I like to think of myself as a confident woman. I don’t lack the confidence to wear whatever clothes I like, or to speak my mind, especially on my blog. But since I have become more enlightened in a feminist way, I realise how much I still conform to society’s norms of women being compliant and non-demanding.
Women are taught from a very early age to be quiet, compliant and nice. Girls are taught to get along, smooth things over, play nicely. Boys are encouraged to be rowdy, they are indulged when they fight and no one expects them to sit quietly when company comes round.
Confident women, especially in the public sphere, are labelled negatively as bossy, bitchy, overbearing. Confident men are lauded for their leadership and presence. Women are expected to keep their mouths shut when something is bothering them, to put up with whatever inconveniences men create for them and to work behind the scenes to make everyone’s (read: every man’s) life as good as possible.
I didn’t fully realise how engrained this expectation is in my own life, my own mind, until I started this sex blog and started connecting with a lot of amazing feminists out there. Especially my fellow Scarlet Ladies have really helped me recognise my own behaviour. As I said above, I am quite confident in my life. I don’t fit the meek, quiet woman stereotype at all. So that is probably why it has taken me so long to realise how compliant I actually still am.
I grew up in a conservative Christian household. My parents instilled in me an almost holy respect for authority, particularly male authority. My husband, who had a far more liberal upbringing, and who is a man, has no such respect for authority. He questions everything and everyone. I am easily convinced if a man speaks with enough authority in his voice. Something inside me shrivels up and stays quiet, even if I wholeheartedly disagree with said man.
I am changing though. Now that I have come to recognise this behaviour in myself, I am pushing back against that force that wants to put me down. I become more confident to stand up for myself. I am still not what you would call a demanding woman, but I am taking small steps and I am confident I will get there one day.
It’s the little things I am concentrating on first. I am actually ashamed to admit this, as it does not fit at all with the picture I have of myself as a confident woman, but over the 20 years I have been with my husband, I have sort of pushed my own opinions aside and adopted his. Not on the big things, but on silly, little things I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him about. Because, as a white middle-class man, he argues from the standpoint that he is right. He wants to convince me that I am wrong. And we are talking here about personal opinions. For example, I like Celine Dion. He hates her. Which is fine, it’s a personal preference, but he would not stop until he had convinced me that he is right and Celine Dion is somehow an inferior singer.
Nowadays I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t have a different opinion to my husband. We’re not the same person, we can have differences of opinion without it ruining our marriage. After all, we agree about the big things. So I have started expressing my personal preferences more often. If he wants to argue, I merely tell him that it’s my opinion, which I am entitled to, thank you very much. The funny thing is that he doesn’t mind it at all. And of course he wouldn’t, it was just because I had been indoctrinated to believe that I should never upset the male ego and not argue with a man.
I also stand up for myself a bit more at work. I travel for work quite a bit and when I travel with male colleagues, they typically make all the decisions. What flight we shall take, where we stay, where we eat. I used to just go along with it, but I have started to push back and voice my opinion. Also in the office I stand up more for myself, asserting myself more. I have never had a problem voicing my opinion on work-related matters; after all, I am fully qualified for my position. But when it came to more “personal preference” type things (like where we would go for lunch etc.) I used to just defer to the choices my male colleagues made. Well, not any more.
The surprising thing is that, for the most part, I am able to get away with standing up for myself. If I speak up confidently, people listen to me. My opinion is taken into consideration. I feel more confident and empowered, and I am having a much better life as a result. Which begs the question: why have I never done this before? I know the answer to that, of course: I was conditioned from a very young age to believe that men have authority over me and I should in all matters defer to them. Conditioning like that takes a lot of effort to overcome, and even now I still catch myself complying when I really don’t want to. But I am slowly, but certainly becoming a confident, demanding woman. And I’m loving every minute of it.