In my last post, I talked about body positivity. About letting go of attempts to conform to body-size expectations. But it’s not just my body size that has me constantly feeling like I’m battling against the machine–not only am I bombarded with messages that I need to take up less physical space, I’m also told to be quieter so that my personality will take up less psychic space. My father, for example, said to me many times: “You’ve got a big mouth, Ella. It’s going to get you into trouble some day. You need to learn when to shut up.” Sometimes he’d smack me, to emphasize his point.
My father is not the only man who tried to shut me up and tone me down. In my twenties, I had a boyfriend who made it his mission to “tame” me. He too thought physical abuse would do the trick. It didn’t. Men have tried to shut me up in my professional life, too. For example, at my first job out of law school in a mid-size firm in Houston, the male managing partner told me, “You’re too aggressive. You need to dial it down a notch or two. It’s off-putting.” Yes, a litigator was telling another litigator she was too aggressive. I’m willing to bet he has never uttered anything similar to a male litigator, no matter how aggressively (or even, obnoxiously) he behaved.
Twenty years later, male lawyers still have an advantage when it comes to being heard. For example, here’s a summary of a discussion that took place at a meeting I recently attended (dollar amounts have been changed to protect privilege):
“I think we should offer to settle for $3.4 million. We’ve got them on the run now. We’ve got the upper hand.”
Male Lawyer A, not acknowledging what I just said:
“We’ve definitely got the upper hand now. They are playing defense. I bet they’ll take $3.4 million.”
Male Lawyer B:
“I think you’re exactly right, Male Lawyer A–$3.4 million will get this done.”
Sadly, this sort of thing is not the exception. I expect in another 20, or 40, or 50 years, women will have made additional inroads, but in the meantime, I really am tired of beating my head against a wall. More than anything, I just want out. I want out for many reasons, but the big one is, I want out because being a lawyer (particularly with BigLaw) only increases the expected level of conformity for women. Expectations that women be a certain size, dress a certain way, and say only certain things in a certain tone of voice. Of course, as I’ve discussed before, I can’t get out yet. I need to take the money they’re paying me and stash it away for a bit longer, until I’ve got a big enough pile that I can say, in the words of our nearly-former Governor Rick Perry, “Adios, Motherfucker.”
Until then, I’m going to practice non-conformity. I’m going to stop dieting. I’m going to exercise because it feels good, because I like to be outside, and not with the goal of weight loss. I’m going to be loud and say whatever the hell I want to say–here on my blog. I am going to have as many cats as I want (currently, I want three), and embrace the label of crazy cat lady, spinster with cats, or whatever else anyone wants to throw at me. I am going to remain single for as long as I want, which to my current thinking, will be forever. And I’m not going to apologize for any of it.
Have you noticed all the articles and blog posts lately in which women defend and explain why they’re single? Why they’re childless/childfree? Why they live alone? Why it’s okay that they have a cat–or gasp–more than one cat? Me thinks they (and I) doth protest too much. I don’t know about you, but I’m no longer apologizing for the way I live my life. I’m not taking on shame for my choices, even though they’re unconventional. Why apologize? Why not applaud ourselves for doing what is right for us, despite enormous pressure to do otherwise?
Things for which I will no longer apologize, feel compelled to explain, or feel ashamed about:
- I’m 51 and never married.
- I have no children.
- I live alone with three black fluffy cats.
- I’m fat.
I’m not entirely over the last one, as I want to add that I am in perfect health and I’m only mildly fat. As if it’s only okay to be fat so long as it is only mildly so, and only if you are in perfect health. Baby steps.
To help me in my quest to stop apologizing and embrace my awesome single, childfree, cat-loving lifestyle, and to rediscover my big mouth, I am going to immerse myself in a bit of feminist reading. I would love to hear about your favorite books and essays to help me in my quest.
While I await your recommendations, I’m off for another lovely Sunday-afternoon walk. And when I get home, I’m going to bake an apple crisp.