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 22: Obligation or Opportunity?

Authors Note:  This is the 22nd 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.

ImageDuring this time of the year, chances are many of us have been traveling around to visit family, friends, and others with whom we have a chance to connect as we travel back to our childhood and/or family homes.  As we do this – and as we wind down our travel time – consider this:

21. Spending time with people out of obligation. Just because you spent every waking moment of your elementary school days with someone doesn’t mean you have anything in common with her now. There’s no need to see every old friend and third cousin who passes through your city. Be intentional about who you spend your time with and allow yourself to let some relationships fade away naturally.

This one goes hand in hand with the post relating to entry number 20 – “Day 17: Albatross or Songbird” – when we talked about cutting off/banishing toxic friendships/relationships with your life – and entry number 2 – “Day 2: Affirmative Action” – where we discuss saying “yes” to everyone even when you don’t want to do something.  However, this one goes in a little bit of a different direction – in this case, what we’re really talking about is a sense of obligation.

When was the last time you went back to visit your family, and you heard that one of your old elementary or high school friends was in town?  Or better yet – someone’s first cousin, three times removed, was visiting, and they’d really “love it if you’d stop by” (even though the last time you saw this person was in 3rd grade and you have zero contact with them now)?  Unlike saying “yes” to everything because you don’t want to – in these instances, I tend to have this feeling that goes something like this – “I really don’t want to go – but I SHOULD go – because it’s (family/friend/etc.).  If I don’t, (fill in the name of relative or other friend) will be really upset with me.”

Talk about issues colliding!  Here we have a situation in which you DON’T want to do something, that you are possibly connecting with people who add zero value to you at the present moment (or who maybe never did except when you were FIVE), and the “good girl syndrome” all blending together in an obligation casserole.  I mean – how much guilt, regret, disappointment, etc., can you handle all at once?  

Evidently – quite a bit.

These moments happen to us all.  At these times, I tend to focus on what is important to me.  Do I really need to/want to connect with this person? Maybe or maybe not.  Is this a possible relationship that I can reconnect with and really learn from? Could be.  Is this a relationship that – when I was active in it before – brought me joy and/or something more, or that I contributed positively to?  Possibly.

When I consider these things – I come back to what fulfills me and brings me joy.  But I also consider the joy of the other person as well.  I end up splitting these moments at about 50/50.  Sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes – I’m just too tired to function and I know that I’d be a horrible companion/company for the evening, so I spare my grade school friend and/or relative the bear of dealing with a grumpy JPK.  Other times – I change my mindset and embrace the possible.  I’ve rekindled some amazing connections this way.  

The point of all of this rambling is simple – you have to do what is best for you at that moment.  Go if you want to – or if you feel ready to go . Don’t if you don’t want to.  Never let the lone sentiment of obligation rule your decision, for if you do, you will become a slave to it, and that will never bring you or anyone else around you joy.

How do you handle situations like this?

JPK 

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:

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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 18.5 and 19.5: The (se)X Factor

We have one more thing to cover regarding the two previous posts, hence the next .5 entries. There’s a third party at play when it comes to the sexualization of women. There’s you, there’s other people, and then there’s the (se)X Factor – the media.

It is no secret that girls are sexualized at a very young age. Don’t believe me? Check out this report from the American Psychological Association on the sexualization of girls. The report clearly shows how the over-sexualized images in the media, marketing, advertising and entertainment venues – including toys and toy distributors – causes negative consequences in the following ways:

* Cognitive and Emotional Consequences
* Mental and Physical Health
* Sexuality
* Attitudes and Beliefs, and
* Impact on Others and on Society

So what can we do about it? The media, fashion, entertainment and marketing industries are so huge – and any change to their winning formula will meet with significant resistance. Remember the following quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

With this in mind – the first thing you can do is boycott any product or service that sexualized girls. Stop buying the Barbies. Don’t watch “Dance Moms” and boycott any items that advertise on this or other shows like it. These small steps send a message and hit these industries where it hurts. Secondly – take a public stand whenever you can against this practice – at your kids’ schools, locally or even on the national or international stage. Third – examine your own practices and check your language, attitudes and behaviors to ensure you aren’t perpetuating any stereotypes on your own.

We have to stop this cycle, or this will continue to oppress, stereotype and hold back our girls. I’m not willing to sit back and let that happen without a fight.

Are you?

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 18: Let’s Talk About Sex

Time for a little Salt-n-Pepa moment:

11. Judging other women’s sex lives. No woman deserves to be put down for who she sleeps with, how many people she sleeps with or how she chooses to express her sexuality. Next time you’re about to call another woman a “prude” or a “slut” just zip your lips. Even Miley Cyrus and her twerking shouldn’t be slut-shamed.

When it comes to the subject of sex – we are often simultaneously self-righteous and self-conscious.  On the one hand, we won’t talk about sex because it makes us feel uncomfortable. “That’s a private matter” we say in our own heads, all the while squirming in our chairs and outwardly giggling like goofballs.  On the other hand, when we look at other people being sexual in a manner that is different from our own, or talking about their own sex lives, or acting out their own sensuality in their own way, we default to judgement mode, at which point we begin censoring people and intentionally trying to make them feel as if they are doing something “wrong”.

Wrong according to whom?  You?  Some general “moral code” out there?  For those of you unfamiliar with slut-shaming – check out this link.  In general, slut-shaming is the act of making anyone feel guilty or inferior for having certain sexual desires or behaviors that differ from traditional gender expectations.  I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty subjective to me.  What is traditional?  How is your sexual behavior or desire any “better” or “more right” than mine?  And whose morals are we talking about ?

I’m right there with you.  This is not a subject that is comfortable to discuss, and anything that seems strange or weird makes me feel weird and sometimes uncomfortable.  But guess what?  That’s my issue – not anyone else’s.  Miley Cyrus?  Yep – that business on the MTV Video Music Awards was really uncomfortable for me to watch.  So was Robin Thicke’s performance – but if I’m being honest – I was more uncomfortable watching Miley.  The difference is that Miley’s a woman – so she gets held to a different standard that Robin, who continues to sing about women in his misogynistic, sexist way – and unfortunately I fall victim to the double-standard as it’s been reinforced in me for a very long time (thanks so much, society).  It’s something I have to continually work on – and it’s not easy.

Long story short – if you find yourself feeling this way – it’s more about you than it is about them.  Stop for a moment and think about the why behind your reaction.  Are you uncomfortable?  Think about the “why” behind your comfort level.  Are you angry?  Try and think about why you might be angry.  Are you with your child and she’s asking questions about something she sees?  Chances are you’re probably anxious.  Simply by pausing before responding, and reflecting on why you feel the way you do, might help stop you from saying something you may later regret.

Everybody has different sexual desires – and who are we to judge if they are “right” or “moral” or “appropriate”?  I doubt you want someone judging your own behaviors – I know I wouldn’t.