A woman who speaks out is often seen as aggressive instead of assertive. There is still a strong stereotype that women need to be passive, submissive, and nurturing. If they stand up for themselves or their family, then they have a bad attitude, are aggressive, and unladylike. Dr. Brene Brown talks about how society’s expectations are in direct contradiction with what it means to live a life of authenticity. Below is a list of the messages and expectations that women described in relation to speaking out. So how do you live an authentic life while living by stereotypical standards? I contend you can’t. If we look at the characteristics of authenticity describe by Dr. Brown — natural, sincere, spontaneous, open, genuine — we can start to see how difficult authenticity can be if we try to filter our actions and thoughts through these narrow expectations.
• Don’t make people feel uncomfortable but be honest.
• Don’t sound self-righteous, but sound confident.
• Don’t upset anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings but say what’s on your mind.
• Don’t be offensive but be straightforward.
• Sound informed and educated, but not like a know-it-all.
• Sound committed, but not too reactionary.
• Don’t say anything unpopular or controversial but have the courage to disagree with the crowd.
• Don’t seem too passionate, but don’t come off as too dispassionate.
• Don’t get too emotional, but don’t be too detached.
• You don’t have to quote facts and figures, but don’t be wrong.
On the face of it, they seem ridiculous — they are completely contradictory and totally subjective. Who gets to define offensive or emotional? What is too passionate and what is too dispassionate? Why can’t I be intelligent and use that knowledge?
These “rules” are built around rigid gender roles that leave women with very little room to navigate expectations while maintaining authenticity. If we break one of these rules, we are automatically labeled and stereotyped. If we assert ourselves, we become the pushy, loudmouthed bitch who everyone loves to hate. If we clarify or correct, we become the arrogant know-it-all who no one can stand to be around. If we’re honest about something that is taboo or makes other people feel uncomfortable, we’re labeled as a weirdo or freak. If two women get into a heated political debate on television, it’s a “catfight.” Whereas, if two men get into the same debate, it’s a lively discussion on important issues. When we start to examine the messages and expectations that fuel our unwanted identities, it’s easy to understand how shame can undermine our authenticity. We simply can’t speak our truths when we are held hostage by what other people think.
So, let’s talk…how are you living your life? Are you living life trying to fit in or please? Or are you living authentically? What areas do you find it easier to be authentic? Why? Which areas are more difficult? How might you begin to change areas that need change? What is your first step going to be?
Until next time….
Change. Discover. Transform.
Carla Carter, Ed.D., LCPC, CMPC, EMDR Certified