As you can expect with any stereotypical, mother-daughter relationship, my mother and I fought hard when I was growing up. We still fight hard from time to time, despite how much love and respect we have for each other. What’s unique about our fights (or maybe not so unique) is my mom’s patent phrases of: “I didn’t say anything because I knew what you would do/ say” or “I didn’t want to start a fight, so I didn’t say anything.”
For the most part, she was right. I would have smarted off or pushed back—but I still resent the fact that something I had not been given the chance to say or do can be used against me in the heat of battle.
i grew up afraid of conflict
Growing up, I assumed that guessing what someone would do or say was a valid approach to conflict; that it is important to avoid nasty disagreements that make everyone feel awkward. There is also the knowledge that women who point out the things that bother them are nags. A nag, you’ll know if you’re from Kentucky and around horses like I was, is a horse, particularly a useless, old horse.
In sum, you don’t want to be a nag and you don’t want to be called a nag.
In the video below, Lily Myers confronts women issues—both communication and body image issues—by illustrating how women are encourage to accommodate and to absorb, creating space around themselves for protection. Give it a watch. It’ll make a little sad how true it is.
Today I realized that despite my best efforts to be quick on my toes and stern in the face of adversity, I am still inclined to follow the footsteps of Mom. Instead of bringing my concerns and aggravations to the person I have beef with, I unload on a few close individuals until I feel good enough to carry on like nothing is wrong (at least until the next time my concerns and aggravations start to choke me). Or when someone says something that cuts, I’m inclined to tend the wound and not say anything. I assume that the words weren’t meant to hurt me, even if they did seem malicious. I assume that if I said anything the speaker would apologize then add that I took it the wrong way.
How many times have women and men been told that they are being hypersensitive and that their feelings are, in essences, not valid?
the duck, hide n’sneak maneuver
So I got these arguing skills from my mother, what I’m calling the “Duck, Hide n’ Sneak” maneuver that enables you to avoid a fight. But where did my mother learn these skills? When will a woman be able to stand up for herself, especially to their family, without deserving hurtful and sexist names? How did I turn into this person who favors class over kick-ass, who apologizes for her truth and who actively exerts energy trying to keep her cool and pretend to be happy until its true? And, most importantly, is all this the reason for the 5-years of out of control ache I had as a teenager?
What’s worse is this wall in my arguing skills is seeping into my professional world. There have been instances when I have been over-worked, asked the same question multiple times or challenged for no other reason than—I suspect—the fact that I’m a female who knows more about something than a male co-worker. But dare I say something too forcefully or too bluntly?
If I do, I am reprimanded.
So I stop. I make my emails seem light and humorous even if I want to start bashing heads. There’s this guy in my office that is always late and always uninformed about his projects, but have I said anything to him about this? No. I give him judging looks and complain to “my people” about how it pisses me off that I have to pick up his slack. Then I feel bad for complaining, go out of my way to pat him on the back for the few things he does do well and give him credit for a small part of a project he did as if it were the crutch upon which the entire thing leaned.
But why? I have been written up for writing emails that were taken the wrong way. And I have been told to curb my tongue when it comes to standing up for myself and my work. I avoid confrontation, especially where my mother is involved, to Duck, Hide ‘n Sneak phrase, saying to myself “I know they would do/ say this.”
let’s stop being afraid of the world nag (and bitch for that matter)
So I’ll say something she and you are not expecting me to say—the oppression of women is not oppression by men or the misogyny of society. We are held back by linguistic lessons we learned from our mothers who learned from their mothers who learned from their mothers who learned from their mothers who didn’t have the right to vote in America. My suggestion for other woman (and for myself) is to stop complaining, stop feeling hurt, and stop being afraid of the word nag. As the devilishly smart vixen from Harry Potter said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.“