Don’t expect me to smile


Saly Seye


The number of words I’ve heard my peers use to describe me is astronomical. I couldn’t tell you what kind of person others think I am, but I do know that few people would describe me as meek or quiet-mannered. I don’t much mind that, especially since I’ve spent much of my life trying to find my voice. While it sometimes gets me into trouble, I quite enjoy my ability to speak up when it’s important and I hope to become even more comfortable expressing myself. I accept that I’m loud. But while most of what I’ve heard about myself is positive, the words like bitch and rude stand out as some of the worst. I do not consider myself a malicious person. Of course, I’m not perfect. I sleep without doing chores and don’t always say ‘good morning’ back. I accept that those moments aren’t my kindest. I know, despite my screw-ups, I’m not mean. I’ve never been called mean, at least not besides when I’ve stood up for myself or someone else. A few months ago, a guy I know kept kicking someone else out of a groupchat because he disliked her. I created this group, with about 20 people, in order to come up with a Christmas gift for a teacher we all love. Frankly, I had no idea what happened between him and the other person, and I didn’t care. I didn’t think he had the right to remove someone from a group effort because of his own personal issues, and I told him exactly that. He responded by saying his friends also disliked her, and, in my eyes, the explanation came short of justifying his actions. Finally, I told him he could leave if he had an issue with the group. He didn’t need to ruin it for anyone else. Eventually, he did, but not without trying to convince me I was wrong by derailing the conversation and turning the topic away from his behavior and towards mine. He accused me of stealing his idea for a gift and spreading the Christmas joy too thin by including so many people. Incorrect, and ridiculous, for the record, but that’s not important. He refused to internalize the notion that he was in the wrong for immaturely excluding someone, then proceeded to shift the focus away from his actions and, on top of that, expected me to listen. After I ended the conversation, he went to my friends and told them how mean of a person I was. I guess he had a point: The nice thing to do would’ve been to let him completely evade responsibility for what he did. The nice thing to do would’ve been to entertain an entirely new argument that was, at this point, irrelevant. The nice thing to do would’ve been to end up apologizing when I’d raised the issue in the first place. In order to be nice, I needed to set aside my grievances and make them second place to the complaints of someone who wouldn’t listen to me. Bonus: Not once did I bring our argument into the groupchat. Besides sending one message telling people not to remove each other, no one knew I was upset with this individual unless they specifically asked one of us about it. I don’t think I needed to be nice in this situation. The way it went reminded me of the day-to-day struggles a lot of girls face. The world expects us to be nice while it treats us unreasonably. When grown men catcall teenagers on the street, they tell us it’s a compliment and that our discomfort makes us bitchy. We’re supposed to magically rid ourselves of imperfections while guiding men to their full potential. The mere existence of an outspoken woman can no longer serve as a justification for throwing insults at her. I hear insults like bitch, and even more vulgar terms like ‘c**t’ at everyone from Michelle Obama to Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. To this day, I still have no idea what they did to deserve this kind of abuse. I have no idea what intimidates people about them, so much so that people must demean these women with nasty, misogynistic language. I am not at all comparing myself to Michelle Obama. She handles herself with a grace and poise I can only dream of carrying. Still, a reality among all women is that we’re all expected to push our legitimate needs to the side, and do it with a smile and a complimentary bag of peanuts. I’ve never been called mean, or crazy, or a b— in situations that didn’t involve me standing up for myself in some fashion. When those names are hurled at me, it seldom comes after a mature discussion in which both I and the other person hashed things out calmly. I simply no longer have the tolerance for people who wish to speak over me. If that means I’m not nice, that I’m a b—–, I will wear the word with pride.