The other day I tweeted something calling myself “pushy” which got quite an interesting reaction, and it made me think about gender politics.*
I was raised in a way that is perceived as stereotypically quite male. My father was a mathematician, my family numbers several scientists, and I was taught maths and encouraged into science and engineering-related play (Lego, and building robots) from literally the crib onwards.** I was allowed to dress however I wanted and within reason do whatever I wanted, which was mostly building things and running around exploring and climbing trees. My school encouraged my aptitude for maths, science and engineering. And because I didn’t have anyone trying to censor me, I never put limits on my own ambitions or personality.
I was fortunate to grow up completely unaware these were considered “not girl things” or that my personality was/is not “feminine”. I grew up thinking there were no boundaries on my ability to achieve. And then I got disabled and everything came to a complete halt for a long time, and when I started to recover I felt that I’d wasted so much time, I never wanted to have brakes on me again. When I started writing something just clicked, and I didn’t see any reason not to throw myself into it with everything I have. I was, and perhaps still am, quite naive in assuming my writing was the only thing that matters.
It should be the only thing that matters.
When I started writing, everyone told me how hard it was. Writing isn’t hard; dealing with people is hard. For the first time I’m having to deal with other people having opinions about me and coming off a lifetime of being mostly invisible that’s really fucking weird. I’ve been told I talk too much, that I’m too ambitious, too open about being ambitious, too forward, too shy, too angry, too apologetic, that I talk too much about feminism and disability rights. I’ve been told I’m a role model and an inspiration and a personal hero. It’s a lot to shoulder.
Leslie Knope is my personal hero. It’s so refreshing to see a woman on TV who is smart and ambitious and unashamedly pushy. Leslie Knope is so extra it’s hilarious, but her ambitions are taken seriously. Be More Lesley.
Early in my acting career I was in a horrific fringe production where the cast were responsible for rewriting the “script” (a dire foreign language screenplay that had been Babelfished into English) into something vaguely understandable. Three of us argued for major edits, the others felt their job was to create as literal a translation as possible. When the production fell apart (for various reasons), one of the other actresses called me out for being “aggressive” but didn’t say a word to the men who had been arguing far more loudly and lengthily. It’s depressing to realise your behaviour is considered “pushy” or “aggressive” because of your gender. Do men ever get called pushy? Do men care if they’re thought of as being pushy?
Society conditions women to be nice, be caring, and to feel responsible for managing others’ emotions. Sometimes it can be hard not to feel pressure to make sure other people are comfortable, and blaming yourself if they’re not. In the past I’ve been guilty of not standing up for myself, letting people walk over me and put me in situations I wasn’t comfortable with, being too apologetic, and then getting angry at them for my inability to speak up. It’s such a passive aggressive thing to do, and quite a martyr thing, and it’s so toxic. But I’ve realised that as long as I behave according to my own standards and boundaries, it’s not my job police anyone else’s feelings. Be respectful of others, yes. But not try to predict or pre-apologise or second guess what people are thinking.
Last year a married co-worker kept aggressively hitting on me, and when I confronted him to tell him to stop, he turned it on me and tried to make out that I’d been pursuing him and he’d been too nice to tell me no. Which: fuck that. It ended up being a pretty good life lesson, and that life lesson really is: fuck that. You’re a grown man, you’re a decade older than me, a foot taller, you come from a wealthy and privileged background, and you’re in a position of power over me. Don’t play the victim and pretend you’re just too innocent and helpless and nice*** to stand up to some random woman. Take responsibility for your actions.
So I’ve decided I’m not going to give headspace to it any more. I’m quite self-aware. I have good boundaries and a decent ability to read people and read a room. I can tell when I’m not wanted and the last thing I’d ever want is to be somewhere where I’m not welcome. If I’m being too pushy, it’s on you to tell me. But there’s nothing wrong with being pushy.
Pushy women rule the world.
*Everything makes me think about gender politics.
**My dad put posters of the times tables over my crib and used to give me a pound for reciting them correctly.
***Nice Guy tm