If you’re a woman existing on the Earth, you likely often use phrases somewhat along these lines: “I’m so happy you can come!”, “I think it’s probably the last answer,” “the party is tonight, right?” or “don’t worry about it.”
These sentences have one thing in common; they convey emotions societally considered appropriate for women. The use of boosters like “so” or “really” amplifies excitement, whereas most other terms (e.g., “probably”) act as hedges to diminish bold statements into passive, meek questions. This is the expectation placed on women. We keep our voices and opinions silent or else risk being condemned by society.
The double standard of this phenomenon speaks volumes. If men freely express their opinions (which they do with delight), they automatically have a supportive audience that listens without blinking an eye; it’s normal and expected. On the other hand, if we, as women, dare to speak our minds we face harsh reactions labeling us as rude, annoying, loud, crazy and other, far worse, terms. We’re told to return to our realm of the household and make a sandwich, casting society back decades.
We’ve been taught to follow this social script since the world realized we were women. Even the words of those around us, beginning in our childhoods, bear significant weight on our minds now as adults. Often without meaning to, our female role models use similar phrases to quiet their opinions and to stereotype those who diverge from this norm. Popular media also often portrays women as cliché damsels in distress, especially if the characters are created by men.
This is absolutely nothing new. Think back to the Brontë sisters, all three of whom used male pseudonyms to disguise their true nature as female writers, which would’ve been unacceptable in the Victorian era. Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, published under the gender-ambiguous pen name A.M. Barnard, which allowed her freer exploration of a career and genre dominated by men.
Or maybe we can reflect on women in the scientific community whose brilliant ideas were overlooked because of their gender. Ada Lovelace was a 19th-century mathematician now considered the first computer programmer. And yet, her talents were repressed by her parents and society in general, who deemed her pursuits as incompatible with her femininity.
These are only a few examples of the countless women over history who have essentially been forced to fake masculinity or fight tooth and nail to achieve any kind of success. Of course, women have more equality in the modern age, but the detriments of gendered, discriminatory socialization have crept into our lives in subtler ways.
I’ve been noticing how I subconsciously quiet my opinion daily. I realize that I feel guilty when I “say too much” or I talk “too loud,” as I feel like I’ve broken some unspoken rule about how I should be acting. Indeed, this unspoken rule does control me at the moment but realizing this is the first step to being proud of my own voice.
Archaic social norms aren’t the be-all, end-all. It’s about time the world learns that women have the full right to embrace and spread our valuable ideas without feeling ashamed. So don’t you dare feel guilty for having a beautiful, working brain (say it again for the people in the back!). Say what you want and mean to, simple and straightforward. I’ll be speaking my mind right alongside you.