I have lost count of the amount of times I've been told that I am "too assertive". It starts off with friendly smile and a seemingly caring comment about how what I am saying is correct, but how I express it is the problem. I have thought a lot about how I can alleviate my methodology of communication so I do not come off as "assertive" and I've wondered about why it is even a problem in the first place. It took me a long time to realise that my confidence is not the problem; society is.
As a woman, I have always noticed how my words bear a heavier burden than my male colleague or counter-part. They call me "feisty" and they label him as "confident". It is a mystery why women today are still characterised by their emotion and not their rationality. In her fantastic book "Delusions of Gender" Cordelia Fine writes about how discrimination against women extends far beyond something we read about in history books, It is something blatant and evident even in our modern, developed societies. Despite the fact that there is no solid, irrefutable evidence to suggest that men and women are wired differently, the world continues to push gender stereotypes down our throats and we suffer collectively as a result.
Women in general are so undermined in today's world and harassed from every corner- the beauty industry, archaic traditions, media and the government. It is very hard for women to be confident in their own skin. Not only do most women feel physically inadequate, but we are constantly silenced and trivilaised. The great documentary "Miss Representation" highlights how women are terrorised from their teen years onto their adulthood through the realms of mass media and popular culture.
Some have asked me why I chose to focus on women in particular when addressing the idea of validation. My answer is that in a world where 1 in 3 women are victims of physical or sexual violence, 53% of young girls feel unhappy with their bodies and 65% have eating disorders, women suffer the greatest amount of insecurity, low self-esteem and a general lack of confidence. There are some individuals who argue that women's development has reached its culmination in the western world. Such claims are too quixotic considering of recent studies that reveal one in three women across Europe have been physically or sexually abused. Women struggle globally and the threat of abuse seems inescapable no matter where you live in the world.
In our global community, when a woman becomes an authoritative figure- it scares the world. She is no longer giving into traditional patriarchal notions of submissiveness, she does not require validation, and subsequently she becomes one of the most feared individuals on the planet. So much value is placed on notions of "modesty" and "ladylikeness" and through gender-role allocation- women who do not fit into the straightjacket of what is considered as "womanly"- are considered as too "feisty" and in need of some taming.
More people than not attribute a woman's assertiveness to an emotional response and not her confidence. Even an individual as authoritative as Hillary Clinton is discriminated against and treated as an emotional being who is defined through her husband and not by her intelligence and incredible skills as a leader. I mean for goodness sake, if the U.S Secretary of State cannot demand the respect of the world, what hope is there for the rest of us women?
It is clear that society applies the standard of confidence disproportionately to women and many women as a result fear exerting power in the case that they come across as "intimidating". The circular cycle of women being told that they are "emotional" and they in turn acting out this non-evidence based claim and essentially becoming purveyors of it- is a tangible problem. Indeed, confidence is a genderless emotion yet women in positions of power are still characterised as irrational serial complainers who cannot escape their inherent "nagging" nature, while their male counter-parts are admired and even worshipped for their confidence. Most people have heard of the ex-President of Argentina, Juan Domingo Peron (there is even an ideology named after him) yet less know of his wife Eva Peron, who was actually one of the greatest female orators politics ever saw. Additionally, women leaders are judged more often on their looks and fashion choices than their astute abilities as authoritative figures.
My view is that a woman who goes through life without taking any notice of society's perception of her becomes the most feared individual on the planet. This is because patriarchy wants to reduce her to an insecure, submissive female and as long as she rejects the notion of validation, she is perceived as a threat to the status quo.
I want to point out that women need not be strong in order to inculcate fear- this is not the aim of rejecting notions of validation. The fear is a by-product of our society that is so seeped in patriarchal culture. Historically, women have been treated as second-class citizens and up until the first wave of feminism; this trend dominated much of the world. This is why a woman who does not require validation is so thoroughly feared because she challenges the age-old male privilege and patriarchal notions. So many men in my life have tried to "fix me"; they viewed me as a "fiery" being who is in need of taming. I want all women of the world to throw out notions of validation and act whichever way they want regardless of how they are perceived. The best thing we can do is be comfortable and happy in our skin and in this way no industry, system or group of people can subvert our energies or try to break us down.