There are certain sayings that every young girl can remember hearing at least once in their young lives.
Many of us recall being told to quiet down and “act like a lady” when our games got too rowdy and when our voices jumped out in excitement over a new idea, a new thought, or something we were passionate about. We were told to share like everyone else, to play kindly and to follow the golden rule; though when it came down to it, we were warned most about the dangers of being “bossy.” As we grew we were held to this same standard, being punished when complaining about interruptions from others because “boys will be boys.” We were expected to naturally be more mature. Despite this unfair standard, we were not given any more respect for our thoughts.
We were there to be seen and not heard.
In our college lives, these expectations still lurk, though perhaps more disguised than they were when we were younger.
There have been so many times where I personally have kept track of how many questions and comments I made throughout class, careful to not seem too eager despite knowing the information. I stayed quiet when professors asked for volunteers though I knew I’d do well, though no one else would speak up.
And there have been so many times where I was too nervous to fight back against something I knew was wrong. This includes a time during a class debate where I found myself unable to state all the reasons for my team’s side. No one else was willing to contribute, so rather than being the only person to aggressively fight back against the other group’s points, it was tempting to just stay back and let the round go.
Why is that temptation there? There are many of my friends who can report the same experiences. This is not unique to me, to Boulder, or to traditional classroom settings. But it is unique to our gender. Furthermore, it is even worse for women of color or for those who don’t fit traditional feminine standards.
And there are studies that prove it is not all in our heads. One such study, completed by Professor Victoria L. Brescoll of Yale University, showed that when male senators spoke, it would often increase their competency ratings by 10%. However, when female senators acted the same, it decreased their ratings by a whole 14%. This shows a terrifying reality that even the most educated of women are still actively punished for utilizing their intellect. There are real consequences for the negative perceptions of powerful women. The irony is that these perceptions actively keep us from speaking out and fighting against the very power structure that created them.
Despite the upwelling of female empowerment taking place across the globe and specifically on our campus, it can still be difficult to not act in ways that subscribe to the typical feminine standards of being quiet and overly-polite. No one actively wants to be seen as aggressive, as bossy, or as “nasty”. The fact that these titles are often applied to outspoken women often encourages us to hold our tongues rather than experience the same fate.
Because at the end of the day, who wants to be unlikeable?
Humans naturally crave acceptance. But there comes a point where our draw to safety begins to interfere with the potential we hold as strong, intelligent women. And if all these traditionally negative terms happen to correlate with the means to our success, why not embrace them? We should resurrect the trend of calling ourselves “nasty women,” of turning snide remarks from our coworkers and classmates into banners we wear proudly. In order to enact change, we cannot continue to hide behind the very barriers we want to break. If being bossy means that I can finally be heard in a male-driven world, then that is what I will have to do.