So, today an Undecided reader tipped me off to an interesting read over at TheFrisky, entitled “Why Being Called ‘An Opinionated Woman’ Hurts.” Writer Chloe Angyal sets the scene:
Last weekend, I was hanging out with a male friend who I’ll call Stan. Over the course of our convo, he brought up a mutual friend who writes a rather detailed blog about her sex life. Stan was obviously disturbed by the amount of sex she appeared to be having, and the circumstances under which she’s having it. He was so perturbed that, well, the term ‘slut’ may have been thrown around once or twice.
I, of course, objected and a fight ensued. ‘Look, Chloe,’ Stan said. ‘You’re a very opinionated woman…’
I couldn’t help but notice that the tone he used for the words ‘slut’ and ‘opinionated’ sounded exactly the same.
I’m guessing you know what Angyal’s talking about. I certainly do. (Surely I can’t be the only one who’s been kicked under the table by a significant other attempting some sort of panicked Don’t-Say-It-Dear-God-Please-Don’t-Say-It!-driven damage control… ummm, can I?) I’ve never been known for my lack of opinions–or my lack of willingness to express them. And so, I guess it’s logical that I am no stranger to the way being identified as an opinionated woman can sometimes feel. But, you know, being a strongly opinionated woman and all, shouldn’t I be immune to the sting of such a sling? ‘Fraid not, folks. As Angyal points out, there are reasons why to be called out as such hurts just a little bit more for the female among us.
But ‘opinionated,’ when applied to a woman, is often code for ‘uppity,’ and ‘unladylike,’ and most of all, for ‘threatening because you don’t seem to be agreeing with me like you’re supposed to.’…
Note that Stan didn’t just call me opinionated. He called me an opinionated woman, as if to suggest that I was somehow unique or unusual for having both XX chromosomes and ideas…
That’s all ‘opinionated’ really is when applied to a woman: A way to shut her down. It’s like calling her ‘ugly’ and hoping that she’ll be so upset by your slight that she’ll shut up and stop disagreeing with you. Sometimes, it works, because no one likes to be told they’re bad at being a woman.
Like calling ourselves feminists, owning our opinions is risky. Putting ourselves out there is akin to voluntarily putting ourselves in front of the proverbial jury–one that will, in all likelihood, not only hand down judgments about the opinions we put out there, but, more insidiously–and more to the point–make judgments about us based on the fact that we’re putting those opinions out there at all. And it’s hard not to be held just a little bit captive to the fear that we’ll be perceived a certain way if we step too far out of the bounds of what’s socially acceptable for a woman. As though to do so somehow makes us less of a woman. And no one wants that.
To shut up or to speak up, that is the question, and either option involves a risk. In speaking up, there’s a risk that someone will think us a little less ladlylike, a little improper, a little…. opinionated. But in shutting up, I’d venture to say that the risks are steeper. Namely, that every time we opt to keep our opinions to ourselves, we do a little more to convince ourselves that using our voice is dangerous. Which makes it a little bit harder to use it the next time. And the next. And in my not so humble opinion, that’s a whole lot riskier.