"You’re too opinionated, too loud, too direct, too sexy, too bossy, too bitchy, too emotional, too moody, too funny. Too much like a guy."
Those two sentences are via Steve Wiens’ recent blog post, "An Ode To the Women Who are ‘Too Much'."
I've been told exactly all of these things. Have you?
Actually I’ve heard less about being sexy or funny and much more about how I was "too" bitchy, opinionated, loud and, especially, bossy.
Wiens’ essay has hit a nerve, shared by many of the millions of women in the U.S. — and worldwide — who have been told every which way, by men and by women, to "shut up." They've been told, over and over again, that there's something inherently less feminine in speaking at a higher volume ("too loud"), or telling people what to do because that’s your job ("bossy"), or not taking people’s nonsense without giving it back or questioning it ("too bitchy").
Those critiques aren't just rude and annoying sexist calls we should shrug off, like Hillary Clinton did when a heckler told her to iron his shirts at a campaign stop. Though it might be tempting to ignore people who tell us we are "too much," it's actually time to use our voices to disagree — loudly.
Because there's direct harm in repeatedly telling women to keep quiet: "Nobody wants to hear from you" is the driving energy that prevents women from speaking out when they are sexually assaulted or need help leaving a domestic abuser. And yes, these things are connected; there is a direct line between silencing women — which is the obvious aim in keeping loud, bitchy women down — and men getting away with decades of abuse.
Finally speaking up
More than a dozen women on my Facebook feed recently shared their #MeToo stories of sexual harassment and/or assault when that hashtag recently went viral — many for the first time.
These women had all been taught to keep their mouths shut in a million different ways, which is why many had never shared their stories of, in some cases, very violent acts — not even with close friends or family. Nor had they shared the accompanying anger or pain. Why? Of course they had absorbed the message that there was something shameful in what had happened to them, but they had also been told not to be "too loud" in a million different ways: Movies are a good example. A University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering study found "... male characters spoke far more than the female ones did, with 37,000 dialogues involving men and just 15,000 involving women," according to the New York Times.
Focusing more on women's appearance than achievements, putting loud, proud, and powerful women down, and teaching little girls to be polite and quiet but explaining similar boys' behavior as "boys will be boys" all sends a regular drumbeat of "shut up" to women and girls.
Acceptance comes when we embrace our own selves and demand it. I believe that society won't change until we make it. So if you're a woman who has been told she's "too something" that's seen as a positive thing in men — leadership, presence, toughness, perseverance, passion — don't just let it roll off your back and ignore it. Speak up, speak out, and most of all — keep doing it. Get louder, argue more, make them laugh even harder. I've seen this happening over the past 20 years as women have refused these messages about how they "should" act and engaged in the radical act of being themselves. It works — remember how just 10 years ago, it was questioned if women could really be funny?
Be yourself, if you're a "too much" kind of woman, and surround yourself with other women who do the same. There is real power in numbers. Though if loud and opinionated, funny or brash isn't your jam, I'm not suggesting you change; this isn't about enforcing any ideas on women but allowing them to be themselves, however that manifests.
If all of us women who are "too much" keep being ourselves, we will create space for all women to speak their truth, their pain, their power. And that will be a better world for all.