Demanding, selfish, self-centred, stroppy, difficult, complex, complicated.
Throughout my life these labels have been used to discourage me from being myself.
At school I was inquisitive, sensitive, emotional and fiercely independent. Yet, these qualities which I now know should be nurtured and encouraged, especially in women, earned me derogative labels which stuck to my identity like cruel stick-it notes.
A cage of Calvinism and chauvinism
Growing up in a conservative society, I was a free spirit trapped in a cage of Calvinism and chauvinism: Girls should’t smoke, get drunk, girls shouldn’t show too much emotion, certainly not too much anger. Girls shouldn’t laugh too loudly, swear, or go out to restaurants or cinemas alone. Girls should not ask too many questions, they should do as they’re told. Women should give up their careers for their families after studying for years, women should do all the housework and smile while they’re doing it, women should respect their men, even if their men don’t respect them.
Time after time, my rebellious nature made me stand up to what I saw as gross injustices, my fighting spirit made me ask questions when I knew the consequences would be disastrous. My spirit tried to soar while being battered from all sides like a seedling facing strong winds and storms pushing towards the light. My spirit was crushed back into the earth too many times to recall.
Believing the labels
There were many times when the labels defined me. When I would accept them and when I, too, would punish myself for being demanding and difficult, for daring to question, for daring to be strong.
And every time I believed those labels, I would sink into a depression, which would eat away at my soul like a cancer. I didn’t realise it at the time but the unbearable sadness was a direct result of looking at myself through others’ critical eyes – allowing them to stamp their labels on my soul.
Reject attempts to control my thoughts
Slowly, over the years I’ve come to realise that the only way to be happy is to stop trying to please others and to be who I am. To not care a damn about what others think, to seek the company of people who value these qualities and to shun the narrow-mindedness of people who judge anything they don’t agree with. To reject any attempt to manipulate or control my thoughts or to make me feel small.
My only New Year’s Resolution therefore – is to be even more ‘stroppy, difficult’ and demanding’ – in other words to be true to myself and wear these labels with pride.
And I wish the same for my own independent-minded daughter Paula and for every woman who has ever been tagged by a label she didn’t deserve.
What labels have you been stuck with during your life? Have you managed to get rid of them – and how?