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17 February 2014 @ 02:09 pm
On hesitance and power and apologies  

First, Melissa Marr talks about emails that start by apologizing for asking questions: “Please don’t apologize for being inquisitive or for having opinions. Be proud that you’re curious and clever. It’s good to have thoughts & questions. It’s just one if the many ways that people can be awesome. Be assertive. Admit to yourselves that you do, in fact, kick ass.”

On her email page Tamora Pierce says the same thing, only differently:Please don’t refer to yourself or what you say as ‘pathetic,’ ‘boring,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘ordinary,’ ‘insignificant,’ ‘weird,’ ‘strange’ … In this wonderful world, there will be people lining up to put you down, belittle you, and treat you badly. Please don’t give them a head start by talking that way about yourself.”

Then Idina Menzel talks more about why women tend to hide their power and retreat behind apologies: “… where Elsa and I meet, is wrestling with being a strong, powerful, extraordinary woman. Also, we worry about having to hide that, in fear of hurting other people. I understand and relate to that. I think as women, the smarter and more powerful we are, the more it can be threatening and alienating to other people … It’s not until now, and in the past 10 years, honestly, that I’m finally not apologizing for all the different things that I do.”

For many women, not apologizing for our opinions and our power doesn’t always come easily, what with the people on the one hand who tell us (directly or indirectly) that we’re getting above ourselves and those on the others who tell us that we’re hurting them by being too forceful. But being confident doesn’t make us unkind or uppity, and neither does owning the things we’re genuinely good at without apology.

I know too well that it takes work not to apologize for the many things that don’t require apology (existing and taking up space at all being not the least of them), what with all the training we get to apologize at every turn. But these habits can be unlearned. It takes work, and it’s an ongoing process. But I believe, strongly and without apology, that it’s worth doing.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

writerjennwriterjenn on February 17th, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC)
In ODD GIRL OUT, Rachel Simmons delves into the reasons that girls bully one another when they do. One interesting thing she found was that it's not always a case of "popular" girls ganging up on "nerdy girls." It is very often a case of girls trying to take down "the girl who thinks she's all that." In reading this, I realized I have seen this happen myself.

And I wonder if it's part of the reason women do this. That we socialize one another this way, and pound down the nail that sticks up.
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 17th, 2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
I think there's also an insecurity behind it, and behind leveling in general: If she's doing all that, what does that say about me? But if I can pull her down, then I don't have to wonder why I'm not doing (whatever it is), too.

I've seen this happen when writers make their first sales (and have experienced it myself, years ago), in reactions from peers ... never thought about whether or not it was gendered before. It'd be interesting to know whether it's part of a larger socialization issue or not.

Edited at 2014-02-17 10:42 pm (UTC)
Marissa Lingenmrissa on February 17th, 2014 10:35 pm (UTC)
I find it fascinating that both "ordinary" and "strange" are being used to mean "I'm nobody, don't pay attention to me."
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 17th, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Heh. I hadn't thought about that, but yeah.

Like when feeling insecure we define whatever we are to be wrong, whether it's like everyone else or not like everyone else.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on February 17th, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Oh lord. Apologizing is a bone deep defense mechanism, meant to ward off blows. I find myself apologizing for apologizing even though my dad hasn't laid a hand on me in almost fifty years--the poor man has been gone nearly twenty.
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 17th, 2014 10:47 pm (UTC)
It gets wired in deep, and isn't always an easy thing to push past. I find it hard without physical blows in the mix, so can't imagine how hard it is with them.

And yet I can't think of any real time when defensive apologizing has protected me as an adult. There's this idea that if we take the emotional blow first, others won't strike, yet it rarely works that way. Well, except maybe that there's some mutual reassuring that will follow an apology in certain social situations? (But not at all consistently or reliably.)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on February 17th, 2014 10:49 pm (UTC)
I discovered as a teen that sometimes the quick habit of apology could ward some bullies.

It's very hard to eradicate those old habits--hard to be conscious of them, to curb the flash of old defensive emotion.
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 18th, 2014 02:36 am (UTC)
Consciousness seems to be the first step, but I'm not sure having same makes it any easier ...
mmegaera: Cross-Countrymmegaera on February 17th, 2014 11:43 pm (UTC)
I sometimes find myself saying things like, "I'm sorry, but this is really cool." Even when there's no one else to hear me. I've been trying to break myself of that habit for a very long time (the saying I'm sorry, that is -- stopping the talking to myself is a lost cause [g]).
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 18th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
Oh, we writers all talk to ourselves one way or another. :-)

I find breaking the habit is an ongoing process. I've gotten way better about it, but I still need to remind myself regularly, just the same.
mmegaerammegaera on February 18th, 2014 05:24 pm (UTC)
And here I thought the talking to myself was an occupational hazard -- of being a librarian. Most librarians I know talk to themselves, too.

I guess between my former occupation and my present vocation, learning not to talk to myself is pretty much a lost cause.
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 18th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
Might as well embrace it!
metteharrisonmetteharrison on February 18th, 2014 02:19 am (UTC)
Today, I was talking to my kids about swimming at a local pool. I said, "I've never seen another woman who swims faster than me, though there are several men who are." My son, 16, said, "I hope I don't sound arrogant when I say," which is a frequent family quote from IT Crowd, but usually in reference to me. The funny thing is, I think I still apologize plenty, and I used to have a policy of refusing to ever mention to people that I wrote novels, that I had a PhD, or that I did triathlon competitively, depending on which environment I was in, because I didn't want to intimidate others, especially women. Men, on the other hand, tend to find me more interesting the more they hear about me. At dinner over the weekend, a male writer friend introduced me and then said to one of the other women, "don't bother to compare yourself to Mette. She makes us all feel like slackers." He meant this as a compliment, I think, but I felt immediately uncomfortable around the other women because I worried they would see me as bragging (even though he said the words) or that I was stuck up somehow.
Janni Lee Simner: arctic foxjanni on February 18th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
There's this notion that as women it's our job to keep other people from being uncomfortable, even if that means being uncomfortable ourselves, or hiding our own light or the things we've worked for and have no desire to hide. Socially, it's a really awkward thing, to be asked to choose between owning our strength and power and genuine achievements, and protecting others from potential discomfort. More and more, I find it unreasonable that I live in a society that asks me to make that choice more often than it asks my male counterparts to make it.

What really needs to go away is this notion that one person's achievements are somehow a direct commentary on the next person's failures, even when it's only the achievements being discussed. I think this is something we need to remember from both sides, actually, and so to avoid feeling inferior at others' successes, too.

We all have enough struggles of our own that we ought to be able to enjoy the successes and our knowledge and even our ordinary considered opinions without guilt or apology. But there's a lot of pressure not to do this.
mondermonder on February 18th, 2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
I find that it seems to go along with the pigeon holing of people as "just x". In my daily life offline, I am "just a stay at home mom". People I meet as I go about my day see me as only a stay at home mom, and any time they find out that I have other interests or skills, or even that I worked before I had my kids they visibly can't reconcile it with the "just a mom" they see in front of them.

It actually has gone hand and hand with the observation I had shortly after having my first child, working women, and working mothers I knew suddenly treated me like I'd checked my brain at the door the moment I chose to stay a home. At the time I became a non-person. It was an interesting moment.