My love for the Barbie movie was an unexpected and a pleasant surprise. Through the pink outfits and whimsical settings, it was America Fererra's affirming monologue for women that caused me to yell, "I love you, America!" in my head. In this fictional Barbie world, women evoked the shrewdness of any dominating and unyielding real-life male entrepreneur. It was a world where all women evoked the spirit of Clair Huxtable. While it was entertaining to watch this dynamic on the screen, I couldn’t help but wonder if this standard, where women are ultimately assertive without being assumed rude, only exists in the fictitious Barbie world?
In the real world, assertive women are often categorized as difficult to work with or impolite, whereas men are celebrated for it. Women are often expected to practice stricter etiquette and behave modestly. According to studies at Research Gate, "stereotypical feminine gender identity is largely constructed around supportive and cooperative behavior,” while leading or assertiveness is often categorized as impoliteness.
There are two recent case studies of this. In the Barbie movie, Margot Robbie sucker punched a man for behaving sexually aggressively towards her, and an audible gasp echoed throughout the theater when it happened. In the real world, Michelle Yeoh put her foot down during her Golden Globes acceptance speech as she was getting cut off by the person responsible for the "wrap it up" music which signifies the end of her time to speak. Her response generated headlines. We, as a society, have been trained to respond in a particular way when women act outside of what is deemed appropriate. But, it’s time to unlearn certain traditions in the spirit of equity and equality for women and push whatever antiquated book of politeness society has been subscribing to for centuries off the table.
Shedding these archaic double standards has been taught in my family from generation to generation. My aunt once enlightened me that “no” is a complete sentence, and certainly a not disrespectful one. That singular pearl of wisdom changed my life so much that I have impressed it upon my daughters, who, in their own ways are learning to apply this jewel to their own journeys. Recently, my oldest daughter turned down being with a friend because her "social battery is full." My youngest, a second grader, requested that I be present while I confronted a teacher of accusing her of something she did not do. During that meeting, I listened to my daughter stand up for herself in a way that would have made an 8-year-old Chrishaunda wish to be her friend. My girls are my heroes.
For me, standing up began for myself began with me advocating for the proper pronunciation and spelling of my name. For years I was called names that were not mine such as "Cassandra" and "Chrishanna." It was a pet peeve that I didn't address until my until my early 30s. A man I met confidently pronounced my name incorrectly. Before this moment, I was behaving as Michael Singer explains in his best-selling book, Untethered Soul, which explains how people avoid certain thorns in their lives. I avoided confrontation for the purpose of not being perceived as impolite. But, something ticked in that moment. I thought of Deidre McNamer’s essay, “What’s in a Name” for the Town & Country helmed book Social Graces, which describes the importance of our most identifiable marker. I agree with Deidre, and in the spirit of our beloved Barbie, I outstretched my hand to meet his, shook it firmly as I offered a bright smile, and declared, “It’s pronounced, Chrishaunda. My pleasure to meet you as well.” With all due respect.
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