Am I allowed to like my own work?
Am I allowed to go after things because I feel like I deserve them?
Am I allowed to feel like I deserve things at all?
Intentionally or unintentionally, women are taught never to ask for what they want. They are told what they deserve and are expected to agree. Stay quiet, sit at your desk, don’t knock on the boss’ office door. You’re making less than Johnny? There’s something wrong with you and your work ethic and the quality of your output! Step up your game, Deborah. This office isn’t discriminating, it’s just being fair. And how did you find out about that pay gap, anyway?
They can keep you from getting angry if they’ve made you believe it’s your fault you’re receiving less than the men. They can make you feel like you need to work harder, work longer, make more sacrifices. The men don’t have to leave to deal with period pains, Deborah, that’s why they make more per hour.
But what about when it’s not so malicious? What about the times when you’re not being told you need to buck up to be half as good as the men? Doesn’t mean that isn’t the subtext. Sexism is so deeply a part of our culture that it exists even when we aren’t aware of it. It exists even in places we are trying to actively fight against it. Imagine you go to a school. The school wants to look out for you, they care about your growth. They want to provide equal opportunities for the girls and the boys. But there are 29 girls in your class and half that number of boys. So you tell yourself they’re doing what’s best for you, and they tell you that too and you trust them. Because what else are you supposed to believe? That the institution teaching you how to combat sexism in your daily life is purporting it without even knowing? That’s outrageous. And so you do nothing. You let them tell you what’s best for you, and you make yourself believe it.
And then maybe one day you think, you’re tired of waiting and maybe you’ll do something to help yourself out. You’ll tell someone what you want, you’ll ask for someone to listen. And afterwards you’ll think, oh my god. I am so powerful. I am so in control. I am doing things because I want to do them, not because someone has told me I want to do them. I’m saying no to things I don’t want and yes to things I want more of. And you wonder why there are people who don’t enjoy this feeling. You wonder why it used to be that you didn’t enjoy this feeling.
Women are taught to collect people. We must maneuver in such a way that no one is ever so off-put by us that they don’t want to be a part of our lives anymore. Someone says something nasty to you? Don’t be nasty back to them. That’s unladylike! Someone says something subtly offensive? Don’t call them out on it. Everyone will hate you! It was just a joke anyway. We are taught to say yes to preserve other people’s feelings, to say no and to always have a reason why because the no won’t be enough. We must give half-hearted replies, make tepid decisions, and stay far away from definitive statements because they are not easily moldable. We must pretend we enjoy all the strangers complimenting our dresses and pinching our six-year-old cheeks because that’s how ladies behave. We are taught to stay soft, to always be open to the possibility of people changing us in mind, spirit, or body. If you ask for what you want, or even express wanting anything at all, you’re demanding. If you express disappointment for not getting the thing you wanted, you’re ungrateful (just be glad you got to be a part of something at all). And if you demand to know why you didn’t get the thing you wanted, you’re the worst thing of all: a bitch.
There is nothing more terrifying than a woman who knows what she wants and works hard to get it.
I will strive every day from now on to be terrifying.