“There are some great ideas in here, but unfortunately I can’t read most of them. I didn’t penalize you for it this time, but I will deduct some points next time. Just try to write a bit neater,” Mr. Hall said as he handed me back my essay.
Looking back at the paper, I realize that even I can’t make out what I had written. My words look more like scrawl than elements of the English language.
I hadn’t mastered the perfect bubble letters of my female classmates. I was the last person anyone would ask for notes from. It had just all seemed frivolous to me: the color-coding, the heavy use of post-it notes. I preferred to be disgruntled. I preferred to wear mismatched socks and leave a few strands of hair out of my ponytail, as if I had run to class.
I didn’t revel in using my scant artistic abilities to make poster boards or Google Slides. I preferred to dig into the meat of the content. And I would approach the content with few reservations, letting questions fly, as I had always been encouraged to do.
I noticed, and let the observation pass, that my voice had become one of the loudest in the room. I noticed, and let the observation pass, that few girls talked as much as me or asked as many questions.
My female classmates’ questions were generally polished and academic-sounding. Mine? Not so much. I hardly possessed a filter, likening the classroom to a sound-room in which we could bounce ideas off of each other and glean some greater meaning of the concept at hand.
I wasn’t there to impress others so much as I was there to make sense of the world around me, so it puzzled me when my classmate Lindsay asked, “Why do you talk so much?”
I wasn’t offended as much as I was confused. Wasn’t Lindsay a self-proclaimed feminist? Hadn’t she complained to me about how men seemed to take up so much space — how women ought to stand up for themselves? Hadn’t she told me women are stronger together than separate?
And yet she criticized me for simply being me — for not reigning myself in. Her underlying message was, “Unless you have something truly valuable to say, don’t say it.”
What saddened me was this message was never communicated to my male classmates, who took up most of the airspace. They were never told to rein themselves in or speak only when they had something “of value” to add.
It was from Lindsay that I learned women, by nature of our gender, are held to a higher standard, one rid of disgruntled-ness. What surprised me was not that some men held me to this standard, but that some of my female peers did. That hurt.
And this kickstarted my quest, not for perfection, but for utter imperfection.
I realized that people’s perceptions of me are dependent on the standards I hold myself to. If I demand the impossible of myself, others will demand the impossible of me. Failure is inevitable and painful. If I rid myself of such high standards, I am free to be disgruntled. Failure is inevitable yet freeing.
So I turned to Lindsay and quickly whispered in her ear,
“Because I like to give everyone a hard time.”
Lena Thakor is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].