Being likeable. It’s something we’re taught from a young age and is quite difficult to shrug off, this idea that likeability is an essential part of being a woman. We’re meant to hold back, not be overly pushy, or loud, or say too much because in order to make our way in the world, we need to play nicely. But what happens when we make nice our number one priority?
You let other people direct your relationships.
When we try too hard to be likeable, the first thing to go is a sense of agency. We’re afraid to ask for too much or be too much, so we only want from others what they appear to want from us. …at least, that’s as much as you’ll admit to yourself. It’s hardly a fulfilling way to operate, whether these relationships are professional or personal. In fact, you’re doing yourself a big disservice when you invest in a person and it’s a one way street.
Negotiating your opinions.
Finding common ground – it’s the instinctive thing to do. Remember the rather questionable logic that if a boy picks on you in the playground, it means he likes you? Well surprise, surprise, that little adage does not fly in the real world. Whether in the workplace or on a Tinder date, nobody wants to be the first to offend. So we dish out tentatively phrased, easily digestible opinions. Things you may personally believe waver depending on the person you’re talking to. You remain quiet even when the chance to speak out presents itself.
While it may be a harmless thing to do once or twice, making a habit out of diluting your views means you’re missing out on opportunities to clarify them. These are the things that shape you as a person, and talking – even disagreeing – with others can be a validating experience. Being different isn’t a bad thing.
Losing your voice.
The very social media-centric terms of “mansplaining” and “manterrupting” seem like they were coined specifically for hashtag purposes, but unfortunately for us women, they describe something all too real. How many of us can attest to trying to explain something, only to have a man needlessly interrupt or take our ideas and run with them? Backing up this phenomenon, the GenderTimer app tracks (with illuminating results) just how often men and women speak up while at work.
For a woman to speak up at work, it involves a balancing act of Cirque de Soleil proportions. Either she voices her thoughts and is perceived as too aggressive or a know-it all, or she’s barely heard. And when a man surfaces virtually the same idea, the default is a round of head nods and approval for his fine idea. There are countless studies to prove it. So, it doesn’t exactly come as a shock that more often than not, we put our heads down and decide that less is more, that it’s better to be nice than to be heard. But if the absolutely boss women of the 21st century (hello, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama) have taught us anything at all, it’s to not be afraid of acknowledging our own expertise. If speaking up means being a #NastyWoman, so be it!
Your goals take a backseat.
Growing up, we were conditioned to put others first. We’re taught that the moral, socially responsible thing to do is to care for everyone else and when you slip into the bottom rungs of your own priority list, well, that’s pretty noble. While it’s true that so much good can come out of a little selflessness, sometimes this mentality spills over into less benevolent circumstances. Like when you end up holding yourself back at your own expense – prioritising the feelings of someone who is hurting you, or feeling embarrassed about asking for a promotion you’re pretty sure you deserve.
Sometimes, to put yourself first is practical, not selfish. That people have unconscious biases based on gender is a given, and you need to factor that in when you try to soften your approaches. You need to invest in yourself as much as you do others, because no way are you sacrificing your goals in an effort to be “nice”.
Your job isn’t to make yourself likeable – it’s to be your full self, someone who is honest and aware and embracing of yourself and others. It’s to be ambitious and hopeful and real – basically, you just need to do you. The world will have to deal with it.