Don’t tell us to calm down. Don’t tell us to smile.

don't tell us to calm down, stress, self-care, women

Calm down. You’re taking these too seriously. Smile more. Don’t be so assertive. Don’t get so riled up. I can’t talk to you when you’re so emotional. Can’t you take a joke?

Don’t tell women to calm down.

My husband loved to make little jabs and ‘jokes’ at my expense. When I would speak up and ask him to stop, or express my discomfort his favorite refrain was, “Can’t you take a little joke?” Another form of ‘calm down’, as I saw it. It was a passive aggressive maneuver designed to downplay, excuse his behavior, and shift the problem on me. No sense of humor. When in fact he was assigning these negative connotations to my behavior to allow himself a reason to disengage. We eventually divorced, to get to the punch line.

There have been a couple of articles lately on women and self-care and whether we’re defining self-care in the right way. One noted that what’s most often passed off as self-care is a day at the spa. The second article examined the phrase “calm down” and why it’s more often applied to women. But “calm down” isn’t the right answer — it’s really not a solution at all. It’s a phrase used to shush women. A reminder that we’re a bit too much for those around us.

I was a talkative child and often admonished to be quieter, tamer, more ‘girl-like’. The latter came in motherly tones accompanied with statements like, “Guys won’t like you if you’re so assertive.” “You would be prettier if you wore more makeup”, etc. Why do we try to tamp down the essence of girls and women while giving boys and men to go-ahead to be in charge, assertive, aggressive even?

Here’s what Amy Hughes says in her article, Do We Really Need to Calm Ourselves Down?

Just whose idea was it that we have to drink herbal tea and escape to a hot bath to get through our day? Is there something wrong with our energized selves? And what happens to our natural life-energy when we constantly tell ourselves that a state of arousal — happiness, anxiety, anger, excitement, sexuality, what have you — must be put to bed, cut off, or deadened? Where is the line between smothering and quieting, between destructive and constructive calming down?

I love the idea of acknowledging our energized selves. I don’t want to be perpetually calm. I reserve calm for dealing with traumatic injury and the possibility of a head-on collision while driving 70 miles an hour. I want to be calm when dealing with a child’s temper tantrum. But otherwise?

I choose alive and sassy. Radiating energy, aroused by life. Outrageous at times. I choose the wisdom and courage to say exactly what I want when some man says to me, “you don’t smile enough”, or “Just calm down dearie”. In the face of sexism, racism and ageism.

So, back to self-care. What does that mean for you? For me? It might mean saying no to an invitation that I
 don’t really think I’ll enjoy. Changing your mind. Carving out a bit of free time. Delegating, asking for help. Speaking up to loved ones. Giving yourself permission to indulge in a favorite something.

What would self-care look like for you?

Originally published at Walker Thornton.