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FV 16 | Being Nice

 

One of the most evident forms of patriarchy is the way women are always policed on how they act, most especially around being nice to the point that it has almost become a cultural necessity for us. The sad thing is how women unknowingly police each other the same way. In this episode, Meaghan Lamm tells you to forget about being nice and be yourself instead. She goes deep into the reality of being too nice in life and business and how it props up the patriarchy. Looking inside, Meaghan then reminds us of how showing up as our authentic selves changes the game.

In This Episode:

  • How wanting to be nice props up the patriarchy
  • The reality of being too nice in life and business
  • How showing up as your authentic self changes the game

Listen to the podcast here:

Fuck Being Nice

Being nice is practically a cultural necessity for women today. The worst part is that women often police other women about being nice. When women try to act a certain way to please everyone else, they end up propping up the patriarchy.

In a world where how you market yourself almost exclusively through the written word is important, it can be hard to juggle being nice and being yourself. Today, we’re going to talk about why being nice is a patriarchal construct and why showing up authentically as yourself will always work better than trying to fit in. Ready? Let’s get started.

Fuck being nice. I remember back in the early days of my business, when I was still trying to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, I asked a question in a Facebook group about using emojis in email and whether or not that was considered “professional.”

I was still a fairly new entrepreneur then—I was fresh out of the world of teaching where professionalism, especially in written communication, which is kept, and logged, and looked at, was key.

The response, of course, on the thread was very mixed, with some people saying that you should use them to convey emotion, but sparingly—some people were saying you should leave them out entirely because they weren’t professional.

The overwhelming consensus on the thread was that it was my job, whether I used emojis or not, to make sure I did everything I possibly could, everything in my power, to make sure that I sounded nice in my email.

To some people on that thread, sounding nice was using emojis so that your sentences didn’t sound too harsh. Something like, “I need this document from you so I can send that email,” is softened by a smiley face emoji—it doesn’t sound like you’re commanding them or whatever.

To other people sounding nice was using exclamation points, and of course, the number of exclamation points you’re supposed to use depended on the level of professionalism that you were going for. Communicating in writing as a woman is a fucking minefield.

I can honestly say that I didn’t think much about their advice then—I wanted to have somebody tell me how I needed to be communicating and move on from there. So I chose to follow the advice on the thread that said emojis were okay—I used the thread to validate my own choices, and I started using them sparingly. What ended up happening is that over time, I internalized that message from them of making sure to come across in my emails and other written communication as nice.

Being nice is practically a cultural necessity for women. The worst part is that women often police other women about being nice. Click To Tweet

It wasn’t until recently that I noticed that I now have a totally unconscious habit of writing a sentence, a paragraph, an email, or reply to a Facebook post, whatever and then I go back and I reread it to see where I might need to add an emoji or an exclamation point to soften things up.

I’m writing what I want to say and then I’m going back and editing myself to make sure that I sound nice and don’t offend anyone. When I realized that, I pissed myself off. It made me angry.

One of my favorite people on the internet is constantly worried that she’s offending someone because she comes across as too mean or too severe or too direct, just because she’s honest—apparently being too direct is a problem for women.

When she’s talking to me about the things she says and asking for my feedback, I have this internal knee-jerk reaction that she probably could have softened her delivery with an exclamation point or a smiley face. I always have this reaction of like, “I would have said that differently.”

That’s my reaction because I would have said that differently because I would have reworded it so that it didn’t sound as harsh. But what’s “harsh?” I hate that knee-jerk reaction because, in actuality, there’s almost never anything wrong with the words that she’s using. There’s nothing wrong with her delivery. She’s just not fluffing it up as a woman is expected to do—so that the people on the other end of the email or message are comforted by her “readable enthusiasm” or pep or pizazz or whatever we’re going to call it. That’s what societal conditioning looks like.

Luckily, we’re good enough friends, me and one of my favorite people, and I’m aware enough of this conditioning that I am able to tell the conditioned thought to like kindly fuck off before it comes out of my mouth. I can then evaluate her questions, her emails, her messages on their content and not their delivery.

I’m not saying the delivery is not important. Honesty without tact is cruelty. But we have an ingrained conditioned habit as women to make sure that we come off in ways that aren’t necessarily required of men. The constant vigilance of watching how you say something is fucking exhausting. I heard that a lot growing up too where my parents would be like, “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” That’s another thing that’s ingrained because the most frustrating part too is that there is no winning.

When women try to act a certain way to please everyone else, they end up propping up the patriarchy. Click To Tweet

You’re not going to be surprised by this, but women who are seen as friendly and warm at work are also seen as incompetent. It’s impossible to win if you’re nice and now you’re incompetent—or you’re not nice and you’re a frigid bitch.

The message here is to be nice, but don’t be too nice or we’ll assume you have no idea what you’re doing because friendliness is weakness? I don’t fucking know. But make sure you’re nice enough that you don’t come across as a frigid bitch though because that’s also very important.

Do men receive the same type of scrutiny in their communication styles at work? I doubt it. Because where women are “pushy,” men are “direct.” Men can get away with infinitely more direct communication styles that women can’t without being called unapproachable.

I was reading a thread from a woman who set up a fake email account using a man’s name to act as her assistant to communicate back and forth with people about stuff. She said that as soon as she did that, and people were communicating directly with a man, even though that man was supposed to be her assistant and technically her subordinate, the way they communicated with the male email account was completely different than the way they had communicated with her, and she’s the one in charge. She’s the one they want to do whatever it is they want her to do. It’s ridiculous.

Socializing women to be nice starts long before you get your first job. Young girls are often made to kiss or hug relatives. That happened to me a lot. Pulling away or not wanting to do that is “rude.” My parents used to tell me that I was rude but I needed to do it anyway because it hurts the relative’s feelings and hurting the relatives’ feelings is worse than doing something that you don’t want to do: That’s the message that you receive over and over again.

Yes, I have a little brother. I know that boys are also being asked to hug and kiss relatives when they don’t want to. I’m also quite a bit older than my little brother. I’m 10½ years older. I remember when he was younger, he was given very different rules around what happened if he refused hugs or kisses. For him, it was laughed off like, “He’s got so much energy.” He was allowed to go running off to play. For me, at any age, I can remember, it was seen as rude and I didn’t have a choice.

Throughout my life now, as a 30 something-year-old woman, I’ve given hugs I didn’t want to give, I’ve shaken hands I didn’t want to shake. I personally am not an exceptionally touchy-feely person—I don’t need a lot of physical touches to feel secure in a relationship or feel close to people. The first few months of quarantine, I craved a hug. I really wished I could hug my best friend. That was a weird, rare feeling for me. That’s not normal. I like my space and that space is a “no hug zone.”

Honesty without tact is cruelty. Click To Tweet

When I moved to Michigan and I was introduced to my roommate’s friend group, there was lots of hugging. They’re huggers. They love to hug each other. I gave a lot of hugs that I didn’t want to give. I shook a lot of hands I didn’t want to shake because I didn’t want to be seen as rude.

I even remember this one person when I finally was like, “I’m not hugging people anymore.” I was like, “I know you people want a hug now, but we’re not doing the hug thing.” They were offended by my refusal to hug them. They tried to coerce me into a hug by telling me I hurt their feelings.

It was like that age-old cycle of being a small child and being told that I hurt Great Aunt Judith’s feelings. (I don’t have a Great Aunt Judith but stay with me here.) I hurt her feelings because I didn’t want to hug her. Now I’m an adult. Sorry, not sorry. You don’t get a hug if I don’t want to give you one.

We say yes to things we don’t want to say yes to, more often than not, so that we can continue appearing nice. This can be anything from accepting an invitation to do something, to hugs, to being asked to smile—which is one of my least favorites. Saying yes to things you don’t want to say yes to is something that leads to burnout, to resentment, and to giving away pieces of yourself that you don’t want to give away—over and over again.

The worst part is that not being nice can often be dangerous for women. That is the truly dark side of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy because not smiling, not giving out your number, not agreeing to go on a date, not submitting to a request from a man can often be physically dangerous for women.

Hugs, kisses, smiles, emojis, exclamation points, whatever. There are a lot of rules for how women are allowed or supposed to show up in the world and we learn them from a really young age. Learning something from childhood, having societal conditioning etched into how you exist in the world from a young age means that it’s insidious—it’s knee-jerk. You don’t realize that it’s happening.

Honestly, it shows up in ways you don’t realize until someone tells you it’s there, or you have an epiphany moment like I did about editing my work writing. This is how we find ourselves obsessed with how we come across to others on the internet. We’re so obsessed that we’re asking strangers if it’s okay to use emojis, proofreading our words to see where we can add in exclamation points or smiley faces to soften what we’re saying. We’re constantly wondering if we come across as bitchy.

Men can get away with infinitely more direct communication styles that women can't without being called unapproachable. Click To Tweet

I have not fixed this in my own life. Not by a long shot. That conditioning is still there. That knee-jerk reaction is still there, not just in how I read and edit my own words, but in how I interpret others’ words. So when I bristle at messages or posts from other women online, I have to pause and ask myself if I’m triggered because they’re saying something shitty—or—is it because there aren’t enough emojis to convey that they were smiling happily when they typed whatever it is that I’m reading?

The good news is that I’m slowly overriding this social conditioning. I’m slowly reclaiming this. I now aim to use emojis and exclamation points and gifs to convey personality—and not niceness. I’m an introvert, but I have a big personality. I want to convey that in my writing so that people get a good sense of who I am before they meet me or work with me. Now when I go to add a smiley face or an LOL or a gif or an exclamation point or whatever to a post or a message, I ask myself why am I doing it.

Am I doing it because I don’t want the person reading it to think I’m a bitch? Am I doing it because it conveys my personality in the text? If it’s the first, I leave it out. I’m like, “I’m not going to do that.” If it’s the second, I add it in because I have a big personality. I like to make sure people sense that—I pride myself on the fact that I will communicate with someone solely through text and then we will get out and have a coffee chat and they’ll be like, “You’re exactly the person I thought you were going to be.” I’m like, “Thank you very much. That’s what I’m going for.”

Once I started using that measuring stick for how I was writing my content, participating in groups on social media, responding to messages with friends, colleagues, etc., I naturally attracted the right people to me, because I was informing and editing my content in a way that felt authentic to me. I know that “authentic” is a buzzword in the online community these days. I’m doing that stuff in a way that is now very authentic to how I want to show up on the internet rather than meeting a set of societal expectations. I think that makes all the difference.

It’s an energetic shift. It’s a shift in how you show up. It’s a shift in—if you’re not constantly wondering if you sound nice or not. It’s a shift in how often you’re posting and what you’re posting because you’re not overthinking certain aspects of it anymore.

I’m not here to be nice for the masses. Fuck that. I’m here to cultivate amazing friendships—check—serve incredible clients—check—build a legacy, and help other changemakers build theirs. If that means shedding the responsibility and burden of having to be nice all the time, then so be it.

That’s it for me today. Bye, y’all.

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