Playing Nice: Part 1

I used to want to be liked by everyone. I thought that was the logical goal for me as a home schooled vegan entering Jr. High School for the first time. I was dead set on doing my best impression of a girl from the era of “Little House on the Prairie” aka a polite little white girl. Who would hate that?

Answer: A lot of people. A lot of teenagers in a alternative public school in Spanish Harlem hated that. I was not a little white girl, nice or otherwise. And by the way, I am not a white woman.

For a while I blamed other people, thinking they were rude, and mean to me for no reason. And some of them were mean and rude. But I was no angel either. I just read too much Judy Blume in my formative pre-teen years. I thought I should be nice because that’s the way people should be right? But in fact, it’s not really the way that I am. I’m not really that nice. I’m reserved, detached, serious, aloof, private, as well as engaging, sarcastic (by way of defense mostly) snarky, opinionated, talkative sensitive, and playful. Niceness was just something I put on as a young woman to protect myself from confronting my true nature. I realize now that I feared my true self was completely out of alignment with the easy breezy, poetic narratives of the YA novels about white girls that I devoured in lieu of regular social interaction. Did I mention I was home schooled? I was also an introvert.

As women, the messages we receive from the media about who and how we should be are so subtle and powerful that they can sneak in through the crevices of the even the tightest most loving and progressive foundation laid down by parental guidance. For me these messages leaked in through literature and television. Clearly I was heavily influenced by “Little House on The Prairie” although now when I think of it, Laura Ingalls, the main character was a rebel by nature and not at all an example of a passive, submissive nice girl. She was my favorite character. But everyone, her family, her church, her teachers, were always telling her to be “nice” and to try and get along with peers whom she constantly butted head with.  It was what was expected of decent, respectable women then and as much as we like to believe that’s changed, it’s still expected now. But as Life as I know it mentioned to me in a conversation we had recently, the same has never been expected from men.

Catching more flies with honey than vinegar is a term more often directed at women as a way to point out that asking for what you want is not enough. You have to do it with a smile and a sing song voice otherwise you are thought to be cold and unyielding. But in men this is a quality that signifies strength.

How many times in the workplace are women expected to do the kind of things a wife would do for a husband and children with no complaint or argument? Some time ago I out-rightly refused to take on “pantry duty” in my office. I didn’t sign on for that. I am not a domestic worker. But for many this kind of refusal in a woman is a red flag. It is often interpreted as meaning, she’s not nice. She doesn’t want to help. She’s not a team player. But that’s not true.

I’ll play on the team I want to play on.

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