I am a perpetual people pleaser sometimes. I get it from my mother. I need to know that everyone else is taken care of before I can truly be at ease. And my mama raised me right…smile, be courteous, have good manners, share and take turns, give your all, care about others. I wasn’t born or raised in the South, but this is the type of thing that people usually say about people from the South and their manners (granted, there are other issues of race and class that come into play).
This tact is something that a great many women do. Society tells us to sit up straight, smile big and do what we’re told. Hell, even when we’re out there breaking new ground–like riding in a space ship or playing in the first all girls professional baseball league–we have to be ladies first, people second.
We classify these things as good manners and proper forms of politeness and we know that any woman who doesn’t smile, doesn’t answer the “how does it feel to be the first woman to ______?” or fails to acknowledge her status as a woman somehow steps outside of the boundaries. (God forbid we don’t discuss our attire and appearance!)
At the same time, we keep telling our children, especially girls, that to get ahead, they have to be assertive. Stand up for yourself. Don’t let bullies push you around. Your worth is not attached to your sex, gender, physical characteristics, sexual orientation or any other immutable characteristic.
Mixed messages anyone?
Just last night I was talking to The Mister about a situation involving our seats at the ballpark. His answer was that the next time the same infraction occurred he was going to throw a fit. My ass clenched up so tight I could have cracked open Haliburton‘s trove of secrets with it. “Throwing a fit won’t help,” I told him. “That’s not how the world works.” And to some degree I am right (and The Mister has been known to throw fits that are either misplaced or too big of fits for what the situation calls for). But on the other hand, he had a point to why this fit would be thrown and my natural instincts were to just take it and move on. I’ve been conditioned so much that I fail to stand up for what I need, deserve or want. On the other hand, The Mister is fully ready and willing to do so.
There was a blog published by the New York Times today by a mother who refuses to let her daughter be told to “be nice.” The piece talks about how the daughter is polite, enforces rules, but doesn’t play by the rules of society in that she doesn’t smile and act like a pretty “children should be seen and not heard” kind of way. I get it. She wants her daughter to not feel like she has to please anyone. And boys, like it or not, are not held to the same standards. Just flat out truth right there.
There I was in a meeting this morning where I went out of my way to be nice because the male counterpart I was with has no social skills and guess what? We got more accomplished because I put on a smile and cracked a few jokes. The meeting went better because I put that show on. And it’s so innate to me now that it’s not a show. It’s just how I’d rather conduct business. You truly do catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So why not use the honey?
That’s what works for me, though. It won’t work for everyone. And asking everyone to use the honey is like asking everyone to like Shakira. It just ain’t gonna happen with some folks. That’s not how they operate. Do I think they would benefit from acting differently? Maybe. But maybe they think that way of me too. I know The Mister does. He sees me get walked on all the time and asks me why I don’t raise hell on certain things.
Where’s the line? I don’t know. I think there needs to be less of an emphasis on “having” to be nice and more of an emphasis on learning how you can best accomplish things in different settings. It’s a confusing crossroads of gender, introversion/extroversion, social anxiety complexes and more. There’s just got to be a better way to navigate that divide and not feel like we’re being forced to smile.
Service with a smile? That’s some sage advice when it works for all parties. But when it’s forced….well, no one really does benefit from that, do they?