Day 23: Stone Cold Crazy

Authors Note:  This is the 23rd and final entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

I think that most of you who know me even a little bit could have called that this would be the one I addressed last in the series.  Here’s the entry:

14. Fearing the label “crazy.” There is no easier way to discredit a woman’s opinion or feelings than to accuse her of being overly emotional. “I don’t think this idea that women are ‘crazy,’ is based in some sort of massive conspiracy,” wrote author Yashar Ali in a blog for The Huffington Post in 2011. “Rather, I believe it’s connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis.” Being scared of the label only encourages women to silence themselves. Plus, everyone has a little bit of crazy inside of them — regardless of gender.

You know we’ve all faced that moment.  You are passionate about a subject.  In fact, it’s one that you truly champion and feel is part of your value system.  And then, you’re in a debate where you have to defend your opinion about the subject.  You become either direct or animated in your respond, and then – you hear this:

“Geez.  Calm down.  You don’t have to freak out about it.  You know I’m just teasing you.  No need to get crazy.”

In that one moment – you have been devalued, belittled and dismissed.  I don’t care what that person says – they are shutting you down.  You’ve been labeled as crazy.

No matter how you slice it, the term “crazy” is never used in a positive light.  Even if you’re talking about someone who is the life of the party and you say, “Wow, that Sarah, she’s just crazy!”, you’re still expressing concern or confusion about Sarah’s antics and/or behavior.  Take this into the professional realm, and when others in a meeting or on a project team call your ideas “crazy”, they’re labeling you as well.

“Crazy” means your ideas don’t matter.  “Crazy” means you are “less than” others in the group.  “Crazy” means you are too emotional, too irrational, or that someone simply doesn’t like your ideas, so you are dismissed.  “Crazy” means you are not normal.

Take this entry from Harris O’Malley’s blog entitled “On Labeling Women ‘Crazy’“:

“Crazy” Women

The association between women’s behavior and being labeled “crazy” has a long and infamous history in Western culture. The word “hysteria” — defined as “behavior exhibiting excessive or uncontrollable emotion, such as fear or panic” — is derived from the ancient Greek word “hystera,” meaning uterus. Until the early 20th century, female hysteria was the official medical diagnosis for a truly massive array of symptoms in women including but not limited to: loss of appetite, nervousness, irritability, fluid retention, emotional excitability, outbursts of negativity, excessive sexual desire and “a tendency to cause trouble.”

(Worth noting: much of the blame for “female hysteria” was placed on “wandering uterus syndrome” or other sexual “dysfunctions.” While this did eventually lead to the invention of the vibrator, one of the common cures was a clitorectomy.)

While some of the symptoms of “female hysteria” could be signs of legitimate (if misdiagnosed) mental health issues, most of it described male (as the medical field was a men-only profession up until the mid-19th century) discomfort with women’s behavior and sexuality. Calling it a medical issue meant that men didn’t have to respond to behavior that challenged male sensibilities or belief structures. Instead, labeling women as “hysterical” made it much easier to diminish women’s concerns and issues without having to pause to consider them as possibly being valid.

At it’s core, this term – “crazy” – is used to put women in our historic place – as hysterical, irrational “things” that are beneath the majority.  Men often throw this word around, as O’Malley states, without thinking about the consequences.  And women who have been socialized to internalize this type of “opinion shaming”, all too frequently dismiss the label as “no big deal”.

Well – it is a big deal.  How many of us would want our daughters/sisters/mothers/aunts/nieces/friends labeled as “crazy” simply for stating their opinions or expressing their ideas?  I know I wouldn’t, and I certainly don’t appreciate being dismissed in the fashion I describe above.  The sad thing is, that it continues to happen to this day – and it’s not simply other men that are brandishing the label.  Rather, other WOMEN are using this to describe their colleagues – largely out of insecurity and/or fear.

Stop it.

The next time you are tempted to call another woman crazy – stop.  It’s damaging, and it’s no less hurtful than calling her stupid, unworthy, or ignorant.  We cannot allow ourselves to damage each other in this way.  Men – call us out when we do it – but hold yourselves accountable, too.  If you are tempted to call a woman crazy – consider the why behind it.  Try and think of another – more accurate way – to describe the statement and/or idea.  Perhaps, “I’m not comfortable with your idea there.  Can you explain it a bit more?” is a better approach than simply saying, “You’re crazy.  You have no idea what you are talking about.”  The first approach is more inquisitive and invites debate.  The second shuts the person down, and labels them as stupid.

In the end – it’s no contest.  Kill the crazy label – end of discussion.  Use your words – but use the right ones.

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Day 21: All By Myself – Revisited

Authors Note:  This is the 21st entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

As we wind down 2013, and we start to reflect on what we want.  I challenge you to consider making a commitment to a relationship with yourself.  Consider the following:

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 7.38.29 PM

17. Fearing being alone. There are certain things you have control over — like trying to go on dates, and actively meeting new people — and others which you simply don’t. Finding a life partner (or even a temporary one) is one of those things. You can’t pinpoint when or where or how you’ll meet someone to spend your life with, so stop freaking yourself out over the idea that you never will. And there are far worse things than being alone. “The most profound relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves,” Shirley MacLaine once said. Preach.

Consider who you are and what you want.  Take time to reflect on the moments in 2013 that you truly listened to your inner voice and followed your heart.  Recall the moments that you embraced your dreams and fought for them.  And think about the times that you really championed your values.

This is how you get to know yourself – and how you become comfortable with you.  This is step one in being okay alone.

Alone doesn’t mean lonely.  We all get lonely – and we don’t have to be by ourselves to feel incredibly lonely.  Alone means just that – you simply aren’t with anyone else at the moment.  Sometimes this comes in small doses, sometimes for long stretches of time.  At the end of the day – getting to be comfortable with you really means getting to know yourself and what you love.

However, we aren’t born with this innate ability. Humans, as we know, are social animals.  We need contact with other people or we will become withdrawn and generally not-so-nice to be around at all.  I love this article from wikiHow on “How to Enjoy Being Alone: 12 Steps (with Pictures)“.  It’s got some great, simple advice on how to enjoy the most important – and longest-lived- relationship you will EVER have – the one with yourself.

So go look in the mirror.  Stare right into the face of the person looking back at you.  Don’t be afraid of them, but ask yourself, “Do I really know them?”  Then challenge yourself to take the time to do so – because I bet you’ll find that they’re a pretty cool person.

Enjoy, and we’ll chat again tomorrow!

JPK

Day 20: The Big Chill

Time to embrace who we really are, ladies.  Consider this post this evening:

13. Trying to be “chill.” Maybe you truly are the “cool girl” who loves nothing more than kicking back with a six-pack and a movie. But for those of us who don’t possess the “chill” gene, let’s stop trying. Striving to be the mellow girl at all times keeps us from expressing our needs, desires and opinions.

Look – I get it.  You meet new people – you want to be the “best you” you can be.  So you start to gloss over things that bother you.  You overlook things you normally wouldn’t.  You go along with the group to do something that you normally would immediately say “no” to.  If you’re in a new relationship – magnify this times about a thousand.  I know some of you out there don’t do this – but the reality is that most women do.

We’ve been socialized our whole lives to be what others want us to be.  When we were small, we lived for the “good girl” moments – those times when we were praised for doing exactly what our parents or other authority figures wanted us to do.  These rewards sustained us – and for many of us – they still do.  Many times, we go along with what is expected out of fear.  “Will I ever find another (job, partner, opportunity) like this again?  If I don’t – what will I do?  It would be better to just go along with it – it’ll all work out better this way.”

Sound familiar?

I fall victim to this all too often – and when I do, it really makes me angry.  Just today, I actually asked my husband for permission to buy something.  For those of you who know me – you know this is NOT normal – but it just fell out of my mouth like I was asking about the weather.  I fell into that damned people-pleasing trap that I had been encouraged to stay in my entire life.  Blissfully my husband gave me this incredulous look like, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?!?”  I immediately realized what I had done, and it left me cold.

I can tell you for a fact the primary reason that my first marriage did not work is because I played the “chill” or “good” girl. I followed what I thought I was supposed to be, liked what others liked, did what I thought my first partner expected, shut my opinion down, and  as a result I completely lost sight of myself, my needs and what I really wanted.  I talked a great talk (I seriously should have gone into acting) – I said I wanted kids, that I wanted a house, that I wanted all of the “normal” things every woman “should want” in a marriage, family, community, etc.  For a while, I thought I was supposed to want these things – and so I began to believe that I truly did.  But something was always wrong for me.  And finally, one day I figured it out.

I was trying so hard to fit the definition of what others wanted me to be, that I completely lost sight of myself.

It was a chilling moment for me – and one that I still fight every day to not repeat – at work, at home, and with friends.  It’s a tough fight.  I have very specific and divisive opinions – and I know that I run the risk of alienating others when I express them.  However, at the end of the day, I realize that if I don’t give voice to my voice – I am not being authentic.  I am not being me.

So make a commitment with me – keep trying to fight off the urge to follow what others want for you instead of what you truly want for yourself. You will face this often – but remember, you are in ultimate control of how you respond and what you choose. You have to be honest with yourself in these moments.  But when they come – if you feel uneasy – step away.  Take time to consider your response.  Search who you are and what you believe and then answer and/or make a decision.

Perhaps then you will rediscover yourself, and when you do, keep her close – she’s ridiculously valuable.

Until tomorrow,

JPK

Day 19: It’s My Business

Yep – it’s time to look at yourself again.  Here we go:

12. Judging your own sex life. No one needs to know your “number.” And honestly, you probably care a whole lot more about what the sex you’re having (or not having) supposedly says about you than anyone else does.

Yesterday, I discussed the post about judging other people’s sex lives.  Now we’ll talk about judging our own.  

Remember high school (okay – for those of you for whom high school was a traumatic experience, we’ll wait for you to climb out from underneath your couch)?  Remember all of the judging of others’ intimate activities?  Did she or didn’t she?  Words like, “slut”, “prude”, “whore”, “tease”, “goody two shoes”, and far more slanderous terms were thrown around to describe classmates’ sexual activity.

Remember the toll all of this gossip and back-biting took on you, and how you began to view your own intimate or sexual (or lack thereof) activity?  Think about the endless amount of worrying you did about whether or not you were “on par” with other girls in your school.  Think about the questions you would ask yourself (or secretly talk to your best friend about) concerning whether or not you “should or you shouldn’t”.  And remember the embarrassment your would feel when others at school would start to call you names, or tease you?

I bet you felt less-than.  I bet you felt confused.  I bet you felt as if you were doing something wrong, even if you weren’t doing anything at all.  And I bet you thought there was something wrong with you.  I know I did.

I remember a time when a group of girls in high school were asking me about my “first time”.  I didn’t know what to say.  I hadn’t had a “first time” yet, but was scared to say so for fear of being made fun of.  So I used my typical defense mechanism – I made some wise crack and deflected the conversation away from me and on to something else.  Later on that night, I remember feeling self-conscious, confused, and really badly about myself – and I had absolutely no reason to.

First of all – there wasn’t anything wrong with me then – and there’s nothing wrong with me now.  Women tend to get hit with this “pressure” and “double standard” throughout their lives, and we are judged more severely for our intimate activities than our male colleagues.  While men are pressured to talk about their sexual encounters – women are negatively perceived should we choose to have them.  

I think this post on the list truly is one of empowerment.  The business of your sex life is just that – YOURS.  If you choose to share – then that’s your choice.  If you choose not to – that’s your choice, too.  We make our choices, and reach our own comfort level with intimacy when we want to.  If you really think there’s a problem, then you reach that conclusion and there are others who can help you.  But at the end of the day – it’s your life.  You are empowered to be who you want to be – both in and outside of the proverbial bedroom.  

On that last note, if your own personal Regina George has an issue with it – hit her with a bus (just make it a small, Tonka-toy-sized bus.  That’s less lethal).  Just make sure to have big hair – so you can keep your secrets in it.

Until tomorrow,

JPK

Day 17: Albatross or Songbird

ImageAuthors Note:  This is the 17th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

It’s time to talk about relationships that run the course, cycle out, or simply fade away.   Consider this post today:

20. Holding on to toxic friendships. Banish any Regina George-like frenemies from your life ASAP. Life is too short to waste time with people who make you feel like crap.

Let’s start with this.  You are important.  Your opinions and values are important.  And your self-worth and self-concept are important.

Now – let’s move on to this.  You are a person.  People grow and change as they mature.  Think about yourself at age 10.  Were you the same at 10 as you were at 16?  Did you need the same things, like the same things, or have the same self-concept at 10 as you did 16?  What about at age 25?  30?  35?  50?  60?  Do you have the same skills? Are your interests the same?  Do you need to be challenged in the same way?

And finally – are you different now than you were then?

I’m going to guess that the answer to these questions moves in the direction that you are different now than you were when you were younger.  I bet you like some different things, and that you live in a different way.  I’m also going to guess that you would really like to surround yourself with people who make you better, and stronger, and more fulfilled.

However, I’m also going to guess that you have at least one relationship you may be hanging on to purely out of obligation, out of habit, or possibly out of fear.

Please know, I’m not talking about those people that you cherish and that you’ve known since childhood.  Many of these folks in our lives help keep us grounded in a way that connects us to our youth and our beginning.  My sisters and some key friends from high school and college are prime examples of this (Cherie, Stephanie, Sarah, Renee, Tiffany, Shannon, Ed, Alison, Sue, and many others play this role for me).  They knew me when I was very young, and they know me now.  They know my core – and they know when I’m not being true to that core.

However, there are those in our lives that we simply outgrow.  You know who I mean – and I bet you have a few in your lives now.  These are the people that when you interact with them leave you drained and exhausted.  These are the people you have to gear yourself up to talk to, instead of being excited about hearing their voices.  These are the people that when you are in town, you secretly hope won’t find out you’re around so you don’t “have to see them”.  These are also the people you stay connected with on social media that do not add value to your experience; rather, they detract and frustrate you (beyond academic or cognitive discourse) and make your life a more negative space.  Finally, these are often the people who are not supportive, and who passive-aggresively (or sometimes overtly) tear you down in order to make themselves feel better.

I’m telling you to let them go – and let them go now.

You may know the saying – “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  What I take from this quote is that each relationship is different – and has a different purpose.  You will always have people who stay with you for a long time – for a lifetime, even.  You will also have people who stay with you (and with whom you stay) for a short while, or a season.  And you will have still others who are part of your life for some purpose – to teach you something, for you to assist, or for you to better understand – and then this relationship is over.  The season and reason category sometimes are the ones we hang onto far too long.

Remember that we learn about ourselves through all relationships – positive and negative.  If we hold onto those negative relationships – we do nothing but stunt our own growth and close ourselves off from new, more nurturing and possibly the life-long relationships we crave (and need).  So think about your current relationships.  Are there ones that need to go?  Let them go.  Are there ones that need to be nourished because they really are for a lifetime?  Feed them.  And are there ones that have simply run the course of a season?  Then acknowledge the gift of their time and their lessons, and move on.

As I said in the beginning, you are important.  Your opinions and values are important.  Your self-worth and self-concept are important.  And you deserve to be surrounded by those who understand this – and to whom you give this same gift of understanding.

Release the albatrosses, and live with the songbirds, for these are the friends who truly make your heart sing.

Day 6: Do NOT Look Behind the Curtain

Authors Note:  This is the sixth entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

Here’s the entry for today:

6. Feeling like an impostor when you accomplish something professionally. Women are more likely than men to feel like “impostors” at work, often doubting whether we deserve the successes we achieve. Start taking your accomplishments at face value. You got that new job or promotion or grade or public recognition because you were worthy of it.

Ah, the Impostor Syndrome.  Is there anything women experience that is more frustrating, undermining, or self-defeating?  I doubt it.  Seriously – undermining ourselves by convincing both self and others that we don’t deserve our own success, or that we aren’t worthy to celebrate our successes?   Would you ever encourage this type of negative self-talk/behavior in anyone else?  I’m betting the answer is “no”.

Then why do we continue to do it to ourselves?

Much like any addiction (and this is an addictive or habitual issue), the first step is admitting it to ourselves.  I’ll admit freely that I suffer from Impostor Syndrome.  I devalue my role in a project when congratulated, I shy away from praise, I beat myself up for every single tiny bitty mistake made (not to mention taking full blame instead of owning my true role in the issue) and continue to push forward instead of looking at what has been accomplished and celebrating the results.  Unfortunately, I am not alone here.  So many of us – especially women – suffer from this syndrome, and we don’t even realize (or want to admit) it.

Do you wonder if you suffer from the Impostor Syndrome?  Read through this post and take the quick quiz.  It will help you understand the different facets of Impostor Syndrome, and it has some great tips to follow.

The bottom line for me was that I needed to figure out a way to celebrate my accomplishments, own them, and then move forward and on to the next thing.  The pauses for celebration are important – as each one helps to break down the walls of self-doubt and moves me forward on my journey to be the best (and the most) that I can be.  Without this ability, I cannot truly grow into the person I want to be.

Take a moment and understand how you may fall into the trappings of the Impostor Syndrome.  Help others take note of when they do the same.  Perhaps with some help and work we can move through (and past) this, and finally own how successful and accomplished we truly are.

I Want What I Want…(wait, is that okay?)

(Cross posted to “SA Women Lead” – sawomenlead.com )

Time to chalk up another win for Twitter.

Not just for being a great social networking platform (for me, that’s a given).  The win comes from Twitter’s ability – yet again – to make me think about something I would not normally consider.  This time – it caused me to consider my own comfort level with the concept of ambition.

Recently, a quote was tweeted by Bobbie Denise Cole, a fantastic young professional in residence life, that talked about ambition.  Here’s the tweet:

Bobbie Denise Cole @BDeniseCole Bobbie Denise Cole

“A defiant charge to women to ‘reclaim ambition as a virtue.’ -Debra Condren #wihsng #wlsalt

13 Feb via Twitter for BlackBerry®  

This call, from researcher, author and executive coach Debra Condren, is something difficult I believe for women to do.  Ambition in and of itself is not a dirty word. However, ambition in women has long been perceived by women and men alike as a negative combination.  Generally socialized to be conciliatory and peace-makers, women are not “supposed” to be ambitious; rather, we are expected to “play nice”, “let others win” and be “happy with what we have”.  This relational straight-jacket has long relegated women to play second fiddle to men in a variety of venues, most notably the workplace.  In stark contrast, ambition in men is considered to be something to admire.  Questions like, “What are your ambitions?” are correlated with positive perceptions for men, whereas the same questions are viewed negatively for women, unless the “ambitions” expressed by women are acceptable female goals (i.e. “My ambition is to have a family”).  Research about this information is available in both Dr. Condren’s book, Ambition is Not a Dirty Word, and Sara Laschever and Linda Babcock’s book, Women Don’t Ask).

Something about all of these perceptions, expectations and assumptions really leaves me cold.  And quite frankly – it’s a load of crap.

Why is it that it’s NOT okay for me to state publicly what I want out of life?  Why is it, simply because of my gender, I am not allowed to openly discuss what my long-term goals are.  And, if I am viewed as assertively pursuing those goals, why I am viewed quite negatively because of it? 

I realize that many people reading this entry right now would immediately say, “We would never view a woman in aggressive pursuit of her goals in a negative way.”  To you, I offer this challenge.  Really think about the last time you interacted with a woman who was openly and articulately clear about her goals, and was working very hard to achieve them.  Perhaps she was volunteering to take on projects and tasks.  Perhaps she was openly expressing her concern about an issue facing the team at work or at an organizational meeting.  Maybe she was offering up specific and definitive solutions to some problem facing your organization.  Or perhaps, after an issue was brought up and others in the room negated her perspective, she kept bringing it up in an attempt to convince the group the direction was the right one to pursue?

What were your thoughts about her then?

Reflect on that for a moment.  If you’re like me – that type of reflection is like a bucket of ice water being dumped on my head. I have found myself, thankfully in my own mind and not through external means, saying things like, “Who does she think she is?” and “Can’t she just stop – she’s really coming on way too strong.”  Well – too strong for who?  For me?  Or for the society that continues to categorize women as passive, compliant and peace-making members of our society? Or maybe for both?

My challenge for anyone wishing to take it is simple.  The next time a woman speaks up or stands up for herself – celebrate and support her willingness to do so.  If a woman undermines herself as they discuss their dreams or goals – encourage them to stop belittling their own abilities and to start championing their skills and contributions.  Sponsor, don’t just mentor a woman, and talk about them to other people as vehemently and in similar terms as you would a male colleague.  For women – own who you are and where you want to go, and don’t apologize for doing so.  It’s your life – make it count and do so on your own terms.

The truth is, women’s voices are important, but so is their right and ability to own, voice and aggresively pursue their dreams.  We all need to embrace and support this idea if things are to truly change not only for women, but also for men – so let’s start now.