As a woman who addresses conflict, I've earned a reputation among certain people in my place of business.
It isn't the reputation I want.
I can't change it.
This is a point of contention between me and my boss. He insists that I have some kind of control over my reputation. If I'd use different words or not display emotion, then others would talk well of me.
I told him that's bullshit. We sat across from each other at his desk. I held up my left hand in a pre-count gesture. "As a woman who addresses conflict, let me tell you how this goes." I started counting adjectives with my thumb, "I'm a slut, whore, bitch, control freak, cunt." With my left hand now fully open to the side of my head, I looked him straight in the eye.
"This is how it's been my entire fucking life. This is how it is. People make up rumors because that's easier than actually making time to listen to and truly consider what I have to say."
As if to scare me, he said, "Some people fear you. I've actually heard that word: fear."
"That's on them," I said.
When I brought up this topic with my partner a while ago, I said that people have been telling me all my life that I'm really blunt, that I don't practice within expected social boundaries. My partner said that maybe I should listen if it's been said about me my entire life. [That went over super well with me!]
While I typically agree with particular social gestures, such as please and thank you; holding the door open for people behind me; and allowing each person to finish his/her sentences, I also believe that other peoples' opinions are beyond my control. People see what they want to see. People see what their eyes and minds are trained to see. If any of the people who believe something to be true about me would actually interact with me, then they would discover that I practice fair, patient, and honest dialogue.
People are scared of this sometimes.
Maybe it's because, like me, they grew up in an environment that offered limited emotional resources. Maybe they also watched a lot of television; consumed magazines; and later, highly focused on academics and career as a substitute for rich in-person interaction. Perhaps they decided that the safest thing was to hide their voices because why bring it up - what difference would it make? So now when someone else brings up something, maybe they respond with fear and anger because what they're really saying is, "I've learned that my voice doesn't matter. How can you believe that your voice matters?"
And the answer isn't to stop speaking, to go back to hiding my voice just like they're doing. The answer is to continue expressing myself.
One of my friends recently offered me this advice, The best way to perpetuate a myth is to not challenge it. That relates to my idea of a strong woman. [My most recent reading of this concept was in: The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel. She uses the term "strong woman" frequently throughout that book.] As Engel and others have written, there aren't many [are there any?] words for strong woman in this current American culture. If I hold my head up, look you in the eye, and tell you when I feel [an emotion] about your actions, what do you think of me? Here's my estimation based on my life experiences.
Well hello there.