Sugar and Spice?

Do you ever get tired of acting nice? When it’s “one of those days” and you just want to tell it like it is?

Whether from motherhood-induced exhaustion, hormones, stress, excessive caffeine or a craving for chocolate, we all find ourselves on edge from time to time. However, most of us were raised to keep a smile on our faces and continue to act polite, conciliatory and helpful, no matter what.

Sometimes, I just want to wallow in it; to sulk and let off steam. Back in my single days, I could take myself to a “romantic comedy” to provide respite and provoke a good cry, or join a few girlfriends over half a dozen margaritas to slam the boys who “done me wrong” or the supervisor at work who was stalling my career.

Now, for an outlet on bad days, sometimes I try a little retail therapy. While I’m too frugal to find pleasure in an overpriced and unnecessary pair of four-inch heels, I do enjoy perusing the aisles in peace. And, as Greta Garbo famously said in Grand Hotel, I just want to be alone.

So, when an aggressive, commission-seeking salesclerk starts following me around, telling me what looks good, what’s trendy or what he’s going to eat for lunch, I feel like saying, “Don’t bother me.” But, I know that if I do so, he’ll turn around and mouth to a colleague, “Wow, she’s a b#*%!” (And why do I care what he thinks?)

Many of us have felt rage towards line-jumpers, especially while suffering long lines on ramps joining two highways. You’re late for a meeting, need to rush home to relieve the nanny or you have a hungry, dirty-diapered baby screaming in the back seat, and your car is barely moving. And then, someone quickly approaches in the adjacent lane, and that car angles to cut in front of you. Your inclination is to nose towards the car in front of you, so the interloper has no room to jump in, but you know that if you don’t allow it, someone else will. So, instead of provoking road rage, you smile and signal, “Sure, come on in!”

I think we all need to give ourselves permission to speak the truth; to shush the rude GNO group in the movie theater, to stop someone in the middle of a long, self-aggrandizing story, to deny a Facebook “friend request” from someone we’d rather not have contact with, to tell a friend, colleague or family member that they have hurt our feelings…

According to author Rachel Simmons, women – and especially middle- and high-school girls – must learn to speak their minds, instead of subjugating their emotions. In fact, she theorizes that the main culprit for girl-on-girl bullying is the fact that women are trained to suppress negative feelings and to try to please those who annoy or hurt them the most.

In her 2002 book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and the follow-up The Curse of the Good Girl, Simmons notes that for young girls – just as for grown women – the pressure for perfection causes undue stress and can lead to passive-aggressive behavior. In fact, it’s very common for “frenemies” to tease and point out faults, then laugh and say, “just kidding.”

Instead of telling others how they really feel about such hurtful behavior, super-stressed and, yes, hormonal young ladies resort to dirty looks, cold shoulders, exclusionary behavior and behind-the-back talk and “stabbings.”

Simmons’ wisely suggests that girls of all ages should “cut themselves some slack” and voice their true feelings. Girls must realize that “being nice” doesn’t mean they can’t stand up for themselves.

For their part, it seems boys and men always been encouraged to show their rough sides. They grow up knowing that, for the most part, it’s okay to “solve it on the playground” (or in an alley behind a bar), to tell or show each other that they’re pissed off, and then to move on. Men are not trained to be sweet and compliant partly because, as the unforgettable baseball manager Leo Durocher quipped in 1948, they believe that “nice guys finish last.”

In truth, several recent studies bear that out. A study summarized in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology last winter found that men who described themselves as “agreeable” fared worse than their more-aggressive colleagues.

Over the course of a decade, researchers Beth A. Livingston of Cornell, Timothy A. Judge of Notre Dame, and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, assessed levels of “agreeableness” among 9,000 workers. They found that self-described “agreeable” men earned, on average, nearly $7,000 less than peers who didn’t act so kindly. At the same time, the impact of “agreeableness” wasn’t as severe among women; nice gals earned just $1,100 less than their tough-as-nails co-workers.

It’s really a double-standard; we’ve all heard the “b” word used to describe female executives who take no prisoners, while the world’s Steve Jobs or Gordon Gekkos are rarely criticized for being “bast%@#s.”

In fact, I had to chuckle last year when the only flaw noted in my husband’s otherwise stellar work performance review was that he was “too nice.” Would society really suffer if men used a little more honey, and women a little more vinegar?

Linda Williams Rorem, 7 May 2012
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  1. Ann L. Rosewall says:

    As one who suffered tremendously in jr. high at the hands of female classmates, I found the book Odd Girl Out to be reassuring and spot-on. Boys slug it out and move on, while the girls are tormenting the odd girl by silence. In my seminary classes on pastoral care I use the text: Counseling Women: A Narrative Approach to Pastoral Counseling by Christie Cozad-Neuger. For those of us in the helping professions this is a great tool for empowering women and girls to come to voice, gain clarity and seek community (and a great reminder for ourselves along the way). I look forward to Permission Slips!! Blessings, Ann

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Ann. I am glad to hear that pastors are being trained to help women speak up for themselves. I will check out that book. Thanks for your continued support of Permission Slips!

  2. Carrie Lovsted says:

    Thanks Linda for this insight! So great to teach this concept to our daughters. I do want our girls to learn more than just be nice. I also want our sons at 17 to learn to be nice at times. A friend told me Justin was so nice and supportive last week in the midst of a freshman’s crisis. I will tell Justin thanks for supporting a freshman in a tough situation and thanks for being nice!!

    • Carrie, it’s tricky, isn’t it…how to be nice without being a pushover, and how to stand up for yourself without being considered a b#@*&. I do hope our kids are figuring this out. BTW thanks for passing on the comment about Justin. We all need to hear positive feedback about our kids!

  3. Amy Porterfield Myers says:

    Linda, So well stated! I needed to learn this a long time ago! Being able to express your feelings honestly, but politely has been my mission to teach my 3 sons, all of whom I suppose will also be accused of being too nice someday….I hope! Thanks for your point of view!

    • Thanks so much, Amy. Yes, it’s a constant struggle for mild-mannered women to speak up. And I do think — at least I hope — that this next generation of boys will “get it.” For my part, I’m doing my best to raise three empathetic young men!

  4. Linda, I am going to share this with my 14 year old tonight. And will be checking the library for the Rachel Simmons books! I never know what to say when she complains about the “Mean Girls” and frenemies at school. I just listen, and sympathize.

    • Thanks, Andrea. I think you’ll enjoy the books. The author spoke in my community several years back, and although Caroline was quite small at the time, I remember thinking, “I’m going to need this information before long.”

  5. This is so true–and sometimes so hard to do. Even in my own home, where I feel entitled to get mad and frustrated when people don’t pick up after themselves or pitch in, or I am treated like a maid (although I’d insist any maid got better treatment), when I lose it, it’s chalked up to “bad mood” or “hormones”–instead of acknowledging the behavior that led to my build-up of frustration. I’ve found it’s important to let off steam or point out problems earlier on instead of letting resentments build, but I still can’t say I’ve found the right way to assert my feelings in many situations! When I do assert myself or say something negative, I find I feel very guilty afterward. I think you’ve hit on a really important issue!

    • Thanks so much for your comment (and loyalty), Jill. I agree; it’s sometimes hardest to speak up among loved ones. I, too, struggle with letting off steam before it becomes a volcanic eruption!

  6. Chris Oaks says:

    Well done Linda-as usual-on subject rarely addressed. This is an important issue for men & women-but unlike almost any other issue you can readily take to girlfriends for discussion, understanding & good advice-this topic is often kept under wraps leading to a great deal of frustration. Hopefully this will encourage more dialoge between friends, mothers & daughters, sisters or women who are in mentoring relationships w/younger or less experienced women.

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