I was raised with clearly defined gender roles of leaders and followers; decision-maker and obedient subservient; the man and the woman, respectively. They were clear directions of what my role was to be within the society I belonged to. To nod, agree, be pleasant, supportive, understanding, helpful, and most importantly, not ruffle feathers.
When we think of this, we think of societies and countries where women are monitored and controlled as commodities or objects. Yet to a lesser degree this is evident in Western societies as well when women are not generally leaders in the political world, used as sexual objects and are shamed for things that men are not. These things are embedded deeply in our histories because it wasn’t long ago that women couldn’t vote (1915) and an even scarier fact that it was nearly 150 years ago when women were considered a man’s property. The Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 allowed married women to be legal owners of money and inherit property for the first time.
These are remnants of the old world that still impact our lives today. The gender pay gap is evident in all parts of the western world, where women systematically are paid at least 20 cents less on the dollar in academia and corporate settings. Women are expected to do it all, be a mother, a friend, an expert and still be fashionable yet respectable. This expectation is only for the women, men are not mandated by society to take a leave from work when they become fathers, their relationships depend greatly on who they are (whereas women need to be nice to everyone) and there is no requirement to dress a certain way whereas women’s dress codes are moralized in a public setting.
This behavior is literally costing women in the professional world and I’d argue in a greater sense in their own lives. For example, agreeable women are seen as more likeable in the workplace whereas agreeable men are seen as weak as reported in numerous studies. The research in this area is astonishing when considering the gender divide in a professional setting but also in a public and social setting. Women are expected to be demur to be liked, otherwise they are called bitchy.
I often think about whether others like me, if I sound friendly enough and worry if I have offended others, did they think my outfit was too scandalous. As a result, I am always saying “sorry,” almost as if it’s a reflex to ensure that those around me know that I am willing to make amends for anything I may have done.
Why can’t I just be okay with the reality that not everyone is going to like me, no matter how nice or friendly I am. Why can’t I just be okay with saying exactly what I think and feel without the worry of “people pleasing.”
We diminish our own value with “just.”
Just wanted to see if I can take the afternoon off? Just wondering how you were doing today? Just asking if it’s okay to use your lawnmower?
Just phrases are the epitome of submissiveness and they diminish the competence, confidence and value we have. When we use just we are asking for permission, instead of stating a need or request. I’m very guilty of this, and I still have trouble with it.
I will be taking the afternoon off, How are you? Is your lawnmower available ?
The words we use define us subconsciously. Let’s instead, consciously use every word and action to build ourselves in an assertive, self-entitled and self-assured way. It takes practice and reminders to be gentle and kind to yourself first.