Apologetic to Abundant: Learning to Take Up The Space You Deserve

Sometimes when I'm walking back to my dorm after dinner with friends, I catch myself engaging in a habit I'm not proud of.  For as long as I can remember, I've been hyper-aware of my surroundings in public spaces. No matter how engrossed I may be in conversation, I maintain a semblance of cognizance so as not to inconvenience anyone.  If several people are approaching on the sidewalk from the opposite direction, I'm the first person to move into the grass and yield to the oncoming group-–especially if that group is primarily comprised of men. I always feel frustrated with myself for succumbing to what almost feels like an instinctual reaction, but I recognize that I've been socialized my entire life to respond in this way.  

It's no surprise that young girls are socialized much differently than boys when it comes to self-presentation and confidence.  Boys are taught to be assertive, strong, and unwavering when asking for what they want. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to be calm, malleable, and cautious about how much space they take up.  In fact, women are guided into adulthood with the implicit belief that they are not as capable or deserving as their male counterparts. The reiteration of this message is harmful in a multitude of ways, and although it is undoubtedly difficult to unlearn generations worth of gender-specific social conditioning, there's no better time to push back against these imposed expectations than in college.

A historically women’s college like Bryn Mawr is a complex place to challenge what we've been taught about femininity.  The allure surrounding admission to this college is, at least in part, constructed around the idea that its empowering classroom setting and campus culture is a secret formula that generates confidence and success.  Bryn Mawr is surely known for its impressive and enriching academics, but I believe that it takes a lot more than just small class sizes and a minimal amount of cisgender men in a room to evoke a self-assuredness that many of us have been taught to suppress for most of our lives.

The best advice that I can offer to anyone, whether you're already in college or preparing to embark on this journey, is to ask the people you care about to hold you accountable and to do the same for them.  My group of friends at Bryn Mawr have helped me grow socially in ways that I never thought possible. Whenever I begin a spiral of apologies to my roommate about something unwarranted, she usually stops me before I am able to finish.  Likewise, when my friends fall into similar patterns, I try my best to point it out and redirect this energy.

Moving through the world with a sense of worthiness and authority is something that requires a lot of intentionality and work for women.  Putting the subversion of these social expectations into practice is something that is an ongoing, non-linear process. However, the most constructive thing that you can do is to pay close attention to the way that the people around you exhibit courage, confidence, and assertiveness.  Doing so helps you recognize the strength of those who are on the same journey. They're standing behind you!