Five Memories of Female Social Conditioning
In her new book Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms, Amanda Steinberg, founder of Daily Worth, talks about some of those pernicious little societal evils that result in women getting paid less than men and denied their true power. If I had the book in front of me right now I’d quote from it directly, but I don’t, so here’s a paraphrase of one of the things she mentions: that in our society, we’re taught that qualities of leaders are assertiveness and aggression; but women are taught that if they embody these things people will like them less. Or not at all. Women are encouraged to be nice.
It’s really easy to be like, “Yeah, yeah, whatever, I’m a strong woman and a feminist. These things don’t apply to me.” But ya know what? They do. Over the last week or so, since I first picked up Worth It and engaged with some other wonderful feminist literature, a number of memories have been surfacing. So I thought I’d share them.
Memory 1: Toddler Drama
I’m four years old, a student in pre-k. I’m standing up on a chair in my classroom, getting the attention of all of my classmates to tell them something important. My teacher notices, and she says something to the other teacher. I don’t remember her words, but it was something along the lines of “she’s bossy,” or “Look out, she’s going to be a lot to handle.” I noticed the teacher notice, and I felt very self-conscious and exposed. The message I got was that what I was doing wasn’t looked well upon, and I shouldn’t do it again.
Memory 2: Spelling Bee Queen DNE Queen Bee
My first time at sleepaway camp was after fourth grade. I had no friends because I was a nerd, something of which I had been completely unaware until encountering budding queen bee bitches from Long Island. I had friends at school who accepted and liked me for who I was, but the girls at camp called me Dictionary. After that summer I resolved that I was too smart, and that if I wanted to have friends I’d better dumb myself down. So I did.
Memory 3: My Hair ... Your Care?
Fifth grade. I was not exactly the speediest on the physical development train, but a boy in my class told me I had hairy knees. I was mortified, and I internalized that comment to such a degree that I let it affect my personal grooming habits for over a decade to come. Thankfully I’m no longer brought to the ground when I miss a spot shaving — if I shave at all.
Memory 4: You're Not Dating Material
High school, somewhere between grades 10 and 12. One of my male classmates tells me I’m marriage material, not high school dating material. What the fuck does that mean?? I’ll be cornering him about that comment later this summer when we climb a mountain together and he’s got nowhere to run.
Memory 5: Tone It Down, Lady!
Tenth grade. I send an admittedly acerbic email to the assistant principal of my high school expressing my extreme displeasure with a situation. For the most part his response was fine, even really great. As part of it, though, he condemned my righteous indignation, and I wonder whether he would have said the same thing to a boy. I’m not sure. Regardless, it is once again the message I internalized that became important: If I express myself as-is, I’ll get negative reactions. So if I’m going to command respect in this world and get what I want, I’ll need to silence my emotions and communicate from calm, cool rationale.
Getting these down in writing has made me realize how many more there are, but I’ll leave it here for now. Would love to hear if these stir up anything for you!