You Don't Have To Like Everyone
I am incredibly fortunate to be 30 years old and surrounded by a diverse group of amazing, strong, brilliant, creative, beautiful, supportive women. Women in STEM, women working minimum wage retail gigs, women creating fine art, women working with wood and metal, woman slingin' java, women playing classical music, women leading screamo bands, women still in school, women wearing power suits and stilettos at the office. Women who run, women who lift, women who read, women who write, women who plant, women who care for animals, women who get their nails filled, women who get dirt under their nails, women who do advanced math, women who bask in the sun. I am so blessed, and here is why I am telling you this.
I have been quietly observing this for quite a while, but I have been talking with 2 friends recently (totally separately) about some feminist issues. Specifically about how women are taught from an early age that other women are the enemy. They are petty and catty and backstabbing and gossipy and shallow and just want to steal your man and will tell everyone what a bitch you are as soon as you aren't looking. That if you're one of the "cool girls," you have guy friends, not girl friends. You're "one of the guys." One of the good people, not one of those shallow hoes.
And that's toxic bullshit, right there. That's so ridiculous! Are there some women like that? I'm sure there are. But on the whole, that's the farthest thing from the truth. And a lot (if not all) of it comes from the nonsensical idea that our goal in life, as women, is to find a guy to marry us and then hang on to him for dear life, hissing and cussin' at anyone who comes near "our man." Excuse me while I barf real quick. That is just... just the worst on so many levels.
As that antiquated and damaging ideology begins to fade away, and women are freer to do what they want with their lives, their bodies, love who they want how they want, have amazing careers, travel, have families or not, and basically define their own idea of identity and success, a funny thing has happened... women like each other! When we aren't being divided by patriarchial nonsense, pitted against one another, it turns out we are actually amazing and support one another in ways that would absolutely blow your mind. Women come together to build each other up, encourage one another, cry together, celebrate each other's successes, and generally be amazing all the time. It's so beautiful! As the poet Amanda Lovelace said, "women are some kind of magic."
As women globally are reclaiming their strength and power, as we are becoming more outspoken and less fearful, joining together as an unstoppable force, we are all having to work through worlds of internalized sexism. All that shit we had been taught by parents, authority figures, educational institutions, religious sects, society in general over the years about what a woman is and isn't supposed to do. How we are and aren't supposed to talk, or walk, or dress. What careers and hobbies are appropriate. How women should and shouldn't relate to people of other genders, or in other relationship structures.
Can men and women be *gasp* friends?
Can you have friendships with the opposite gender if you're in a committed relationship?
Can you out-earn your husband/male partner?
Can you be more educated than your partner?
Should you have to "smile, sweetie" when that weird guy on the sidewalk demands it?
Is tone and content policing okay because it comes from a man?
How are you supposed to react to catcalling? (Don't be too rude, it's not lady like...)
Do you belong in your career field?
Should you put that on hold so you can have kids?
Should you want to put your life on hold so you can have kids?
Do you owe your date sex because he bought you a nice dinner?
Is abuse okay because he never actually hit you?
What's the societally acceptable answer? Do we even care?
There are a lot of thoughts on these and thousands of other issues. Mine are mostly angry feminist rants and full of lots of swearing, cultivated by decades of religious and patriarchal oppression, so we'll bypass my thoughts for now. But one thing that I still struggle with is the idea of being nice. Part of that is my Southern upbringing, I'm sure, but it's still a big thing for me. Let me explain.
I'm a loud and proud kindness advocate. No question there. But we aren't talking about kindness, we're discussing niceness, which isn't the same thing. We are discussing the smile and say happy and pretty things because you want to make people feel good/not bad. And being nice is important. But as I've been inspecting my own plethora of internalized garbage, this is one that keeps coming back up. If you are anything other than smiley and sugary to (many) men, you'll find you very quickly get labeled a bitch. Even if you are having a bad day, were in the middle of a conversation with someone else, or just didn't appreciate them grabbing you without consent, anything other than sweet smile and nice words makes you a bitch (often with other modifiers). And sure, okay, being called a bitch isn't the worst thing, but we are definitely taught that it's almost an unforgivable sin. Partly because now you're worthless as a woman somehow (no man would want you, oh no! /sarcasm), and partly because men are kinda terrifying and if they are mad enough to call you a bitch to your face, they might very well hurt you also. I've gotten my fair share of death threats, threats of physical violence, harassment, and stalking for as little as scheduling errors, not being grateful for dick pics, or not giving a complete (very aggressive) stranger my phone number. All true.
So as I've been thinking about this niceness, this passive gentleness that is imposed on women from a young age, I've also thought about how amazing and strong and full of "FUCK YOU" women are now, and I love every moment of it! But I know that's a learned thing, and it's hard, feels really unnatural, and it can be unsafe. But I've also thought about how this niceness and women coming together overlaps. And here are just my own musings on that specific thing.
Part of why women are considered catty and bitchy, I think, is the same as why Southerners have a reputation for being fake. And it's valid. It's that forced, masquerading niceness. How, even though someone is cruel as anything to you, you'll still smile and hug them and tell them how amazing they look today! Ask about their kids, their work, and compliment their new haircut. Tell them how GREAT it was to see them, gosh, how time flies, huh? Let's get together again soon!
Like... I mean... not being a dick is good, but being totally disingenuous is a problem. But it's one that we (especially Southern women) are taught from day one. And that feeds into the seeming falseness of female relationships, and y'all, we gotta let that shit go! I'll go so far as to say throw niceness totally out the window. Fuck it. Kindness instead. Truly caring for someone instead of just being nice. But that's a whole different piece (that I've been working on since November. These articles aren't just slapped together. You can support this writing/advocacy/education effort, btw...)
So, getting to the idea that sparked this whole thing. We are so often told to be nice. Not to rush to judgment about people. Not to be shallow and catty and bitchy towards people - men and women alike. And, yeah, don't do that. But also women, hear me. You have great intuition and wisdom within you. If something doesn't sit right about a person of any gender, listen to that. Don't rush to judgment, but listen to your gut. Maybe you subscribe to the idea that we are connected to a deep, ancient wisdom and that gift is to be respected. Maybe you feel you have some third eye psychic-type gifting. Maybe you're like me and want to steal a quote from the BBC show Sherlock, "Intuitions are not to be ignored, John. They represent data processed too fast for the conscious mind to comprehend." Whatever it is, intuition is vital, especially as women. Listen to it. Listen to it when you're out with men, but also pay attention when you're with women.
Just because we are coming together as an amazing, brilliant force of goodness and power doesn't mean that every woman is a good human. That every woman resonates with you. That every woman is on the same path, and that y'all will be able to support each other in the ways you need. And you know what? That's okay. You don't have to like everyone. Not everyone, male, female, or otherwise is going to be your cup of tea. Some people are going to trigger you. Some people are going to enrage you. Some folks just aren't going to sit right with you, and if you listen to your gut and back away, that's not only okay, but super healthy and proper grounded adult behavior! You don't have to be cruel to anyone, but you are also not obligated to like everyone, either. Women, we are strong. We are amazing! We are human. We deserve to protect ourselves from physical danger, emotional drain, and just constant irritation.
These situations can also be good self-reflection tools, finding spaces in ourselves that aren't healed. But even so, that doesn't mean you need to go out of your way to expose yourself to people who make you feel bad inside. Be kind, but don't give your precious energy to people who will never be able to reciprocate in a healthy (for you both) way. This isn't selfishness. This isn't bitchiness. This is discernment, which is something that seems to be sadly lacking in our society in general. Listen to yourself, and then value yourself enough to act accordingly. And a big ol' "FUCK YOU" to anyone who tries to make you feel like you're doing anything remotely wrong or selfish by doing so.
You are strong. You are amazing. You deserve to feel safe. You are worthy of healthy relationships.
"FUCK YOU" to anyone who disagrees.