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THE BOOK

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Get Empowered: A Practical Guide to Thrive, Heal, and Embrace Your Confidence in a Sexist World Forthcoming October 3, 2023, from TarcherPerigee, the empowerment imprint of Penguin Random House. Order the book now! 

WHY THIS
BOOK?

Authors Nadia Telsey and Lauren Taylor have been teaching skills for stopping harassment, abuse, and assault for a combined 65 years. We teach verbal skills — assertiveness, boundary setting, de-escalation — and physical strikes to use as a last resort.

With the #MeToo movement, these skills – and the quest for confidence and safety, for personal and societal transformation – are in more demand than ever.

But you can have skills and still not be able to stand up for yourself if rape culture and patriarchy have convinced you that the cost of doing it is too high — if when you go to set a boundary you hear voices in your head saying things like: 

  • "I’m afraid to be rude or to make a scene."

  • "I don’t want people to think I’m a bitch."

  • "I’m not sure if they mean anything by it."

  • "I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings."

  • "What if standing up for myself makes the situation worse?"

​Get Empowered: A Practical Guide to Thrive, Heal, and Embrace Your Confidence in a Sexist World guides readers tear down these and other internal barriers to claiming their right to be safe, to take up space, and to speak up for themselves. Preorder the book and be the first to hold it in your hands! 

TOPICS
COVERED

Get Empowered: A Practical Guide to Thrive, Heal, and Embrace Your Confidence in a Sexist World invites readers to look more deeply into the social programming that asks most women to be compliant and passive, and to put other people's needs first, and guides them through claiming their power and taking up space.

The chapters: 

  1. More than rape: Understanding the problem

  2. How does gender-based violence happen? 

  3. Is there something wrong with me? Hint: It’s not your fault.

  4. Where you’re going: Envisioning the life you want

  5. First, you have to believe: You’re worth defending

  6. Claim your power

  7. You have rights, and knowing them gives you power

  8. Tune back in: Get in touch with your needs

  9. Get your message across: Speak your mind — and your heart

  10. What’s next: Build your crew, get support, change the world 

  11. Embrace the Yes: Creating the life you want

EXCERPTS

Victim-blaming: Regret is not the same as blame

Victim-blaming is the tendency to examine the behavior of the person targeted — rather than the aggressors — to see what they did to “bring on” the harassment, abuse, or assault. While most of us know with our rational minds that we’re not responsible for what someone does to us, it’s much harder to hold that in our hearts.

Victim-blaming by others or self-blame reinforces power imbalances and enables harassment, abuse, and assault to keep happening. If you’re harassed, abused, or attacked, the responsibility lies entirely with the person who did it. Many people feel regret about how they handled a situation, but regret isn’t responsibility.

Far too often, others choose to blame a victim in order to make themselves feel safer. (Ex. “They shouldn’t have gotten that drunk. I never let myself black out because that’s basically an invitation for someone to hurt you.”) Recognize this for what it is: an attempt to construct a false sense of security at the expense of the person who was harmed. Even if their criticism sounds an awful lot like the harshest voice inside your head, focus on being kinder to yourself.

Exercise: Spidey sense — Make friends with your intuition

With a trusted friend standing close or on your own, summon your Spidey sense, the feeling that something’s wrong. Notice what’s happening in your body. Think about what you could say or do to take action — set a limit, walk away, ask the other person to back up, or anything that works for you. Do any barriers to speaking up arise? Does your brain tell you not to trust or value yourself? If it does, turn kindly to the barrier and tell it to leave. Try phrases like these:

  • “Please leave.”

  • “Do you have anything important to tell me? If not, buh-bye!”

  • “You’re not helping me.”

  • “I see you and I choose not to listen to you.”

  • “Hey there, have a good day!”

Claim your power

Growing up we learn what girls “can” and “can’t” do, and what girls are “good at” and “bad at.” Non-binary and trans children also learn what’s okay for them to do and be — and what’s off limits.

One of these messages is that we can’t possibly stop an assault, stand up to a harasser, or even speak our minds. We’re taught that other, stronger people are supposed to protect us, that harassers will go away if we just ignore them, and that speaking up can result in embarrassment, or worse. The possible consequences if we do range from being called a bitch to being killed.

The truth is that women and LGBTQIA+ folks successfully resist rape every day using quick thinking, sneakiness, assertiveness, negotiation, de-escalation, leaving, breaking up, getting help, and physical resistance. Recognizing the ways that we already fight for our individual safety and well-being is vital.

In this chapter, we work to overcome that programming by creating affirmations based on our own powers and by building on our own self-defense successes that we may have overlooked. Often, our students share stories that sound like this:

“A person did this to me. I was afraid that it might get worse, and that they would do that, and that they would do that other thing also. So, I did A and B, and then I tried C and D, and thought about doing E and F — and I got away. Also, afterward I did G. What should I have done?”

See how hard we are on ourselves? The first thing we ask a student with such a story is, “Tell me what you did do.”

It’s only when we recognize what we did on our own behalf that we can claim our skills, or creativity, our instincts for self-preservation, our competence. If we’re always telling ourselves that we can’t, we fail to recognize the times we have advocated for ourselves. If we honor the times we have stood up for ourselves, they’ll be a foundation on which to build.

For White women: Spidey Sense and racism

White women often feel confused when assessing whether there’s danger from Black and brown men and boys (people of other genders, too, but mostly men). They tell us they feel anxious, uncomfortable, maybe even threatened — but they don’t know whether that’s their intuition speaking or if it’s the racism all White people in this country learn growing up. 

Here's one way to tell the difference: Ask yourself whether you’re looking at the person’s behavior or their identity. You want to look at their behavior to assess risk. Are they asking questions that are too personal? Pressing for a commitment too soon? Touching you when you don’t want to be touched? Not respecting your boundaries? Think of some other things would be red flags to you.

If you’re White, you’re most likely to be harassed, abused, or attacked by a White man. When a White woman crosses the street and pulls her bag closer because there’s a Black man behind her, in that moment she’s the one doing harm.

Instead, ask yourself if there’s something about the person’s behavior that’s problematic, and you’ll know if you need to act. 

My rights

In a world that’s unsafe for women, LGBTQIA+ people, and others, we have the right to do whatever we need to be as safe as we can. Here, we’re going to work on embracing and articulating your own rights to be safe and to be treated well.

Keeping a list of your rights can serve as a touchstone as you live your life. Rights may be nearly universal — “I have the right to be safe” — or very particular to you — “I have a right to wear zebra-striped green eyeshadow without my partner criticizing me for it.”

Here are some rights our students have written for themselves. Below, there’s space for you to write your own. 

I have a right to:

  • To be in public spaces without harassment

  • To be me

  • To be safe and secure

  • To defend myself

  • To define my own comfort zone

  • To feel however I feel

  • To have my boundaries respected

  • To make my own decisions

  • To not always be available

  • To be touched only with consent

  • To say no

  • To ask for what I want

  • To take care of myself, not just others

  • To take up space in the world

  • To walk away

  • To work without harassment

  • To be treated with respect

  • To feel safe

Exercise: Patriarchy chicken

Work on noticing where you take up space — literal space. If you’re a woman or a non-binary person, practice not yielding to men in public spaces like the sidewalk or an airport. If you’re a White person, only do this with White men. If you’re a person of color, go for it! (The first step for some is to notice how much they are expected to yield and do so automatically.)

Check out what happens when you don’t move out of the way. Men sometimes stand there puzzled, or even occasionally bump into them. What does that tell you about men’s power and privilege? Also, how do you feel when you don’t yield your space? Do you have a right to space on the sidewalk or in the hallway?

Am I a bad person?

People raised female often feel like a “bad person” when they start to say "No." We don’t even know you and we can honestly say this: YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON!

If you feel unable to speak up because you’d be violating an unjust rule that says you don’t matter, notice that. What are the sentences that come into your brain when you start to speak up for yourself? Where is the feeling in your body that shuts you down? These feelings are real — but the rules are wrong.

You are not a bad person if you don’t want to do everything that’s asked of you. You are not a bad person if you set limits. You are not a bad person if you ask for what you want.

We all deserve to be whole human beings with our own feelings, wants, and needs. To be able to speak our feelings, wants, and needs out loud might feel like we’re violating some rules — because we are. Let’s break the rules that say we don’t matter, or that we’re not as important as others are.

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