Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)
One day when I was nine, I was playing Barbies with my brother. My brother was playing with me quite reluctantly, but I was still excited to have a playtime companion. He only agreed to play if I let him be Ken, and he got to drive the Barbie convertible. On this particular day, he decided that Ken was going to go out drinking with his friends, and on his way home, he got too drunk to drive, abandoned the car by the toy box, walked home, and stormed into the mansion asking Barbie what she was making him for dinner. Irritated with my brother’s reckless and commanding storyline, I shoved Malibu Barbie right in front of Ken’s face and said, “Do not come in here like that and start telling me what to do. I am a woman of the 80’s, and I don’t take any orders like that from a man. Make your own food, and you better find my car!”
I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother was getting ready for work in the bathroom two doors down from my bedroom, and she overheard us playing. She loudly yelled down the hall to knock it off, and she called me to come talk to her. Slowly walking to meet her, I was sure we were busted for pretending to go to bars or for the drunk driving incident, but to my surprise, she was upset about something else. She was offended that I had used the term “woman of the 80’s,” and she didn’t like the way I was having my Barbie talk to Ken. She then said something to me that I will never forget. She said to me, “you don’t want people thinking you are one of those kind of women.” Even at 9, I already knew I was probably “one of those kind of women.” I was pretty sure I was the kind of woman that wouldn’t tolerate a guy staying out drinking all night, abandoning my car, and then coming home demanding food. The lesson I learned that day was that it was more offensive for me to stand up for myself and call myself a “modern” woman than it was for me to be talked rudely to and disrespected by a man. It’s a lesson that’s hard to unlearn, even when you don’t believe it is right.
In my mom’s defense, she grew up in a different era. She was raised in a family where male and female roles were clearly defined, and stereotypical. My mom is someone that tries to blend in and avoid ruffling any feathers, so I understood, even at 9, that her main concern was how other people would view me if I was claiming to be a modern woman so boldly. She was probably given a similar message about speaking up like that as a woman when she was a kid herself.
Fast forward a few decades, and let’s examine how that childhood lesson has survived the ages. To start with, I do call myself a feminist, but I do so always with explanation. I have to say things like, “I am a feminist, but not the kind that hates men.” Feminist was definitely a dirty word in my household growing up, and it was taught to me that “women activists” were man hating and bitchy. I know this isn’t true, but I still do encounter a similar response to my mother’s whenever I start talking about being a woman and my thoughts on living in a patriarchal society. It wasn’t until I was in college, and encountered other “kinds of women,” that my thinking about strong women evolved. There are still traces of apprehension related to old ways of thinking, however, and because of this, I go into every conversation assuming that the person I am talking to will find the idea of a woman standing up for herself a little off-putting.
Fortunately, I have grown as a woman over the years, and I have made it a point to educate myself on various minority and women’s issues. I may even worry at times that I have become a bit feisty, possibly a tad over-sensitive to anything that remotely looks like sexism. Most of my friends are males, so I try to look at life from their perspective as well. I know I am quick to point out injustices, and I admit I can be a little intense sometimes. I am not saying that the men in my life are misogynists, or that they need constant redirection. I tend to hang out with free-thinkers, and they are delighted when I tell them the Barbie story from my childhood. They can probably imagine a fuming 9 year-old version of me politely listening to my mother’s message, and I am sure they wonder what would happen if someone tried saying that same exact thing to me today. My friends tend to share similar feminist ideals, so we don’t have too many tense moments.
When I talk to some people, however, about minority issues related to gender or race, I often get the response that it’s not really a big deal anymore. Things are so much better in the eyes of many, and I do not argue that progress has been made. For the first time in history in this country, for example, we have a female nominee of the Democratic Party on the ballot for President of the United States. We aren’t where we were, but that doesn’t mean we are exactly where we should be when it comes to equal rights for women in this country though either. I had one of those “Are you kidding me?” moments when the day after Hillary Clinton historically made it onto the ballot, most of the headlines were being run with a picture of her husband instead of her. Regardless of your political views, it is common sense that if an article is about a specific person, then a picture of that person should be the one accompanying the article. For women, the feeling of being a second-class citizen sometimes is very subtle. Most of the time it is something that can only be seen or felt by actually walking through life as a woman. Someone might say, “It’s no big deal. At least they wrote about you,” but if you really stop and think about it, it does kind of matter.
I am not saying that men do not have their own share of gender stereotypes to deal with. I am just saying that there are words, looks, and small moments that disrupt feelings of equality that women live with on a daily basis. As a highly sensitive woman, it is sometimes the subtle moments that catch me the most off guard. These are the moments that someone not looking at life from my perspective as woman might not understand or fully get. Like how in the past month I’ve been out with a male friend, and on two separate occasions another male has said to him “don’t let that one out of your sight” referring to me without talking directly to me… Then there is this past weekend when I went to a show with my friend, and the man taking our tickets complimented me on my whole 1950’s look. I thanked him, genuinely appreciative, because I do think it is nice to pay people compliments if you see something that looks nice. I did not feel like it was creepy or rude, until he turned to my friend while I was standing right there in front of him and said, “I see what you got going on here. You’ve got yourself a minx, don’t you?” Unsure of how to respond to that, we both just smiled and took our seats.
In situations like that, I feel hyper-critical, or over-analytical, if I feel offended. Many people, men and women, tell me that I should just learn to take a compliment, but to me it feels like something different. In each of these mentioned instances, I felt like I existed for someone else other than myself. Any time my appearance is talked about in front of me like I am not there to someone else, even if the words are nice, it feels kind of not nice to me. I guess that’s what is meant by the term objectification. My friend got this fortunately, and he quickly joked with me claiming to be more of a minx than I’d ever be. I laughed, because it’s absolutely true. I know some people that would have made me feel like a prude for being a little offended by the minx comment. I mean, how could I be upset about the objectification of women when I was going to go see a burlesque show, right? I think the answer is simple. It’s about women having control over their own identities, bodies, and being acknowledged for more than their relationship to a man. It’s about the freedom to be who we want to be without assumption or expectation.
I have been, and always will be, a separate entity from the men in my life. I am not defined by my relationships with other people. I am definitely a woman that does what she wants, which isn’t always popular with the masses. It is not like I want to walk around and never have another person notice if I’ve done something new with my hair, or I’ve put together some amazingly fabulous retro ensemble. If I cook a really good meal, I want it to be recognized that I did it because I care. Anyone that knows me understands that I don’t like preparing meals or doing domestic chores. If I cook for you, it’s because I wanted to do something nice. I certainly would not be cooking dinner at 2am for some guy that just came home drunk demanding food without returning my car. That’s just me. I think that seeing beyond what men and women are supposed to be like according to gender stereotypes is crucial. I do not like to be patronized, ignored, controlled, or pigeon-holed. I am pretty sure that’s how most humans feel, and to be a woman is to also be a human.
In the end, I guess I am still a bit sensitive to being thought of as a feminist, even though I am one. I suppose you could say all of this here is me basically over-explaining myself like so many highly sensitive people (HSPs) do. I always over-explain, because my goal is never conflict. My goal is always understanding. As I sit here writing this, I am watching my own 9 year old daughter build a robot. She tells me she is building it so she can program it to make her sandwiches. Brilliant! Her world is already very different from mine when I was her age, but there are still some subtleties that are too much the same- subtleties that I am hopeful with conversation, and time, will some day change. For now, I am glad my daughter is the kind of woman that spends her spare time building a sandwich making robot- a positive response to the fact that someone’s got to make dinner sometime or we’ll all starve. Ingenuity at its finest!
Listen to Michelle Lynn’s HSP SOS podcast on Highly Sensitive Gender Roles to learn more about how gender stereotypes impact highly sensitive men and women.
Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts. Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.