Don’t Tell me to “Stand like a woman”

Abigail Nwaocha
Oct 23, 2017 · 4 min read
Copyright: Katy Waldman, Wonder Woman. Photograph by Andrew Morgan for Slate

A few months, while in the studio of one of the companies I work for, the Admin made an offhand comment, it wasn’t anything offensive but it irritated me enough to give her and everyone listening, a speech.

This was the comment “Close your legs Abigail, you should stand like a woman, you’re not a man.”

I was standing like Katy in the image to the left but immediately she said that I widened my stance, kind of like I was doing squats. I replied with, “I will stand however I want to, You should not tell me to act like a girl, you should not imply that there is a right or wrong way to stand, you should not tell me or anyone to stand like a girl, there is no male or female way to stand. If I’m comfortable standing this way then so be it.”

While in my “ squat” stance the CEO passed, he heard my little speech, said nothing and continued on his way to wherever he was headed.

This isn’t the first time the Admin and I have have had conversations where I’m told to be more lady-like, be it about the way I dress, my refusal to let anyone imply or explicitly state that men are superior and should act a certain way and women shouldn’t.

Now, while someone who has never heard me defend myself might think I overreacted to her sentence, I beg to differ. I’m Nigerian, I have two brothers and 3 other guys I grew up with that I consider my brothers. I’ve fought with them because I wanted to be treated the same way they did, given the same leeway they did, treated without kid’s gloves like they did.

But one thing I never escaped was my mother starting every sentence with “As a girl” She’d say something the lines of:

“As a girl, you need to learn how to cook.” Why? For my future husband.
“As a girl, you shouldn’t be rough like boys.” Why? Because I would get scars and men would not find that attractive.
“As a girl, you should be gentle.” Why? Because it’s not a ladylike quality
“As a girl, you need to dress like… unless men will take advantage of you.”
If they respected me then irrespective of what I wear, they would not assault me.
“As a girl, you need to learn how to …”
“As a girl.”

It was always, always, always about boys, about men about tailoring myself to appeal to men, about being the ideal woman for a man, about being a good wife, being the perfect woman. It was never because of me, it was for someone else.

I have nothing against cooking for a man, or being “gentle”, or wearing dresses or sitting with your legs crossed. As long as you are comfortable with it, as long as you are doing it for YOU.

So, when the Admin told me to stand like a girl, I felt like I was 10 again listening to my mother try to “teach” me how to act. And I couldn’t go through that again, I had to make it clear that I will stand however I’m comfortable.

Afterwards, I went to talk to her in private, she wasn’t in her office so I opened her browser, when to this page on Goodreads — a list of feminism quotes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Scrolled down so that the first thing she saw when she got back was this quote:

“We teach girls shame. “Close your legs. Cover yourself.” We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.”

She might not have intended for her words to bother me as much as it did, but it did. And because I don’t want her to say that to me or anyone else again, I don’t want her to make another comment about how I’m like a man for simply being myself.

I don’t want her to make another comment about how I don’t act like a woman because I am outspoken.

I don’t want her to make another comment about being a woman because I refuse to conform to things she deems “lady-like”.

I don’t want her to make another comment about how I act like a man because I’m attracted to women and as such assume a male role — God, there are so many things I could say about this.

I don’t want her to make me feel different for not wearing skirts or dresses, and I definitely do not want her to make a scene whenever I do wear one. Half the reason I can’t wear a dress or skirt is because I know she will say “Oh, Abigail today you’re dressed like a woman” or “Ah, Abigail, you’re finally acting like a woman” Hearing those comments make me uncomfortable, I’ve had to deal with that for years.

The point is, I should be able to stand, act and dress the way I want without being told I’m acting like a man. We shouldn’t tell a confident woman that she is pretending to be a man, simply because she isn’t wearing dressing and skirts, because she isn’t standing with her legs closed.

It’s little things like this that slowly affect us, makes us self-conscious, makes us feel like we are pretending to be what we are not — Makes us feel smaller.

Athena Talks

A hub of conversation to help young women mature, budding professionals become leaders and leaders become advocates for equality.

Abigail Nwaocha

Written by

Growth Marketing consultant for Startups, Small businesses & Agencies| lover of written art | LGBTQIA

Athena Talks

A hub of conversation to help young women mature, budding professionals become leaders and leaders become advocates for equality.

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