old lady like me would come to your defense, or another man (there are plenty who aren’t scumbags) and that would be that. And I’d have a talk with the manager about the safety of women at the gym…

    As a Christian woman I often think back to my college days where out of a small group of girlfriends, at a Christian college, about half had stories of sexual abuse of some sort. I had a controlling boyfriend (a missionary’s son) who became violent when we broke up. So no, I don’t think putting up with any of that is a good idea! I believe in being kind to my neighbors, the little kids in Sunday School, my elderly parents, my husband (who’s had the flu and all we’ve been watching all weekend is the NFL channel), etc., but not the pushy weirdo at the gym! :)

  6. Irene M Freedman says:

    Hey Ruthie,

    I wrote a book about this (well to the extreme of an abusive relationship). It has all the warning sign of an abuser.

    I’d love to send you a free copy, or you can purchase it from Amazon:
    Unteachable: The Abby Fedorko Story
    By me.. Irene M Freedman

    It is based tightly on the true story of a real-life friend of mine. Her 50 year old self invents a time machine and kidnaps her 14 year old self right before she meets the boy she’s going to marry and she tells her the whole story.

    It’s sad, but it can spiral from the boy at the gym to all of a sudden you can’t speak at all, and the person that you used to be is gone.

    Abby asked me to write her story because she wants to turn her lemons into young ladies’s lemonade.

    I don’t check that e-mail very often (because I haven’t sold any copies yet), but I’ll be looking during the next month or so to see if you contact me.

    I don’t expect you to post this, but if you do, you have my permission to display my e-mail address.


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