There were so many things I wanted to say then, but in an act of folly, I kept my words in that abyss of unspoken thoughts. I looked over the paper in my hand, over the students’ heads, and directly at my friend. I told myself many times I could let it slide and once again tried to avoid that dreaded ‘rite of passage’ of high school: confrontation.
To an extent, those stereotypical high school cliches about girls resolving conflicts with catfights have parallels in society. Whether it’s high school, the workplace or on the streets, a wide array of conflicts ranging from inconsequential to detrimental take place. Although conflicts occur everywhere, I think it’s important to talk about the way we girls handle these conflicts because we’re often indirectly told by the media how we’re supposed to approach these situations.
From my experience, I’ve seen three approaches girls take to conflicts: ignoring, confronting or fighting. Out of the three, we dread confrontation the most. Confronting our problems face-to-face somehow brings out the most cowardly aspects of ourselves. What is it about having to diplomatically use our words to tell someone how we truly feel that makes us nervous? Is it the fear of being wrong? The fear of bruised egos? The fear of being perceived as mean? The fear of power dynamics between men and women?
To be frank, I don’t know the answer, because there is no one answer that can root out why so many women lean toward ignoring confrontation. Although context and upbringing have an impact on a woman’s ability to confront, for me, every answer points to a lack of courage. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to have faced only a handful of real conflicts in my life. To be entirely honest, I’ve barely succeeded in confronting anyone because of a lack of courage.
Back at the beginning of high school, assignments for any class worked out like a group project as my friends would share essays and projects between ourselves with the trust that we would use them simply for help. Most of the time, they were. But it was inevitable that someone would take advantage of that trust. In a classic case of plagiarism, this person had taken the basis of my assignment and adjusted the words to make it seem like her own. I had a glimpse of her assignment before she submitted it, and what happened didn’t hit me until the middle of class.
You would think that the next thing I would do is approach this individual after class to explain how I feel and how she should correct her mistake. I could have also tried to talk to the teacher to organize a civil meeting with her. Instead, I furiously proceeded to my next class while telling all of my other friends about the situation.
I chose to ignore because I felt that confronting her would make me seem like a mean person. I didn’t want to directly confront my problem so I told everyone around me except the main person. I truly don’t know why I did this, but the media we see and the culture created by it encourages gossip instead of healthy conflict resolution.
When I got home, I instantly regretted allowing fear to sway me away from confrontation. Although I didn’t speak face-to-face with her, I took my phone and sent a (very) long text explaining my problem and how she can resolve it. In the end, everything worked out without too many problems.
So what is the takeaway from my story that demonstrates, if anything, a lack of courage? Don’t be afraid to have open and honest conversations when things go wrong! Being kind does not equate to being silent on the wrongs done to you. There are times when you should be directly telling people what bothers you and what they’re doing wrong. There are also times when you should try to understand others’ situations. The hardest part of confrontation, for women especially, is finding that balance between being assertive and understanding. To the women struggling to find that balance, I’d say go with your gut instinct but also set limits on what is right and what is wrong so that you know when enough is enough.
There is so much work to be done in our society to teach women and girls how to do something as simple and complex as confronting problems. Forbes’ 5 Critical Steps to Fearless Confrontation really outlines all the best ways to identify and approach problems in personal and professional life. As girls and women, we can all end this problem by taking small steps like educating, sharing our own confrontation stories and advice to help everyone gain this critical skill.