A friend came to visit me last week, and that person commented on something I had written on this blog in sort of a sideways fashion. It is a relief when friends recognize some grief you are holding in, or pick out some off-hand comment you made that just doesn’t sound right- and give you the window to let it go. Anyway- that conversation has given me the courage to write about a few things that are going on with me that are difficult.
I have a picture on my office wall of a large group of young people in caps and gowns- taken almost 20 years ago. They appear to have no cares on a very happy day. I am one of the people in that picture. I remember what life was like then, I had few responsibilities- I was trying to made it through grad school (which was 50% girls FYI), was fairly naive, was NOT in a position that had any power whatsoever, and really only had to handle one task at a time. Oh maybe I remember some more ideal version of the past than was reality, maybe- probably- looking back now, it looks pretty perfect though. I can say for certain that I never expected that my career would become important to me, and that managing the balance of my job, my marriage and my children would shape me as it has.
People who have known me a long time, comment that I have changed. I’m never sure how to take that- and on one level that hurts, on another level- I know it is true. At that second level, I want to scream-
HOW COULD I NOT BE DIFFERENT NOW THAN I WAS THEN???
And I’m not much one for screaming- maybe that helps you to understand how much emotion is behind those simple words.
How have I changed? I’ll just stick with one aspect of this for now. I have developed a hard edge to my personality- an assertiveness that I’m sometimes unsure how to channel or control at work and in other parts of my life. This edge is something that I sensed before many times in women I knew who were higher up the academic ladder than me, but I never understood. There is a strong societal message that it is just unbecoming for girls to have this edge, this assertive (maybe sometimes even aggressive) way from time to time. Us girls are so programmed to be NICE, be accommodating, to go with the consensus, to be reasonable. When I assert myself, which lots of times just feels like plain old protecting myself… I get told that I’m not being ‘nice’ (insert more screaming). A remark that I imagine is much more loaded and cutting to a woman than to a man. I feel like I work up against that societal message time and time again every day and it is wearing…. and it is like double jeopardy to be called out for not ‘nice’ because of it.
So am I different now because of this- heck YES. Was there any other option? I don’t think so.