Passing on Being Passive

Women's & Gender Studies
November 29, 2016

In an essay previously published on, Taylor Hawk '20, explores the merits of activism.

Passing on Being Passive

I am done with being passive.

I have decided this for myself. From now on, I am going to be one assertive badass.

I came to resent my passiveness when I realized it was a character trait that I was taught to have as female. Being the stubborn feminist that I am, I decided to really examine my passive tendencies and how these behaviors have stemmed from my female identity.

The dismal realization of my passiveness occurred after one of my theory classes. As a class, we discussed Susan Bordo's “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do). Essentially, Bordo suggests that the body is a text that can be interrupted and read in different ways.

My professor related this to a point that started this whole examination of my own passiveness. My professor highlighted how women are often not hired over their male competitors, even if their interviews were stronger, their words were more impassioned, or if they had clearer goals in mind. This is because the women were often more passive and less assertive than their male counterparts. Women are often “read” as passive, and this has real life consequences.

My professor then brought up Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, and the ways Sandberg argues that, in order to get ahead and be successful in the working world, particularly the technology and media industries, they must associate themselves with masculine, assertive behaviors. Taking charge, standing up for oneself, not letting oneself being interrupted (as many women often are), and being direct and honest about one's wants and goals are all assertive behaviors that many would deem as masculine instead of feminine. Sandberg explains women must adapt and display these active instead of passive behaviors.

This also presents a double-edged sword, as Sandberg recognizes. She says, “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”

I am not going to let myself or others walk over me because I am female. I am female, I am feminine, and I will be successful. It's all about changing my mindset.

Knowing that many underestimate my ability to succeed simply because of my female and feminine identity only fuels my fire more.

Here are the goals I have for myself to be less passive:

Stop apologizing for every damn thing. I apologize when someone bumps into me. I apologize if someone calls me by the wrong name. I apologize for speaking up. I apologize if I need to ask a question. I apologize for apologizing. This is a sensation many women experience. As Buzzfeed hilariously pitches, “Ladies, Let’s Stop Apologizing For Shit We Didn’t Do Wrong.”

Say what you're really thinking and do not let your own words be taken away from you. I often keep words to myself in convenience to others. If someone says something that bothered or offended me, I usually let it go instead of rightly speaking up for myself and for anyone else who might be involved in fear of confrontation. I have to stop that. I was given a voice for a reason.

Walk with your head up and with confidence in your step. From now on, I will always walk with Sarah Hagi's quote in mind, “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

Strive for success, and do not let others (or yourself) underestimate you. Knowing that many underestimate my ability to succeed simply because of my female and feminine identity only fuels my fire more. I am also guilty of underestimating myself. But, as Sandberg says so beautifully, “Women need to shift from thinking “I'm not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that- and I'll learn by doing it.” I am ready. For what, I am not sure. But I'm ready.

Be confident in your right to take up space. As females, we are taught to take up as little space as possible. For example, women are taught to cross our legs in public spaces, while manspreading exists and is very, very real.

One day I was walking on a narrow sidewalk to my first class of the day. I looked up to see two male students walking towards me, engaged and laughing in a conversation. Anticipating the lack of space on the sidewalk, I stepped into the grass, still damp from morning dew, as I passed them. Instead of one of the male students stepping behind the other, I chose to walk around them. No shade to these two male students. As I have been taught passiveness, they have been taught assertiveness. This sensation funnily even has a name, “manslamming.”

So yes, I'm passing on being passive. Ladies, we are strong, we are assertive, and we are not limited to the behaviors we have been taught to present.

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