“Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.”- Lois Wyse
It’s true, isn’t it? This is an unpleasant truism for an outspoken woman to swallow. I’m not a quiet, delicate flower. I’m opinionated. I don’t like everyone or care if they like me. I am completely capable of taking care of myself and am fiercely independent. I like to do things my way.
Coming out of a long-term relationship led me to a shocking conclusion: I had turned into a muted version of myself. In an effort to work within the guidelines I perceived, I turned everything down a notch. It reminds me of Meryn Cadell’s “The Sweater”, which satirizes the interaction we fall into as teenagers and the things we think we are supposed to want and supposed to be. On seeing The Boy at school after having confiscated his stinky boy sweater:
”Be calm, look cute
Don't tell him about the dream you had
about the place the two of you would share
when you get older
Just be yourself
The best, cutest, quietest version of yourself
Definitely wear lip gloss”
- Meryn Cadell
Doesn’t that just say it all? “The best, cutest, quietest version of yourself” - in millions of little ways we are led to think that metamorphosis is what is required in order to land a desirable partner. I cannot blame the friend whom I was dating for the past five years. I blame myself. I weeded out the qualities I thought might make me less appealing as a long-term partner, instead of being myself and figuring that the man for me would LIKE opinionated and quirky. The unfiltered me would not have been a perfect match for my ex. If I were not so busy holding down the mute button, I might have figured that out years ago.
Women do ourselves a disservice when we buy into the belief that we are meant to present ourselves as meek. No matter how aware we are of our strength and capability, it is another thing to set aside the feeling that some of our strength should be hidden. Just because you’re an intelligent, independent, life-long feminist doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to that trap. It’s that little voice in the back of your head that says, “Oh, crap, he’s walking over here. Ok. Look cute. Smile, but not too much. Do my lips look chapped?” Most of us have that little voice and while it has it’s uses (hey - mine helps me remember to check to make sure I haven’t tucked anything into my pantyhose when leaving the bathroom and to suck a breathmint after lunch and I am greatful), it is sooo easy to let that little voice have some control over what you say or how you act.
Social conditioning to be docile isn’t completely a thing of the past. It’s more subtle, it’s less aggressive and it’s probably not as concious as it is simply left over from years and years of women being raised for the sole purpose of making good housewives (I, incidentally, would make a terrible housewife. It’s a difficult, often thankless job and I am not emotionally equipped for it and I know this.) but it's still an issue. Don't kid yourself. It’s easy to think you’re immune to that type of social conditoning, but then, I certainly thought I was.
Meryn Cadell is a Canadian singer, writer and performance artist. He teaches the writing of song lyrics and libretto at the University of British Columbia. A transsexual man, Cadell first reached public awareness as a female performer in the 90’s. Meryn Cadell’s website and blog