From Our Readers
November 05, 2014 2:05 pm

So much of what we are told as women comes down to definitions. Almost everything we watch or read strongly suggest that we label ourselves, pigeon hole ourselves, put ourselves into a box. We are constantly asked to make choices between two extremes, because apparently there’s no space left in the middle. Are you single and independent, or in a relationship and codependent? Are you popular or bookish? Are you a party animal or a homebody? It’s as if we’re not allowed to exist in the in between.

I have fallen prey to this “make a choice” pressure often. I’ve angsted over defining myself according to someone else’s labels, and understood my entire life as made up of a series of choices designed to define who I am. Then, one day, let’s call it Tuesday, I woke up and thought, “Wait a second, who is making up all of these rules? Who am I answering to?”

Who decided that you can’t be a feminist if you appreciate a man opening a door for you? Who made the call that you aren’t strong and independent if you are in a relationship? Who told us that we can’t be freaked out by spiders and be Wonder Woman at the same time? We can do whatever we want, and it’s time that we stopped trying to define ourselves and each other, and spent more time on simply just being our authentic selves.

We all have conflicting aspects of our personalities, but that’s what makes us complex and interesting. Defining ourselves by one or two of those aspects is easy, but it’s a false representation. It’s simple to call a woman who wears dresses and makeup all the time “girly,” but that same woman can partake in typical “dude” behavior, like shoveling wings into her mouth while shouting at a football game.

Speaking of which, we do the same thing to men. We force them into boxes like “alpha” or “sensitive,” and soon it becomes their only quality. Men, you can do whatever you want, too. Whoever told you that you can’t be manly (whatever that means) and have the ability to cry was dead wrong.

Gals, you don’t have to be single to be an independent woman. You can be in a relationship and maintain your own independent life. You don’t have to choose between feeling whole and being someone’s other half. You can spend the night alone, watching six-hour long marathons of The West Wing while eating all the random snacks in your fridge regardless of your relationship status. That is not “single girl” stuff. That is human stuff.

You can go out with your friends in a less-than-parent-approved dress and go crazy on the dance floor, because everyone needs nights like those. They aren’t just for single ladies. Furthermore, you can be strong, and fierce, and independent, and still need help putting an Ikea bed together. There is never shame in asking for help, no matter what kind. I would argue that the strongest people are the ones who throw up their hands every now and again and just say, “I can’t handle this on my own.” It doesn’t make you less of a strong person.

We have been given these label choices since we were kids. Tomboy or girly? Prudish or promiscuous? Confident or shy? The problem lies in the fact that all of these choices represent two opposite ends of a spectrum. No one fits neatly into any one of these boxes. We will fall on different parts of those spectrums throughout our entire lives. A choice we made when we were 19 shouldn’t define us, nor should our personalities and decisions when we were 12. In fact, we shouldn’t have to define ourselves at all, and no one should be wasting their time trying to do it for us.

Why can’t I be confident in some situations and shy in others? How am I supposed to choose between being a feminist while also wanting all those cheesy romantic gestures from that special guy? That’s like asking me to choose blue cheese or ranch. I want both and I will not apologize for wanting both. And neither should you.

The truth is, people are going to keep shoving me and you into boxes for the rest of our lives, because it’s what makes them comfortable. It makes them feel like they have us “figured out.” But we don’t have to accept that. We can jump in and out of whatever boxes we choose. Who we are should be based upon the mosaic of choices and mistakes that we have made, not on any one in particular. Don’t check a box. Tear up the paper, throw away the pen and do whatever makes you happy.

Megan Kathleen Shattuck is an extremely sassy human who is fueled by coffee, ranch dressing and Gilmore Girls. She would like you to believe that she is a writer by day and superhero by night, using only her wits and red lipstick to fight criminals, but she understands if that is hard to believe. She is currently working on her first novel while publishing short stories in the beautiful city of Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @Shattme if you like Scandal, sass, and serious questions about fictional characters.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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