It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but I am a difficult woman.
For most of my life, I resisted the label.
It’s not surprising that I did. I was told from a young age that a difficult woman was not someone who was not popular. She alienated people. She ended up alone.
Granted, I didn’t know I was difficult until I was about 12 or so and my mother said I was. When I asked what I was doing to be called that, she pointed out that I had a “bad habit” of expressing opinions that others might find uncomfortable.
In this particular case, I remember asking why some people had a problem with gay people. My mother strongly believed that there was nothing wrong with being gay, but warned me that many people where we lived did not feel that way. Therefore, it was better to say nothing if I heard people making comments that being gay was “gross” and “unnatural.”
Unfortunately for her, my difficult streak continued. Once, when I was 16 or so and mourning a break-up, my mother suggested that maybe the reason my boyfriend broke up with me was because I was “too mouthy.” Again, it was explained to me that it was okay to have opinions—just so long as I kept any offensive ones to myself.
For a long time, I tried to be as unoffensive and “good” as possible, especially in personal relationships. If the guy I was with wasn’t treating me well or acting in a way that was especially respectful, I kept my mouth shut. Inside, I seethed with rage, but I was careful never to let it come out, lest I be seen as out-of-control—or worse, a bitch.
However, it was only a matter of time before I realized that I couldn’t keep up the act forever. By the time I reached my mid-20s, I decided it was better to show my true self and let those around me see what they were dealing with in the beginning than hide behind a phony persona that sooner or later would slip off like a mask.
When I chose the former, a funny thing happened. Namely, I didn’t lose friends like I feared I would; I actually gained friends who not only tolerated the real me, but actually liked me for being me.
There are many misconceptions about “difficult” women—not the least of which is that we are difficult or cannot be friendly or empathetic if we insist on speaking our minds. It simply isn’t true. I am outspoken, but I am also very much aware of the feelings of others, as well as appropriate times versus inappropriate times to air my views.
There is also the myth that in order to be friends with us, it’s either our way or the highway. Again, totally untrue.
In fact, some of my closest friends are those who share different views than I do on politics, art, many things. Expressing a view and trying to convert others to a particular way of thinking are two totally separate things. Indeed, if I ever try to foist my views on others, I hope those around me will call me out immediately.
However, if I feel passionately about something or even if I just want to express my view about something, I am not going to be silent.
If that makes me a difficult woman, then I am hardly alone. History is full of difficult women—Susan B. Anthony, Katharine Hepburn, Hillary Clinton and bell hooks to name a few. While I harbor no illusions that I will join the ranks of those women, at least I can see that being difficult didn’t hurt them and indeed, their respective “difficulty” paved the way for a lot of women.
Given that International Women’s Day was just this past weekend, I have thought a lot about ways we can make the world better for women. While it may be a small step, making the world safer and more accepting of difficult women may well be a good start not just for women but for all of us. Just like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said she would like to ban the word “bossy, “I’d like to see “difficult woman” replaced with opinionated or outspoken.
At the very least, I want women and girls to know there is nothing wrong with having an opinion and voicing it.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Dan Queiroz/Flickr