Healthy Boundary Setting vs. Narcissistic Entitlement
The news is filled with horrifying examples of White people, many of whom are women, calling the police on Black people. In these situations, where a White woman has called the police on Black people BBQing, bird watching, swimming — in other words, living — she is clearly the party who is menacing the other party, even if she frames herself as fearful or in danger. She does not go it alone; she calls, from her cell phone, on government authorities to help her. She is, of course, confident that they will help her, not harm her.
These examples, and many others like them, remind us that not all “defense” responses are performed in response to real or perceived threat. Many of these women, such as the White woman who called the police on the Black bird watcher, were neither in danger nor in fear. In other words, it was not a defense-of-self situation whatsoever. Such women were not defending themselves, nor were they expressing a healthy sense of empowerment. They were expressing racist, narcissistic entitlement. After all, the bird watcher, Christian Cooper, was the one setting a boundary with the woman in the park, Amy Cooper (no relation), who was violating the dog leash law. He asked her to put her dog on a leash. Her response (to call the police) seems to have been grounded in her belief that he had no right to ask her to modify her behavior. Rather than being threatened by his actions, she simply did not like his actions.
Challenges arise when we are confronted with situations we do not like, but there is a fundamental distinction between a situation one does not like and a situation in which one’s personal, psychological, or physical safety is threatened. One of the benefits of ESD training is increased awareness — awareness of the situation, awareness of our own internal responses, and awareness of the many things that can contribute to feelings of vulnerability, discomfort, and fear. ESD teaches the increased personal and situational awareness that helps someone determine which situations are risky, which situations are safe, and which situations might be dislikable or even uncomfortable but are not necessarily risky or dangerous.
Clearly, Amy Cooper did not like it when Christian Cooper asked her to put her dog on a leash. Did it make her uncomfortable? Perhaps. What had he done? He had set a boundary — reasonably, appropriately, and safely. Was it within his rights to make that request? Absolutely.
Her response, to call the police to report an “African-American man was threatening [her] life”, demonstrates no awareness, either of the external situation or what might be internally driving her reaction to it. Instead, not unlike the perpetrators of sexual assault, she shows entitlement, she ignores his boundaries, repeatedly, and she escalates the situation in an attempt to do what she wants.
No ESD instructor would frame Amy Cooper’s actions as self-defense, or label her behavior as “empowerment.” ESD instructors believe everyone gets to set healthy, safe, and appropriate boundaries, that we all get to assertively defend those boundaries, with the goal of tailoring our responses to meet the specifics of each situation, to maintain our safety – not simply to get our way. ESD teaches women how to set boundaries and to be entitled to their own boundaries; this is very different from teaching women to be entitled to ignore or encroach on other people’s boundaries. That isn’t self-defense; that’s perpetration.
ESD does not teach women to engage in narcissistic entitlement or become carceral feminists; ESD training teaches women to accurately evaluate risk and response, so that they can maintain their own personal, psychological and physical integrity — not infringe on someone else’s.