As a woman who’s confident in what she wants, I’ve been told I’m difficult more times than I can count. From a male friend joking that I’m never going to find a boyfriend because I told him to move his legs on the couch, to a photographer telling me I’m hard to please for correcting his mistakes to an ex calling me “power hungry” because I ended things after I realized my needs weren’t going to be met, I’m sick of being expected by society to bow my head and be quiet. And I know I’m not the only one.
I’m a magazine founder who’s been putting out issues for years, so I know what I want — and especially what I don’t. I’m always learning how to improve aspects of my business, and I’m open to new ideas. I’m firm when I need to be, and understanding when things come up. But I often wonder — are male entrepreneurs told they’re too difficult? Are they looked at as entitled for having expectations? No one has ever moved up in the world by accepting things for how they are — but for some reason when women are opinionated they’re often deemed as ‘cold’ and ‘calculating.’
I’ve always been seen as difficult — even from the beginning. When I was a child, my parents often complained that I was “needy,” and “demanding.” Despite this being normal for an adolescent who depends on adults to take care of them, I grew up thinking that I asked for too much. I would struggle while trying to figure out how to raise my failing grades as my tired parents watched television after a hard day at work. I bottled up my feelings and shrank inside myself as young women are often taught to, and I tried not to “cause trouble.”
But as I grew older, these feelings eventually spewed out of me in the form of impatience and a temper. I was caught between wanting to please everyone and not knowing how to express my needs in a healthy way — convinced that every time I asked for something someone I cared about would blow up at me. Because a lot of the time, they did — whether they were my stressed-out parents, toxic friends or abusive relationships. I fought my feelings for as long as I could, until there was no more room for them and they burst out of me. And every time I was terrified that I would ruin that relationship because I wasn’t easy-going enough.
I still have that fear — although it’s not as loud anymore. After years of therapy, I’ve learned healthy coping mechanisms to examine my emotions and easily express what I need. I’ve began to fill my life with people who are able to work though issues without getting defensive and using gaslighting tactics. It still amazes me that I can say what I need and someone can respond with “okay,” and especially, “I’m sorry” — and that’s the end of the conversation, not the beginning of a fight. I’m so happy I’m in a place where I’m finally starting to be confident enough to speak my mind in my personal relationships and not instantly start crying for fear that someone will start yelling at me.
But that fear doesn’t coincide with business — because business isn’t personal. Once I was waiting with a bunch of friends for a cab I had called, and it was taking forever, so I called the company and told them that if they didn’t show up soon I’d be taking my business elsewhere. A male friend overheard and went, “whoa — you catch more flies with honey,” encouraging me to be nicer. But I hadn’t yelled at the operator or even been rude to him — I simply asked for what I ordered. Did I have to sweet talk him to do his job? If I were a man would I have been told to be ‘nicer?’
Situations where I have to be opinionated come up all the time. I live in an old apartment building, and recently I’ve been having a lot of repairs. Handymen my landlord sends come and go, often doing the cheapest versions of repairs, and causing more work to be done down the road. Because women are taught to be agreeable and grateful for any help they’re getting, I’m often caught between having to choose between voicing that I need things done in a better way or looking like a grumpy woman who’s never happy with anything.
The only way things get done — whether it’s solving a relationship issue or work problem — is by saying what’s on your mind. Women have been taught to jump through 10000 hoops to not hurt people’s feelings, so when we say something like, ‘I need you to do this,’ instead of, ‘would you mind doing this?’ we’re seen as demanding. Because I’m straight forward and get to the point, I’m sometimes seen as a bitch. But I really don’t care about coddling people’s feelings. If men are offended because I said something they didn’t like, it’s their job to work through it — not mine to make them feel better. We didn’t get the right to vote because we asked for it nicely. As women, we need to stop worrying about saying things the ‘right way’ and be more confident in ourselves, more firm in our ideas and more loud in our execution. ‘Difficult’ is just society’s word for women speaking their minds.
The next time someone calls me difficult, I’ll simply say — you’re right.