WOULD YOU LIKE A FORCED SMILE WITH THAT?

I recently found myself on the same day at a Starbucks and a Ruby’s Diner. Not to brag or anything. But I noticed something in both places that I feel are linked and so I’m using this blog to try to figure that out exactly. So, here we go and I hope this winds up taking us somewhere interesting…good luck!

I think as women it’s tough for many of us – definitely for me – to trust my GUT. It’s taken a lonnnnng time for me to FIND my voice, let alone listen to it. It was a combination of things that led me back to my voice, but the biggest catalyst was improv. Which is just one of the reasons why I am such a devout fan of it. I shall refrain from rambling on about the glories of improv but just know that I easily could.

One of the things improv asks of anyone doing it, is to trust YOUR response. Since there is no one “right” way to do it, no one “correct” answer, you are left having to use YOUR OWN ideas, reactions and information. And you learn that THAT is plenty. In fact, it’s great! So over time, you start listening and trusting what your impulses and instincts are more and more. For me, and I think for a lot of women, it reconnects us to ourselves. Our own ideas. Our “gut”. Connect to it and more importantly TRUST it. HONOR it.

When I was in improv for about a year, I realized I was getting REALLY angry and defiant in scenes. That was NOT how I pictured myself…a nice, polite, thoughtful person (a k a doormat) from the Midwest. But once that synapse started to get reestablished in me, there was suddenly all this POWER there. Tough women characters, badasses who stood up for themselves and challenged whomever was “in charge”. Really fascinating stuff if you think about it. It was as if I was reintegrating all of that back into myself because I started to change. I started to get more confident, say my mind more often and easily, and not care as much what others thought of me.

I see how that has translated into my life in, what feels like, a million ways. BUT I have also seen over time how the world has been built in particular ways that reinforce us gals being nice, polite, accommodating and thinking of others before ourselves. It’s SO deep and SO engrained that I feel like I’m just starting to see the more subtle layers and its EVERY-FUCKING-WHERE!

CUT TO: Starbucks, Olympic and Fairfax, Los Angeles

Here are the facts:

It’s about 9am and I’m sitting at a table with my Cascara Latte (it’s new…yummy…lots of sugar though) and I have 2 notebooks open. I am prepping for my BUSTING THE GOOD GIRL workshop which starts in an hour. As I scan one notebook for things I want to bring in to today’s workshop, I am interrupted by a male voice. He is standing almost directly at the edge of my table and says right above me, “Copying your notes?” I look up. It’s an older man, hippie-looking dude, beret, white beard, beads around his neck. I smile a little (not too much as to invite a long conversation) and say “yeah, I guess I am.” I go back to writing. “Is it for a class?” Without looking up I say “Yes.” He says “can I ask you what the class is about?” I look at him and say “I’m actually doing some work to get ready for it.” His smile disappears. It’s pretty clear he’s not happy with my response. He very abruptly turns away and goes to sit down at a nearby table.

Now…here’s what stuck out to me. First of all, his energy was my first red flag…just kind of one of those people who have no problem interrupting you and not taking the subtle cues of “hey man, I don’t want to talk to you right now” so you have to get pretty direct for them to get it. But the whole exchange stuck out to me for a few reasons. The minute he approached my table I just felt encroached upon. He walked right up to me, there was no respectful distance or even an “excuse me” or when I say I’m busy, no apology…no “oh, sorry to bother you”…it was rapid fire like he owned the place. When he asked me to tell him what my course was about I felt the familiar hiccup within me. The split between my gut and my Good Girl, my “should” – the part that watches from the outside and tries to figure out what I SHOULD do, what the RIGHT thing, the NICE thing, to do is. Not what I want, but what is “right”. The intel comes from 2 completely different places. And it all happens so fast.

Gut says: fuck off old hippie guy, if you were nice, if you had a different vibe I might totally want to chat with you but there’s something about you that I don’t dig and I am busy and I don’t want to get into a conversation with you about my class because I guarantee all you REALLY want to do is have someone listen to you talk about yourself or your thoughts about my class and right now, I’m interested in neither.

SHOULD says: oh wait, SHOULD you tell him? Would it be MEAN not to? RUDE not to? How is he going to feel if you say NO? It sort of feels like he’ll get pissed if you don’t, he’s very much expecting you to…maybe you just SHOULD.

Both going on…at the same time. Well, NOT the same time. GUT was first. SHOULD swooped in, weighed in, tried to get me to calm down and think. Reason it out.

A ha!!! That’s where the synapse is cut I think!!! Stopping ourselves from pushing back, saying no, not doing what someone expects, not taking care of them or their feelings before my own. I am programmed to HESITATE. Double check my responses to make sure I don’t…don’t what? Say the wrong thing. Speak out of line. Make someone mad. Hurt someone’s feelings. It’s not exactly clear what the hesitation prevents but it’s a general feeling of “oooooh, I’m possibly in touchy waters here.” Or the stakes are too high. There are endless articles about this stuff, this hesitancy, our need to take care of others, etc. But when you know it and STILL see it operate in yourself, you can appreciate how deep it goes and how strong a force it is in us. The programming worked. The synapse (my word for it) between any gut response that feels angry, defiant, or bold seems pretty weak if not severed. I have had SO many women in improv classes (traditional improv and corporate workshops) have a VERY hard time getting angry, even if it's pretend. They can't yell without smiling or their voice just won't go there.

An earlier version of myself would have listened to the SHOULD voice almost immediately, siding on the “when-in-doubt-be-nice” strategy. I am in no way saying not to be nice BUT it does seem like WE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS EXPECTED TO BE NICE. And that we take the hit so others are comfortable. So to be honest, I was glad my hippie friend felt more uncomfortable than I did. I wanted to give that back to him instead of ABSORB it. It’s such a familiar movement but these days, NO WAY. I listen to my gut. Not that it’s ALWAYS right but it is ME and it values ME. The SHOULD values just about everyone and everything else BEFORE me. Had it been a different hippie with a different energy, who knows, we may have had a lovely conversation. But at that moment with that particular person, nope. And that’s all I needed to know.

It got me thinking about us inherently not valuing OURSELVES. I think it’s something we’ve been groomed to do – rewarded for it and punished when we don’t align. I think it’s the same move that we make when we tell a guy we have a boyfriend even when we don’t just to make the “sorry, I’m not interested” easier for them to take. It becomes, “oh I WOULD! But I can’t.” so they feel better. But we have invented an imaginary boyfriend on order to do that…and pretended there was a chance in hell we’d date the guy when there wasn’t. The way this older white guy was behaving, it was as if this place was HIS. And that is definitely NOT the first time I’ve seen that. Hardly. It occurs ALL THE TIME. But this really stood out to me because I have tried to become more aware of when I feel myself split in 2 and doubt my first, gut responses. Now, I can’t totally blame this guy…the Western world has for the most part been curated by straight white men. That’s just how things have been for a few thousand years. And from one perspective, rightly so…they have been the ones out there building the world. Makes sense that their preferences and values would set the tone for how everything was to shake out. When you’re the center of the world – creating it - you must see things differently than when you’re not. Women know what it’s like to be in the “not” category. Any person of intersectionality is in the “not” category. It effects your thinking, your feelings, your sense of right and wrong, your sense of yourself…everything. There’s a lot of fascinating work around intersectionality and if it interests you, have at it! Too much to say about it here…

So…next stop…

CUT TO: Ruby’s Diner @ The Citadel Outlet Mall

Many hours later I took a jaunt to the Citadel and stopped off at Ruby’s Diner to have a burger and chill out. I sat at the counter and took in the 1950’s vibe, listening to Elvis and Chubby Checker. While I was sitting decompressing from the overwhelm from the insane amount of shops that were there, I saw one of the waitresses self-consciously pull her skirt down as she brought out a tray of food to a table. She was wearing the uniform all the women were wearing. And I looked at all of the waitresses in there and then the waiters. I had one of those wonderful moments where you see almost with new eyes, looking through the veil of what is “normal”. Almost like one of those movies where aliens come to earth and see all of our habits and norms for the weird things that they are.

What I saw so clearly was the NIGHT AND DAY difference between what the gals were wearing and the men. The women were wearing TINY tight skirts, tight tops, and lots of make-up (encouraged to look like 50’s girls it seems). The men? As usual, long pants – not tight – and shirts, also not tight. Nothing unique about their hair…not greased back like in the 50’s. At a quick glance, the women were exposing a lot of skin...their legs, arms and neckline. The men? Just what existed after their baggy shirt sleeves stopped, maybe 1/2 an arm. I thought, just for fun, what if a bunch of ‘cougars’ (I actually dislike that term but you know what I mean) or any of my gay guy friends were in charge of the uniforms? If they owned the chain and thought, “fuck it, I’m going to dress my employees how I want to see them”…I’m guessing it’d be a different story. Men in tight shirts, good bodies a must or at least a plus, tight pants or even shorts. Women could wear a tasteful jumpsuit, not too tight, flattering lines and cut. Comfortable and practical! Why not? Well, because this is all built around what straight MEN WANT. What they VALUE. Duh. So obvious. And yet often something new about it will hit me. And the fact that it’s 2017 and still so prevalent and accepted is what interests me. WHY? Why is it still OK?

So to go back to the point of this post, our gut. Sitting at the counter looking at the waitresses and waiters and how completely differently they present themselves…and what those differences are…made me angry. It felt ridiculous, outdated, and wrong. Why are we still allowing this? I believe it was in Australia where at one bar the men wanted to see what it was like to have to wear what the women are told to wear – high heels, tight skirts and tops – and they found it both degrading and almost impossible to do for more than 30-40 minutes. I wondered if the female Ruby's employees ever complained? If they ever wrote a letter to corporate asking for more “equal” uniforms?  Underneath it, there's simply the FACT of the difference. That it’s existed for such a long time and that we hardly see it. Or hardly get upset about it. And how unfair that all seems.

And that’s what I’m getting more and more interested in. Is there that moment when they are putting on their uniform that their gut tells them to refuse. Or if one of the female managers looks out on the floor and notices how, well, sexist the uniforms are and wants to address it. But they don’t BECAUSE maybe that synapse hasn’t been reconnected. Where not making waves and fitting in is MORE valued than speaking your mind and standing up for yourself. And when you HAVE stood up for yourself or seen other women do it, they not only are NOT rewarded but perhaps even punished.

Just tonight I was in an improv class and even though it's an advanced improv class filled with men and women with lots of experience, I noticed yet again: the men all spoke first; in the scenes where we needed to identify the 'protagonist' they were all men. The women - as badass as they are - were happy to wait. Hesitate. Did they even see it? Last week I was in Orlando leading a corporate workshop for a sales team of about 80 employees. The experience was evenly distributed between the men and women there and it looked as if there might have even been slightly MORE women on the team than men. Even so, when it came time to volunteer to start an exercise, or share experiences, or ask questions, or provide suggestions...every time, men spoke first.

I would be very interested to see what would start happening if more and more women got connected again to THEIR wants, needs, and desires…listened to that voice before the SHOULD and then decided what to do. Not that one is always the “right” tactic…But I think without knowing what WE want first, we can so easily slip into the groove worn for decades and decades by women ‘behaving’, listening to the SHOULDS, fearing from NOT doing what they say, rewarded for it in fact.

As I left Ruby’s and the 50’s behind me, I walked into the gorgeous, late afternoon sun and thought what a VERY significant moment it is for us women. Perhaps for the first time ever…or at least in a VERY long time, we are free. We live in a world where we can start to push back. We can start from what we value and not adopt anyone else’s value system, norms, and unspoken rules. But we need to get aligned with the truest part of who we each are to know how to navigate. We may piss off a few hippies but that’s ok…what’s that quote that keeps going around? “Equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege."

Time to take up space, ladies.