If existing as a female in this mortal coil for 27 years has taught me anything, it’s that the most important thing for a woman to be, from a societal standpoint, is to be agreeable.
Like most girls, growing up I constantly struggled with being perceived as too much. Even in 2021 when women can supposedly have it all, I continue to struggle with this – and I know I’m not the only one.
Too sensitive. Too positive. Too talkative. Too slutty. Too opinionated. Too career oriented. Too self-centered. Too political. Too emotional. No matter what adjective you drop in there, I can almost guarantee that at some point it has been weaponized against a woman.
Some days, I wear my “too-muchness” like a badge of honour. Other days, the criticism still gets to me – especially when it comes from someone whose opinion I value. Growing up, that meant pretty much everyone. If a young girl ever tries to tell you that she doesn’t care what people think, she probably doesn’t mean it. Not completely, anyway.
Being unapologetically yourself is one thing. I have always striven to be that way, especially considering that I grew up surrounded by strong women who reminded me every day about the importance of being true to myself. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt when people told me that being myself was too much for them.
Being unapologetically myself and making the conscious decision over and over again to not care about how others react is another matter entirely; it was something I had to learn. And it was damn hard. If we’re being perfectly candid, I continue to work every day to silence the voice in my head that tells me I’m too much, and that I should tone myself down for the comfort of others.
Sometimes, I give in.
Men who know what they want and go for it are seen as leaders and “alphas.” Women with these same traits are instead seen as being too bossy. Too intimidating. Too selfish. The same characteristics that are seen in men as positive are constantly used to suppress women. Even sensitive men are judged by society, because sensitivity is seen as a feminine trait – and that’s on toxic masculinity.
Felicity Menzies, CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, calls this “the assertiveness double-bind.” It can be extremely detrimental to women in both their careers and their personal lives, especially when aspiring to leadership.
“Studies show that when women exhibit stereotypically masculine traits commonly associated with leadership, like assertiveness, they are less-liked when compared with men exhibiting the same traits,” Menzies says in a 2018 report titled Gender Bias At Work: The Assertiveness Double-Bind. “Because likability can be an even more important factor than competence for getting hired, women who breach gender stereotypes may jeopardize their career prospects.”
When I decided to write this blog, I wondered if maybe I was just being too sensitive – another “too much” situation that I often experience. So, I decided to pose the question to my female-identifying family, friends and social media followers: have you ever been told that you were too much?
The response was overwhelming.
“I could write you a novel on all the ways I’m too much,” said a friend on Facebook. “I’ve been told I’m too much to handle, too loud, too outspoken, I dress too provocatively – although I swear to you I could wear a turtleneck and be told I’m too provocative. Like I’m good enough to fuck but when it comes to what actually makes me a person, I’m too much to date.”
“I’m often told I’m too loud,” said another, “or too attention seeking.”
“I’ve been told I’m too sensitive, too emotional, too overdramatic, too talkative, too loud, too energetic, and that I’m too much in general,” someone added.
“I get that I’m ‘too sensitive’ sometimes,” said another friend. “It’s their constant devaluation of my emotions that sends me over the edge. I respond with sadness and they respond to my sadness with anger or frustration, probably because they can’t handle their own emotions, so seeing someone else emotional makes them upset.”
“Too loud, talk too fast, maybe too blunt,” shared a family member. “Oh, and I swear too much.”
“I’ve been told that I’m too intense and intimidating,” said another woman.
Other repeat offenders included being too annoying, too outspoken, too hyper, too strong-willed, too fat, too skinny, too tall, too honest, too shy, too bubbly, too quiet and too outgoing.
“I had a grown-ass adult ask me why I’m too miserable all the time,” said a friend on Twitter. “I have severe depression. It was a teacher at school who told me that.”
That one hit close to home for me. I was told the same thing by someone who meant a lot to me at the time. He told me no one would ever want me if I couldn’t be happier. At the time I was 18 and going through a severe mental health episode. I took it to heart and attempted to overcompensate by being a 24/7 ray of sunshine, which made me even more miserable. Ultimately, I had to re-teach myself that it’s healthy to allow myself to experience negative emotions.
That person is no longer in my life.
In total, I received more than 60 comments, messages and responses. It quickly became apparent that what I was seeing was a pattern, and patterns like this usually indicate a deeply flawed system. One that has been normalized and deemed socially acceptable. Am I missing something here?
When I was a kid, I had a good friend who everyone always said was “too much.” I will be the first to admit that I sometimes went along with it.
The societal expectation for women to be quiet and demure was something I had internalized my whole life, and I had to put conscious effort into unlearning that. My friend was loud, abrasive and enthusiastic about everything they did. But whenever anyone tried to force them to tone it down, they would celebrate themselves instead.
That was my introduction to the idea that it was not a requirement for a girl to make herself smaller. Quieter. To take up as little space as possible. To laugh uncomfortably when a man says something that makes her uncomfortable instead of addressing it, because his comfort will always be more important than hers.
It seemed foreign to me at the time, but over the years I have come to terms with the reality that women should be allowed to exhibit the same traits as men without being punished for it. Looking back, I know now that I wouldn’t change my friend for the world. I wouldn’t dream of asking them to be anyone but themselves, and I can’t believe there was ever a time that I thought differently.
That’s internalized misogyny for you, am I right?
My refusal to tone down my “too-muchness” has gained me the reputation of being notoriously opinionated and outspoken. Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally not a disagreeable person. I pride myself on being open, friendly, kind, supportive and honest. However, I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right, either, even if that means having tough conversations with the people I care about.
Politics in particular are a tricky issue for me, because I consider someone’s politics to be in line with their morals. I also don’t jive well with people who are unnecessarily mean or judgmental toward others, and if someone’s energy isn’t good for mine on a fundamental level then I will gently remove myself from the situation if needed. I’ll never punish someone for being themselves or try to change them, but I will not hesitate to do what is necessary for my own wellbeing.
Every woman has at least one thing that people deem “too much.” It can be easy to concede for the sake of accommodating others, especially when you consider that we’ve all been told since the beginning of time how important it is for a woman to be accommodating.
So, going forward, why don’t we all pledge to release ourselves from the neat little boxes society tries to force us into? We deserve to live our lives freely and authentically, and if that makes someone uncomfortable, then it’s their problem… not ours.
You are not too much. If you are being true to yourself, respectful and kind toward others and are tackling life to the best of your ability, then that’s all anyone can ask of you. Give yourself a break. Take a page out of my friend’s book and celebrate yourself.
Happy International Women’s Day!