Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Defense of Owning Your Attitude

Maybe it's because I'm currently watching Legally Blonde and I can't help but cringe at much of Elle Woods' bubbly behavior but...I'd like to take a second to talk about one of the ways I think that we, as women, judge one another (besides ever-present body snarking...). Specifically, I'm talking about the difference of attitude, as in optimism vs. pessimism. And while this relies on overly broad generalizations, I can't help but reflect upon the experiences I've had as of late.

To put it bluntly, I feel like I'm facing increasing pressure to be more optimistic, from other women.

I've written before about how I view pessimism. As a person, I will always err on the side of honesty over fakeness. I think that pessimism can actually be a good thing. There is some value to pessimism, in that when one is realistic, you are able to see the world as it is, understand its problems, and see these as points for potential improvement. What I mean is that being realistic (and in this case, I'm using pessimistic and realistic as cousins) can actually be a really great thing. It can contribute to continuous improvement.

However, I believe firmly that it is much more culturally acceptable for women to be up-beat, bubbly, perky, and all around Elle Woods-like than it is for them to be brooding or sarcastic. Obviously, this pressure isn't the most oppressive manifestation of sexism facing our society, but it sure can get old for those of us experiencing it. For example, many women have written about the sexism of strange men telling women to "smile" in the street. This case is one way that I can see how men try to police women's attitudes. But more often than not, I actually see women judging other women for being pessimistic. In fact, this has been my recent experience. And I'd guess that because this type of sexism isn't as pressing or in your face, as sexual violence or the pay gap for example, it is often overlooked.

However I have experienced it. When your attitude is questioned, it does call for some self-reflection. It's important to make sure that my realism doesn't turn into downright negativity that is bringing others down or unduly influencing them. There are instances where I can see how my attitude was inappropriate and I need to pull back to respect the space of others. However, there are also cases where I objectively feel I did nothing wrong, and yet I'm asked to change my feelings, words, or demeanor.

That's not ok. And that's what I'm really getting at. All of us need to check ourselves, and remember that the feelings and perspectives of others are valid and don't always need to be pressured or swayed. Sometimes we all need to take a step back and let other's own their attitude. So, I'm going to try to own mine. The key to this whole premise is to be absolutely honest and respectful about where you are coming from. If you do that, then no one can really fault you.

Also, if you are going to own your attitude, then you have to accept that others have the right to own theirs too. That is to say, I must accept that I will be around people who are much more optimistic than me, and that's ok.

I guess all I ask of you optimists is that you don't peg someone who is pessimistic, biting, or sarcastic as a "bad seed" and that you examine your own expectations of other's attitudes. Would you judge a man's attitude in the same way? Is their behavior actually affecting you or does it just get on your nerves? How is it affecting you? What role do you play in allowing their behavior to influence you?

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