The new ad by hair-care savior Pantene shed light on one of the biggest detriments to female empowerment: our constant need to apologize.
The ad depicts several women apologizing for such non-offenses as asking questions during a meeting, having their personal space stolen by a man, and for being interrupted by someone else. The women are shy and unsure of themselves in the ad, their body language shows that they worry that they’re appearing rude, but what happens when they stop apologizing? They shine; they confidently ask that question, they let others apologize for stealing their space, and they don’t let anyone stop them from speaking their mind.
Seeing this ad made me think about all the things I apologize for as a female artist, not just as a woman. Within every creative, academic, and corporate discipline lies a myth that women aren’t as talented as men, and despite the fact that we should always defend ourselves and show the world that we are just as good, we often end up damaging ourselves in the process.
Something that is incredibly detrimental to a woman’s self-confidence is when it goes past defense, and turns into shame, excuses and apologies. I’ve had countless non-artists warn me how difficult the world of writing is; when I say I want to get something published one day they tell me it’s all down to luck rather than talent, and if I tell them I’ve dared to stray from typical young adult female fiction they turn up their noses even more, saying I won’t get anywhere if I don’t “write what I know”.
Believe me, I write what I know, and I write what I love. I appreciate how difficult the world of publishing is but that is exactly why I don’t need these non-writers or mansplainers repeating it to me, I already know and it’s obvious that I already know. But instead of telling them I know this, that I’m capable of doing it all or telling them to open their mind past my young looking face and female anatomy, I find myself telling them that they needn’t worry because I have a practical plan to follow. I nod along as they tell me writing is just a hobby that should be paired with stable work, and I tell them things like “if it all goes wrong, I’ll have that 9-5 job to rely on”. I actively down-play my own talents and give more credit to the retail job I have no emotional attachment to; I’m sick of talking this way, and I refuse to ever do it again.
Art is not just a hobby, the difficulties aren’t a reason to choose a more practical path, and I refuse to simply stick to ‘chick-lit’ writing because it’s expected of my gender.
In this patriarchal world women are made to feel like they can’t climb the artistic or corporate ladders like men can. Countless female golfers, rappers, video game developers, and other professionals are constantly told that they won’t get anywhere in this “man’s world”, this world where we are already paid significantly less than men. After all, according to Forbes.com women make only 77 cents for every dollar that men make in the United States, as of this year. It’s 2014 and people still believe that our menstruation cycles control our ability to lead a political party, that our “weak” bodies stop us from slam dunking or hitting a home run, that women can’t write about war or science, and that we can’t possibly give as much as a man would as we’ll only end up giving up to get married and have children anyway, because after all, that’s what’s expected from every single one of us.
It’s not just that people like to put us in boxes, but for the sake of not causing a fuss we sometimes give in to it. For fear of not being taken seriously, and being labeled a lazy deadbeat who can’t get a “real job”, or labeled a “delusional” woman for trying to get into a “man’s game”, we sometimes unwillingly let society walk over our dreams. We let them tell us that they know what’s best for us, when they often know absolutely nothing about us.
I understand that you have to pay your dues, for a while you may have to work in jobs you hate just to pay the bills, and for some it may go on indefinitely, but having someone tell you all this, and hearing yourself agree with it like you will never ever break free from it, does not help the situation change. And to hear that as a woman you’ll “have to” give up your dreams one day so you can take care of your family or husband is even worse.
Ultimately it all comes down to faith and self-love; tell yourself that you will do anything to fulfil your dream, and you will do it. So long as you’ve done your research and worked hard it doesn’t matter how difficult something is or which gender it supposedly belongs to. You’ll fail time and time again but you’ll succeed where it really matters.
What happens when you stop giving in to people’s philistinism and sexism is magical; you start seeing doors opening up all around you, instead of focusing on the padlocks keeping you inside. That’s not to say you should ignore the roadblocks or risks, but you by no means need to let them stop you or kill your passion.
I urge you all to take the risk of self-confidence, and letting yourself accept that although the road ahead will be difficult, it will not stop you, and the more you tell yourself this, the more you’ll believe it.
So next time a classmate,co-worker, or mansplainer asks what it is that you do, don’t smile and nod along as they insult you with information you already know, don’t agree with their cynical notion that every artist is a starving artist, or that your chosen discipline isn’t any place for a woman. Just look them straight in the eye, smile, and tell them…
“I can, and will do it.”