Rachel Charlene Lewis
April 29, 2016 10:32 am
iStock / clownbusiness

Since I was a teenager, I’ve had people — especially men — tell me I take myself too seriously.

I have a vivid memory of a boy in class, someone I hardly knew, telling me I’d be so much more attractive if I just chilled out more. Like most women, I’ve had men tell me to smile, that I’d look prettier if I wasn’t so serious all the time. I’ve been laughed at when I was frustrated about a problem that needed to be figured out at work, I’ve been teased about “cute little” things I do, and I’ve been told how “sweet” it is that I believe in my own abilities.

When I was younger, it was really a hit to my ego to have people from strangers to family members to boyfriends tell me I was too serious. I’d reconsider my priorities, wonder if I was just too intense to be likable. I thought that maybe I’d be more likable if I was more fun, quicker to giggle, or spent less time in my head planning out my future.

As I’ve gotten older, though, and learned about things like the way that patriarchy impacts how we view ourselves, I’ve learned that this was really just a way for people to mock me for being ambitious, respecting myself, and believing in myself and my abilities. And I’m so beyond sick of letting this ridiculous concept keep me from being proud of myself.

Doubting myself and my worth and whether I deserve to be taken seriously really impacts the way that I move through the world. It means I go to job interviews and downplay my hard work. It means I talk to other writers and don’t mention higher level literary roles I’d had. It means I act like what I do is silly, fluffy, and childish, rather than something that requires skill, determination, and is honestly something that I’m really, really passionate about. It hurts everything I do. No part of me benefits from this forced modesty other than the people who don’t want to see someone like me succeed.

I’m allowed to be passionate. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Women are told all the time that we talk too much (even when we’re speaking way less than the men in the room), that we talk wrong (how many times has someone told you not to say “like” if you want to be taken seriously?), and that we don’t care about serious topics (but are also told not to care about serious things because it’s not cute). On the other hand, if we do care, we’re too emotional. Either way, we’re torn down. It’s not okay.

Yes — I’m basically a workaholic. But I also know that men who pursue their dreams and seek well-respected, high-level positions with organizations they care about aren’t constantly torn down for what it takes to get there. I’m not even talking about the issues of economics and accessibility that make it really hard to succeed if you a part of a marginalized group. Even just socially, I’ve often been made to feel pretty darn weird for being a lady who thinks I’m capable of doing what I want to be doing.

Why is it weird to be a woman who wants something and is willing to fight to make it happen? Is it because we act like only straight, white men deserve success? Is it because we only see straight, white men pursuing dreams and not being mocked for them? Would it be different if I saw more people like me being passionate? Why is my passion seen as un-feminine aggression rather than just that — passion?

I’m not necessarily seeking a ton of money, or to be a CEO. What I’m seeking is to live a life I care about and to see results from my drive and ambition. The fact that I’m a queer woman of color making that happen is nothing for me to be ashamed of. If anything, it should be a source of pride.

I’m done being modest. It isn’t for me. As Sarah Hagi said, “God give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude.” May we all indulge our passions, and may we be better for it.