Ever since I can remember I’ve been called “sassy”. I remember stomping over to a girl in my kindergarten class and saying “How can you ask to sit by me during story time when you don’t even play with me at recess?!” as if her request to play with my hair while reading Clifford was the ultimate insult to my sensibilities. I wouldn’t describe myself as needlessly combative but I think my sweet and friendly facade fools people into believing I am soft and timid. I am unapologetically outspoken. I stand up for myself and I stand up for what I believe in. It wasn’t until my post college adult life that I started to realize that having a strong opinion (not the opinion itself) can be what offends people.
In my last few years of college struggled with a controlling boyfriend who wanted to tell me where I could go, who I could talk to and what I should wear. We fought constantly because he was a bit psycho and I was unwilling to submit to his ideas of what I should be. If I’d been a little smarter perhaps I would have left sooner but chest la vie, I learned quite a few life lessons in the process. In the post college world I found I encountered far more “your opinion is too big/too loud/irrelevant” attitudes than ever before. It was as if people could handle a sassy little girl or a sassy college student but a sassy woman was a woman whose attitude problem had gone too far. Let me be clear, I am aware there are times it is polite and respectful to refrain from sharing your opinion. I generally do not comment on the lifestyles, outfit choices or family matters of others. Yet, when everyone at the table is discussing politics or world affairs, ethics or human rights I’m not one to be shushed or silenced.
“you tell me to quiet down cause my opinions make me less beautiful but i was not made with a fire in my belly so i could be put out i was not made with a lightness on my tongue so i could be easy to swallow i was made heavy half blade and half silk difficult to forget and not easy for the mind to follow”-Rupi Kaur
Maybe my experience is jaded or slanted but it is all I know. I’ve found that a lot of times older (than me) men like to bring up real world issues (we’re not just talking Bachelor recaps or Taylor Swift dating theories here) and then become annoyed when I have researched and passionate opinions. I see them rolling their eyes and exchanging irritated glances when I react with anything other than a joke or a giggle. Now to be fair, I’m certainly not accusing all men of treating me or women this way but I do find that it is this group that tends to demean my relevance entirely.
I’ve been told people don’t like me because they don’t understand why I “have to be such an activist all the time and don’t understand why I can’t just chill“. I’ll be honest, when I first heard that people didn’t like me for my strong opinions I cried big ugly tears. I worried perhaps that I am overly aggressive, that perhaps I come across as too bold, I momentarily asked myself if I should be “softer”. I’m like any other human and I have my insecurities, one of my greatest insecurities stems around not being well liked by acquaintances so these comments hit a soft spot. The more I thought though the less sad I felt and the more irritated I personally became. How often do we expect women to tip toe around their opinions careful not to cause a ruckus or dive into conversations deemed too controversial? I guess I could understand these social graces if contextually it was inappropriate for all parties not to discuss said topics. But in these instances it is usually just me (or just the women) who are a little too sassy, a little too passionate, a little too outspoken. Men are never encouraged to delicately tip toe around their opinions. Men are not asked to tone down their ideas before presenting them. I don’t even think most men realize they are asking that of women but have a societal ideal of what a woman should be and the way she should behave planted in their heads. When you don’t fit the mold of that ideal it means there is something wrong with you, not something wrong with the ideal, at least that’s what we’ve been told. I don’t buy that though, and I think a lot of other sassy, outspoken, feisty girls don’t either (please read Taylor’s post on being a feisty girl if you haven’t already).
I’m not here to pretend I’ve been suppressed in some incomprehensible way because by all accounts I have been encouraged and supported. The two most important women in my life (my mom and my aunt) are fiercely independent and fiery. They both raised me to be and do whatever I want to do. I was told I could play with dump trucks and wear camo, I could climb trees or sport a pixie cut, I could play soccer and if I liked girls instead of boys I know they would have supported me. It just so happened that I was the little girl who liked flower crowns and tea parties, cheerleading and sororities, long hair and sparkly nail polish.I am a “girly girl” but they would have supported me no matter what. I know that there are little girls who are pushed to fit into molds and told what they should or shouldn’t do because of the gender they are born into. I know there are women who are treated differently than their brothers, who are taught to be ashamed of their bodies or are discouraged from their dreams just because they’re girls. I am not pretending to be a victim but that doesn’t mean “subliminal sexism” doesn’t exist in my life too.
Yesterday was International Woman’s Day so I meditated a little extra on what it means to be a strong woman. I don’t see myself as any sort of role model for what a feminist should be. Sometimes I DO hurt people with my fiery opinions. Sometimes I go too far in my passionate rants. Sometimes I say something I believe but over time after learning and growing more I change my mind. I am not 100% confident and I will certainly never be perfect. I had to make a conscious decision not to smother and stifle my voice. I had to make the choice to risk being disliked because I’m not willing to sugarcoat my beliefs or pretend all of my views are vanilla.
“stay strong through your pain
grow flowers from it
you have helped me
grow flowers out of mine so
however you need
just bloom” -Rupi Kaur
I’m not the girl whose afraid to get into passionate debates with the boys over dinner. I’m neither intimidated nor silenced by fiery conversation. That being said, I really truly 1000% respect the ideas and beliefs that challenge my own. I appreciate hearing well researched, thoughtful opinions that make me think. I don’t even mind seeing someone else get a little heated up-I’m attracted to the passion.
With women’s marches and feminism so prominient in the media it’s easy to muddle the idea of feminism. I’ve found myself falling into that trap a time or two. Feminism isn’t a mold or ideal woman either. You don’t have to be a protestor to be a feminist. You don’t need to be a democrat to be a feminist. You don’t have to care about politics or be the girl who gets in debates at the dinner table. Feminism is about equality and respect. Part of that respect means reminding myself to respect women whose opinions are softer and part of that means working to spread the idea that a woman doesn’t need to fit a soft and demure mold. It’s difficult to reconcile the desire to stand up for what you believe in and the desire to be polite and respectful. There isn’t a real guide for how to raise your voice properly and respectfully. We’re all learning and growing and striving (and that’s not just women, that’s men too).
So all the men who think I’m too high strung, too opinionated and can “never just chill”…jokes on you I’ll be sipping mimosas and debating women’s issues beachside until the day I die.