The rules go something like this
Be sweet but not naive.
Be friendly but not flirty.
Be pretty but not invitingly so.
Be smart but not too smart.
Be confident but not cocky.
Be helpful but don't get taken advantage of.
Be fun but not scandalous.
Be discreet but don't lie.
Be funny but not vulgar.
Be feminine but not slutty.
Be assertive but avoid conflict.
Be demure but not a tease.
Be tough but not masculine.
Be discerning but friends with everyone.
I'm an author. I understand the weight of words. These are a particularly heavy set. In fact, looking back, I realize now that they were the foundational bricks of my childhood. Whether by word or unspoken lesson, they were ingrained in me from as far back as I can remember, framing the entire construction of my adulthood. And maybe yours too.
Some who taught me these truths did it in purpose and some by accident. And with contradictions like these (not to mention gender and cultural stereotypes), it's no wonder girls grow up to be women who don't know who they are. Or worse, grow up pretending to be someone they're not.
A few years ago, something happened in my personal life that forced me to take stock of who I was. The experience and then the overcoming took everything I had and then some. I learned I was NOT the girl described above. The girl my parents, my church, and my society all tried to teach me to be with the words up there. And thank goodness! I would never have made it if I'd tried using those as my parameters.
It's been years since then and STILL, I find myself cowering down underneath one of those lies once in a while. Usually when someone or something comes along and doubts me. In those times, I am tempted to react based on one of those traits I'm "supposed to have."
There are times when I've tried making myself smaller, afraid to speak up and say how smart I was in case it made the other person insecure. Or I'd apologize even though it wasn't really my fault. Or I'd feel unattractive because I was dressed in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt instead of something "girly."
And the one I most often struggle with is "Be Assertive but Avoid Conflict."
I have always had a very individualized sense of what I believe is right. Growing up, I didn't see the world as black and white like my family and faith did. I saw it as (please forgive the pun, it's not a good one) so many shades of gray. And I always felt this surge of temper and defiance against someone I felt violated a personal level of respect over differing opinions. I think the Christians I grew up with call it judgement.
But then avoiding conflict became the thing to do (we have a genetic disorder called DENIAL that runs in my family) and even now, it's so hard for me to speak into a situation with conflict. But I do it. Even with hands shaking and heart pounding and my throat is splotchy with red (does that happen to you? So not attractive according to the rules.) ... Even then I do it anyway.
And I walk away and repeat to myself that conflict isn't bad. It's uncomfortable. What's bad is not standing up for what you believe. As an author, a "social figure," we're schooled and reminded lest we forget to always BEHAVE. Don't rock the boat. Don't tell you who I voted for or what God I believe in or anything that will offend you because that will alienate--and this is business.
But that's giving into the rules. And I don't want to live with those anymore. I honestly prefer the gray. So, here's to living out loud and being who you are:
I believe in God and karma and our inner Buddha. I believe we're all one energy made from the same atoms of The Universe and we're all interconnected. I believe in an afterlife. In soul mates. In magic and the law of attraction. I believe we're all beautiful and capable and worthy. I believe we shouldn't have to be smaller for others to feel bigger. I believe in talking about the hard issues in the daylight. I believe sweeping anything under the rug is wrong. I believe in standing up for what's right even if it makes you loud and too assertive for the rules. I believe in forgiving yourself. I believe in having an opinion. I believe if you're reading this post with a nasty frown, the only reason you might be angry is because you're still living by the rules.
I believe that it's possible for you to break free.