Editor’s Note: This story is a part of The Shakerite: Women’s Edition that was published virtually in May 2022. Due to a temporary change in the teacher adviser along with COVID-19 restrictions, The Shakerite decided to proceed with our print edition virtually. This is one of ten stories in the edition.
I am an opinionated person. I am proud of what I think of the world, and that I am informed enough to present my ideas to others, so, I do. Constantly. No, really, that isn’t an exaggeration. I jump at any chance to say “Well actually, I think…” My friends and family often crack jokes about my complete inability to just be quiet. In reality, the joke is on them— I can, I’m simply not going to. Now, some might view these harmless quips as rude, but they are never in mean spirits and I continue to broadcast my theories, judgments and notions, unbothered by my loved ones’ comedic asides. In fact, most often their jests are met with a peel of laughter from my consistently moving mouth, but, one day, I noticed something.
The year was 2014 and I was in 4th grade. Picture a little Marin with glasses, a banged bob (the horror!), and an unchanged personality. In short, different look, same old opinionated me. My class had just wrapped up a discussion on whatever it is 4th graders talk about and as per usual, I had delivered my thoughts on the matter. Now, I was quite pleased with myself. I thought I had made valid points and done so much more eloquently than anyone else in the class (little Marin was a bit self-involved). I was helping to clean up, looking forward to snack-time when I was pulled aside by my teacher. She asked me to stop sharing my ideas so much. Further than that, she asked me not to lead discussions when I was in groups, or even give as many suggestions for projects. I was baffled. I knew that I talked a lot, but I always took care to make sure everyone else had a chance to speak too. I didn’t know what to say so I asked “why?” My teacher, who truly was wonderful, and I’m sure meant nothing by what she said, informed me that I was being “bossy” and “overbearing,” and that my “behavior” wasn’t appropriate for a young lady.
At first, I didn’t think anything of this. I questioned myself, “Is this true? Have I overpowered my peers, am I being bossy?” As I considered this, I found myself in a constant state of observation. Over the next few days, I sleuthed for clues trying to determine if I was in the wrong. I came up with two answers:
No, I was not being “overbearing” or “bossy.” I truly was just sharing my thoughts and ideas, I wasn’t domineering the conversation or forcing others to agree with me.
I noticed something that has stayed with me in the years since. There were several other students in my class who were doing the same thing as me. They too were stating beliefs, directing conversations and taking leadership roles in groups and projects. But, there was one key difference between me and the others. They were boys.
After observing this, I was in a state of disbelief. Surely I hadn’t been called out because I was a girl? There must have been some mistake! Spoiler alert folks, there wasn’t, and I had been.
In the years that followed, I consistently noticed the same thing. I would contribute to a discussion, express my opinion, and in many cases “take charge” of a project or group experience. When doing so, I always tried to be polite. I ensured others’ opinions were heard, listened to everyone’s ideas, and on more than one occasion took a step back when I noticed I was being a bit “controlling.”
But, it didn’t seem to matter what I did, or how much I accommodated. I was still labeled by teachers, friends, classmates and rivals as the loud, bossy, arrogant little girl while my male counterparts were celebrated as strong, confident and knowledgeable gentlemen. Keep in mind that this was all before high school, I was in 7th and 8th grade and these comments were constant and, to be honest, incredibly damaging to my self-esteem. There was a period where I changed how I spoke and silenced my voice just to avoid hearing one more insult hurled my way. Even that didn’t help and eventually, I became angry. It would have been one thing if it had just been me, I could have dealt with that, but the same thing was happening to other girls I knew. The worst part was, I had no clue how to fix the issue.
Flash forward to present day, I’m in 11th grade and the same thing is still happening. As I’ve grown older, I have learned to ignore the criticism for the most part. I haven’t stopped being who I am and I have adopted the “bossy” label as my own. I’ve found taking it as a compliment really baffles the commenter and tends to make them think about what they’ve said. Still, even now there are times when a comment is made and I can’t ignore it.
Sometimes the pestering will feel so frequent or I’ll be called something so disgusting that my confidence falters, and I’m left with a sick feeling in my stomach. One particular instance stands out in my mind when I was called an “attention-seeking b***h” for the first time by a male classmate. Please notice that I used the word “first.” When it initially happened, I was devastated, but it has become so commonplace that I am more than used to it and I’m sure I am not the only one.
I’ve been forced to realize that dealing with ridicule for being a strong, confident, woman is normal in our society. It is so ingrained in our world that I think most of us don’t realize it’s happening, or that we all do it. Comments were made predominantly by guys, but girls say the same things to each other constantly. I’ve heard conversations amongst my female classmates along the lines of “don’t speak that much” or “don’t state that opinion, it’s arrogant” and seen us label each other as “attention-seeking” for wanting our opinions to be heard.
Here’s the thing ladies, being inquisitive, speaking up for ourselves and flaunting our intelligence should be exactly the kind of behavior appropriate for a young girl. It’s time for each and every one of us to accept this, but, we can’t do that alone. If we really want change as we claim, every one of us needs to take a look at the role we play in the issue. Pay attention to the comments you make and how you view yourself. The next time a female classmate speaks up about something, listen to what she is saying and ask yourself if her “bossiness” is really that. This applies to students, parents and teachers. We can’t fix things in a day, a month, or even a year, but we can start. As for me, I’ll continue speaking up for what I believe in, uplifting the other women I know, and sharing my own opinion. If that means being the bossy, attention-seeking, b***h until things change, well, I’m more than happy to bear the title for all of us, in fact, I’ll wear it like a crown.