To My Mentor, Who Thinks I Should Be More of an Asshole
First of all, thank you for the advice. I appreciate that you’re looking out for me and looking for ways that I can grow and succeed. I value your opinion very highly, and I do, genuinely, hope to make you proud.
I will not, however, be making any effort to be more of an asshole.
Let me explain. You want me to be more of an asshole, I think, for a couple of reasons.
1. You want me to think and worry less about how other people think and feel.
I understand your logic. The situation was specific, while laughing and talking in a group, someone made a joke at my expense, and I walked out in mock-protest. Later, I worried that the person who made the joke might have thought they really hurt my feelings. I didn’t want that. In your mind, this was me over-analyzing the situation. In mine, it was me reflecting on my actions and empathizing with a friend.
Did it cause me a traumatizing amount of worry? No. Do I begrudge a few passing minutes of guilt if that’s the price of respecting my friend as a person? No.
You believe I overthink things- and I can’t deny it. But I believe in overthinking things. I don’t believe in reducing the complexity of human lives and experiences to passing thoughts or small ideas. It’s easy to be dismissive when you refuse to think too much. I could have thought, I’m sure he didn’t care, and let that be the end of it. And in this specific instance, I would have been right. But how many relationships have been poisoned, how many friends have been lost, how many bridges have been burned because we presume to know how other people feel. I know I’m young and I still have a lot to learn, but I don’t think I’ll regret being thoughtful and intentional towards the people I care about.
2. You don’t want me to get pushed around or taken advantage of.
You want me to be tough. You want me to be a resilient, strong, and forceful person. You want me to succeed and to be a powerful advocate for my own ideas. That’s why you’re a great mentor. And don’t get me wrong, I strive to be a strong and resilient woman, but I don’t believe that being more of an asshole is my path. Some women make great assholes, that is who they are and I applaud them and admire them and try to channel them when I can. But that is not who I am.
But maybe you’ve overlooked the fact that I am a woman. Maybe you’ve assumed that we’ve reached some kind of post-gender world or that I am someone with enough personal gravitas to overcome my conditioning, to look past the micro-aggressions that we deal with countless times a day, and to be immune to how I am perceived. If this is the case, I think maybe you’ve under-thought this situation.
I’m starting from a disadvantage. The way I look, talk, and act was, for most of time, the way of “the weaker sex”. Whether its conscious or not, those assumptions are still there in peoples psyches. You recognize this, perhaps, and that’s why you think, she can’t be too nice, it compounds the weakness, it will be a further disadvantage. Which is, unfortunately, true.
I know that I work in industry where I will almost always be one of the only women in the room, and I don’t want that to be a barrier to my success. But the way to address gender inequality, the way that respects who I am as a person, isn’t to ask me to be someone I’m not to compensate for the way others will wrongly see me. The most insidious kind of gender bias is that which would require me to change who I am.
Also, consider that I, like most women, have been socially conditioned to care more about the feelings of others. In that way, when you ask me to feel less, you’re not recognizing that everywhere I go, the world tells me to do the opposite. You’re not appreciating the fact that if I am more of an asshole, I will be thought of as bossy, bitchy, dominating, insensitive, and cold. Do I care that people will think this of me? Of course I do. But more importantly, if I become more of an asshole and earn these denigrating titles, I will be doubly wounded, both by being thought poorly of and by acting in a way that’s not true to myself. When I am caring and empathetic, you (and everyone else) may think me overly-kind, a pushover, or that I care too much about feelings, but at least in this situation, I get to be who I am.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’re squinting with exasperation at these words thinking, “Sarah, you’re proving my point here. You’re totally overthinking this.” Well, I’m proving my point too. If I was any less open-minded and empathetic (read: if I were more of an asshole), I would have probably outright dismissed your advice. I would have gotten mad at the inherent injustices in it and become more cold and distant to you for the next few weeks. And in that way, you would have become the victim of your own request. But instead, I’m going to be strong and resilient in defending my way of thinking. I’m going to feel what you’re feeling, understand where you’re coming from, and try to help you understand where I’m coming from. By doing this, I can take your words and make them valuable instead of hurtful. In this way, I am strong and resilience not in spite of my empathy and overthinking, but because of it.
So basically, I will not be an asshole. I will not turn my empathy down. Going forward, you might remember that despite my desire to learn from you and be like, we are not the same. We do not have the same experiences or constraints, and the world does not see us the same way. Maybe reading this, because you are smart and kind and open-minded too, you might consider turning your empathy up just a little. For me, yes, but also for yourself. And for my part, I promise to be right here, thinking a little too much, worrying a little more than I should, and being so unyieldingly empathetic that you will, eventually, be unable to resist the allure of caring.