It’s Tuesday and I am sitting at the coffee bar at one of my favorite downtown spots waiting for my next meeting to start while fielding messages from women about how tired we are all of worrying about everyone’s feelings.
This is a bit of a detour from The Cleaning Out Your Stuff Series but if you are a woman it probably relates to you and will probably help you clean out your stuff more quickly. To really get working on making room in your life for the things you actually want head to day one of The Cleaning Out Your Stuff Series and dive in!
Yesterday I testified in front of the Ways and Means Committee in the Indiana General Assembly. We were told ahead of time not to take up too much space, so like every good well behaved woman out there I ran through my testimony at warped speed and then got up to go back to my seat before giving them time to even ask me any questions. The Chairmain had to ask me to return to the front to answer his questions.
I had built the strategy for this hearing, put in three years of labor learning about what the Ways and Means Committee even is and what they care about. I had drafted the outline for the hearing and worked with a creative team to build the visual pitch. It was my hours of labor that got us here coupled with the tremendous support of my board and my legislative counsel.
But, when it came time to present, I deferred. I deferred to the men. I put the events on their calendar and printed out all of the materials, jogged from the print store to the breakfast spot, floated in with papers in my hands and my hair perfectly curled and my lipstick just right and I sat down. I made jokes about the print store guy being new and ordered some granola because I was so busy curling my hair and picking out my lipstick that morning that I didn’t eat.
During the hearing I also took on the responsibility of the men who were testifying with me taking up too much space, because this was in fact my agenda we were carrying out, that I was sweating and checking the time. I watched as the men in our group didn’t seem concerned about time at all. They carried on with personal anecdotes and sat back with the microphone and engaged the legislators in their storytelling. I had wanted to do this, but I was too afraid to take up space so I read my short and concise testimony from a piece of paper and barely made eye contact and kept checking to make sure that when I crossed my legs you couldn’t see too much of my tights because the slit in my long sleeved, turtle neck dress, was cut a bit above my knee.
I leaned over to my board member and whispered, “Is it just me or does this room also make you feel like a little kid playing dress up?” He smiled politely and kept his demeanor. Oh how I wish there was another woman with me today, I thought as I tried to hide my trepidation.
No one asked me to behave this way. No one demanded I wear a certain outfit or be short and sweet in my testimony, no one asked for calendar invites on their calendars or asked me to print out the agenda for all of them. I took all of this on myself. I also took on the emotions of the Chairman and whether he would LIKE ME if I took up too much space. This is my conditioning. These are the rules of the game I have learned.
And yesterday after I spent twenty five minutes on a conference call drafting an email response with my women allies I posted about it on Instagram. And women sent me messages in response saying how they do this all of the time, always worrying about the feelings of others, always overthinking, always making sure everyone has what they need, that they feel good, that they themselves never upset the apple cart.
And as I text with my cousin about anti-wrinkle creams and self care I wonder, do I need all of these anti-wrinkle creams because I worry so much about other people and their feelings that I am speeding up the aging process? Why am I even freaking worried about the aging process? HOW MUCH IS THAT WRINKLE CREAM AGAIN??
I am a hired consultant and the only person responsible for my organization. When my twenty five minute email got a very short and somewhat curt response I screenshot it and sent it to my counterpart and said, “Don’t think they spent a second considering my feelings on this one”. To which she replied, “You’re in charge, they are not.”
And I had to pause. I am in charge. I am actually in charge. I was hired to be in charge. I took charge with our legislative agenda, I take charge in these closed door meetings, I am in charge of my hair and my face and my wardrobe and my bank account. As a matter of fact I have pretty much always been in charge.
Friends text me to tell me their husbands say they never worry about anyone’s feelings ever when sending emails. “What is that like? “, I think as I play chess with everyone’s feelings on an email chain.
I know this isn’t a new subject. But even in its maturity women feel the same they did when we first started talking about this.
Let’s do a little personal check in. Where in your life are you taking responsibility for other people’s feelings? Why do you feel responsible? What makes you think you are responsible? On a scale of 1-10 how true is it that you are actually responsible for their feelings?
Now, out of the things you discovered you are taking respoinsibility for, what is one thing you can put down? Just completely let go of, stop taking responsibility for and be willing to let the result be what it is?
What comes up? Are you afraid the world is going to end? That your husband will leave you? That you will lose your job? That your colleagues will think you are lazy? That you will become insignificant? That you will be taken less seriously if you don’t carry the brunt of the work?
And let’s take this one teeny tiny step further….where can you ask for support from men? Yes yes, I’m going there. What is one thing you can ask a man in your life to help you with? Why? Because if they don’t know that we are feeling like little girls playing dress up, and they don’t know we are exhausted from playing chess with all of the feelings and they don’t know we didn’t have time to print the document because we had to blow dry our hair and feed the dog and put the kids go bags together and drop them at daycare then how can they offer to help with the printing of the document?
I am so guilty of saying, “No I’ve got it”, when men ask me if I need anything. I thought it was because I was hoping they would just show up and do the thing I need them to do but yesterday I realized it was because I don’t want them to think that I can’t do it. I don’t want to seem incapable, or unreliable or inefficient. I want to take it all on so they will know, for sure, that I am worth my salary or the accolade or the position.
When another colleague of mine got food poising on a work trip and was literally almost dead in her hotel room the news made way to her boss and she was mortified. “I don’t want them to see me as weak,” she mumbled to me on the phone in between vomiting into the toilet.
When did we decide that asking for help was a sign of weakness? When did we decide that men were incapable of pitching in or contributing? We can run a round and continue to take responsibility and do all the of the things and then complain when we are overwhelmed and feeling like failures who haven’t eaten in days because who has time for that, or we can ask the men in our lives for help.
I know what you are thinking, isn’t feminism conceptually that we do not need help from men? That we can do it all on our own? Sure, I guess, I mean somewhere that message is getting passed around. I have a different one. It’s knowing what your damn resources are and using them wisely. Isn’t that what we do best anyway? Aren’t men, often times, a phenomenal resource? Don’t you think it’s time you tap your resources?
Ask a man for help. That’s my challenge to you. I have this weird feeling that when asked to do so, they will rise to the occasion. And, if they don’t, you know there will be a woman somewhere nearby who will gladly step up in their place.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Or if you are a woman, put a drop of that in your diffuser and breathe it in. Woosah.