Women often tell me that they envy my confidence, in a good way, while I am always astounded by the lack of confidence in women that I meet.
Am I confident? I believe I am.
I was raised by a single mother who was, though a product of her time, a professional and "glass-ceiling" breaker. Despite constant judging and disappointing responses from her own family and society (also products of their time), she always did her best to both protect her four daughters and encourage them to be strong women in hopes they would have better lives.
As a constant observer at an early age, and a big history buff, I understand more than most, and probably better than any of my sisters, just how hard my mother struggled.
That is not to say I do not have my own "inner-demons" of self-doubt - after all, I too am a product of the time and place I grew up.
I grew up in Arkansas in the 1980s. Girls were still judged by how they dressed and expected to remain virgins until they married - though boys had no such boundaries or expectations.
Kind of screwy when you think about it. Girls had to remain pure while boys were encouraged to "sow their seeds" to attain manhood. Who exactly were they supposed to be "sowing their seeds" with?
As an adult in the workforce, I often witnessed capable women being passed up for various duties and promotions by men who were clearly inferior. I witnessed constant sexual harassment in the workplace (sexual jokes, naked girl calendars, sexual comments). I also witnessed women only being promoted as a result of sexual favors - and this was in the late 1990s. I was offered the "opportunity" many times myself. [I never partook of the "opportunities," though I believe it is sexist that I even have to say so.]
I was an avid observer of the world around me. Always looking at the world and trying to figure it out. I listened to the adults and my peers, and analyzed what they said.
I was also obsessed with reading. I read historical books, historical novels, romance novels [causing anxiety for my mother], scientific books, and even the dictionary [which often astounded my peers]. I wanted to understand the world. I wanted to understand the language.
I was confused because what people said did not match how they acted. I was confused because the words they used did not reflect the definition of the words. This caused me to observe and analyze even more.
From a very young age I analyzed information more than I accepted information as fact. I reflected more than I made judgments. I learned to speak very directly, not understanding why people often talk in circles instead of saying exactly what they mean.
I still do this today.
While it works for me and has helped me understand how complicated the world and people are, and even helped me help people in various aspects of their lives, it has downsides.
I more often than not, especially in the beginning, interact with the world as an observer. I watch and listen, generally without any facial or physical reaction. I am just absorbing, taking it all in.
When I am in the serious mode, the observing mode, I may not react to jokes, for example.
Once in the sixth grade, I took a science test. I was always serious about school work. I was very serious about doing well on tests in general. The last question on the test was a bonus question.
"Why did the man bury his motor cycle?"
I racked my brain for the answer. I knew their was a scientific answer. I knew I should know the answer, otherwise it would not be on the test. I became frustrated that I could not think of any scientific principle. I almost cried.
Finally, in my frustration, I wrote down "Because his mommy told him it was dead" in complete sarcasm.
I was upset all night. I came to class the next day wanting to know the answer to that bonus question. I wanted to know what I had missed.
The teacher was laughing as he gave us the answer - a joke.
"Why did the man bury his motorcycle? Because it died."
Even though I had, accidentally, given the right answer, until that moment, I did not "get" the joke.
More recently, I was at an event to gather signatures for a very serious issue. A woman I did not know introduced herself and started chatting. She made some jokes and I smiled but did not laugh. I barely recognized that she was telling jokes. I was in my serious mode. But I did recognize that she was confused that I was not giving her some response she was expected. I finally looked at her and said, "I'm sorry. I do not do chit-chat well."
I was being honest. I was being clear. She, however, was crushed.
She did not know what to do with my "serious mode" and directness. I did not know what to do with her small talk while I was busy trying to save the world. [We are the best of friends now.]
Which leads to the second downside.
It Makes Women Uncomfortable
It is not that I am mean. I strive to never be mean [unless someone I care about needs to hear a hard truth for their own good and "beating around the brush" isn't working].
To make matters worse, I have the "resting bitch face." I do know that, so I always try to smile in an effort to reduce other's anxiety. Unfortunately, for a person afflicted with "resting bitch face," a slight smile still looks somewhat "bitchy." [The American definition of "bitch" - meaning "not a nice person" - as opposed to definitions in other languages which reflect low morals.] But it is not like I can have a "cheerleader" smile all the time. I would have to wear vaseline on my teeth as a reminder and to reduce the muscle pain [which is what cheerleaders do, by the way].
Women just do not know what to do with my quietness. They see me observing with no outward indicator of what is going through my mind - and immediately assume the worst.
Recently, I attended a party where I was tabling for The Love Glasses Revolution. I met a woman for the first time who already knew the friend I was with very well. They chatted, I observed. I had my slight smile pasted on my face.
The girl, who was not a size four, began to dance to the music playing. She was really enjoying herself. After a while, she walked away to join other groups.
I turned to my friend and said, "That is how it is done. All women should embrace their bodies and enjoy themselves."
A few days later, the dancing girl, while talking to my friend, said she thought I did not like her - that she could tell because I just "looked" at her and barely talked.
My friend told her she was wrong about me [that I rarely judge people and rarely dislike people, especially at first meeting] and proceeded to share with her what I had said about her dancing.
I have story after story of people telling others they think I do not like them - many of them I do not even remember meeting. I have even more stories of people telling me, or others, that they had a very different impression of me before they "got to know" me.
This is particularly true with women who have low self-esteem. I can often tell right away when a woman has a low self-esteem. It breaks my heart every time I see it.
My observer mode goes into full overdrive at that point. I am absorbing every aspect of them. I am trying to figure out how to interact with them to help them and not hurt them. I recognize they are used to criticism and I want to make sure I do not add to that with any off-handed comment. I am trying to figure out what I might say to them, in our limited interaction, that might help them have a better day - if not help them see themselves better.
But often our interactions are fleeting and I do not have enough time to both analyze and find an appropriate positive response.
While I could attempt to change myself to be more funny, more chit-chatty, or just generally more talkative in order to make people more comfortable, that is not really the problem.
It is true that often women are critical of each other. That is a sad reality.
The problem is that women so often make negative assumptions about how others see them because they have their own self-esteem issues.
But I never assume things are about me.
If someone does not talk to me [not intentionally ignores, just no real conversation], if I think about it all, I assume we did not connect. Not that we do not mesh, just that a common subject-matter did not arise.
If a cashier or customer is not friendly to me [maybe even slightly rude], if I think about it at all, I assume they must be distracted or are having a bad day.
If someone says something critical to me, I analyze whether it might be true, even if only from their perspective, and decide if I need to act on the criticism or discard it as nothing to do with me. I will also analyze their intentions in sharing the criticism as well as their credibility in having the criticism about me - though the answers to the last two never negate the first analysis. Even someone with bad intentions or lacking credibility can be at least partly right.
We women should be more supportive than critical of each other. That is something each of us can proactively decide to do, but we cannot change others.
Each of us can also choose not to take everything so personal. Every act by another person does not have anything to do with you.
If we were able to have real conversations with each other, we would find that half the time something someone said or did had zero to do with us, or even that the person did not even "see us" (as individuals) when making the statement or doing the action.
Both of these personal changes are the only things in our control - and the absolute foundation to help us have a better self-esteem, as well as have better relationships with women.