When I was ten years old, my family moved from an apartment into a private house, which was a pretty big deal in those days. The house was about a twenty-minute bus ride from the old neighborhood in which I had grown up, and where all my friends were still living. I'd left behind not only friends, but most of my extended family--my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousin Shirley, with whom I'd always been close.
Shirley and I were the same age, but you'd never have known it. She had developed early, and was sprouting breasts. I was as flat as a pancake. One Saturday, Shirley invited me back to the old neighborhood for a visit. I took the bus, and she met me at the bus stop. We walked to the high school playing field to meet some of Shirley's friends. On the way, she explained to me that if you wanted to be popular, if you wanted to have a boyfriend, you had to let a boy touch your breasts.
I had never done anything like this before--in part because I had nothing to touch. I was scared to death, but I let a boy touch my breasts that day--such as they were. And that was my introduction, at a very young age, to the way women defer to men.
This is the dirty little secret that women share and rarely talk about. You can be the president of a corporation, an astronaut, a neurosurgeon, a judge--it doesn't matter. All of us started from the same ground zero with the lesson:
If you want to get along in life, you'd better defer to men.
And in different ways, with different levels of success, we all spend our lives trying to push that boulder up the hill. I think there is a better way. In the workplace, I've seen women shrink in silence as a male coworker shared a brilliant idea that, moments before, she had told him in confidence. Does she stand up and say, "That's my idea!" God forbid. How would she be repaid? Perhaps she'd be castigated for not being a "team player," called a "bitch," or even worse, people would stop liking her. So, rather than defending her intellectual property, she defers, and lets her colleague take the credit.
There was a time in my professional life when I found myself in that very position. I had a lot of ideas and I was happy to share. My male colleague was just as happy to take the credit. I began to feel like a fool--especially when my colleague got a promotion and I didn't. I decided that I could run the risk of not being liked, but I couldn't stand living trapped in the body of an idiot. So I spoke up, and I'm still here. By the way, it felt terrific!
On the domestic front it was much the same. I did unpopular household chores rather than opening my mouth and creating friction. Very few people love doing the laundry, changing sheets, returning social phone calls, all of the little things that make up a life. I always handled them because it was expedient, my mate didn't want to be bothered, and it was a hell of a lot easier than dealing with a sourpuss. Then I stopped, demanded that we share the load, endured the expected grousing and pouting, and in the end--we're still together.
If you spend your life deferring to someone else, you lose yourself in service. Is that what you want out of your life? It's a high price to pay just to be liked.
On my television program, Judge Judy, all the cases are real, and the parties agree to abide by my decisions. This is life in the nitty-gritty mundane. So many of the cases are about the petty, greedy, selfish, stupid things people do to one another. A large percentage of the cases are demonstrations of women who make outlandish choices for the sake of having a man. Cases in point:
A woman appears before me in court. Her new boyfriend ran up a $3,000 bill on her credit card. I ask, "How long had you been seeing each other before you gave him your credit card?"
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