If they don’t have self-respect, then why should I respect them?
This is one of the many phrases I encounter frequently in my work as a sexual health educator regarding the concept of self-respect, and it’s usually used as a justification for slut-shaming and victim-blaming. And after having a particularly enlightening conversation with my step mom, I realized why the idea of telling someone to have some self-respect felt so squicky to me—how the hell do I know how someone feels about themselves? Somewhere along the way, we lost the whole “self” part of self-respect.
The things that we might cite as “indicators” of self-respect, such as clothing, weight, body modifications, demeanor, or general life choices aren’t going to give us pure and unbiased insight into how someone feels about themselves. But they will tell us whether we have respect for them. We use our own criteria for how we evaluate ourselves, and then import those ideas directly into the other person’s mouth.
Telling someone to have self-respect is a thinly veiled way of telling them that you do not have respect for the way that they are living their life.
And as someone who has been the recipient of such remarks, it was confusing. I do respect myself. I think I’m pretty great, actually. I mean, I’m a self-proclaimed (and friend-certified) narcissist. And the things I was doing didn’t negate or depreciate the respect that I have for myself.
Now, I’m not saying that we’re always going to approve of or enjoy everyone’s lifestyle or choices. We aren’t. But the vast majority of the time, our opinion about how someone else is living their life is irrelevant. So the whole have some blah blah blah argument really loses traction.
When we tell people to respect themselves, we are not only being super über passive aggressive, but we are also shaming them for things that they might really enjoy. And shaming people for things they like or can’t change is on my list of top 10 worst things a person can possible do to another.
So next time you feel that phrase rolling around on the tip of your tongue, pull up your big girl panties and remember that A) it’s you who doesn’t have respect for them, and that B) whether you respect them or not really doesn’t matter, because it does not determine if they have respect for themselves.