One of my earliest memories associated with feminism was a TV commercial that admonished parents to not buy their daughters tea sets but to buy them chemistry sets instead. It was an attempt at shaking up the status quo, to introduce science to little girls who otherwise wouldn’t have thought to ask for it because it had never been modeled for them, and to broaden the career horizons of many young women. That commercial infuriated my mother.
Several months ago I put my car up for sale on Craigslist. I’m on the cautious side when it comes to posting my contact information online, so when I created the listing I decided not to include my name, phone number, or personal email address. Craigslist has a “reply” button which forwards messages to the seller’s personal email account. That would work just fine for me.
Apparently not for my first potential customer. I received an angry email accusing me of leaving out my personal contact information from the ad itself because I was just trying to scam people, that I was not actually planning on selling the car, and that I would not even do him the courtesy of replying to his inquiry. He must have been burned by Craigslist scammers in the past.
I love personality profiles. Something about categories helps me feel like less of an anomaly, that there are other people out there who are like me, that I can embrace aspects of myself that are valid personality traits rather than flaws to overcome.
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator is my go-to. I know social scientists give it mixed reviews of its science-iness, but I don’t even care, it’s so useful! Since I learned about the MBTI, it has helped me understand myself as well as embrace the differences of my friends, colleagues, roommates, and the guy I married. When bewildered by their ways of thinking, communicating, and decision-making, instead of demonizing them I recognize that it’s just a personality difference. And that is much easier to navigate than a situation in which one or both parties unnecessarily think of the other as the scum of the earth.
Long ago a friend of mine reflected on a friend of his, and his reflection has stuck with me over the years. He had observed that his friend, who used to be quite bubbly and energetic, became much more reserved and mellow since getting into a serious relationship with a very conservative guy. My friend was worried that his friend was changing who she was to accommodate her boyfriend’s expectations of what a good, proper, and (in their conservative Christian perspective) submissive woman was supposed to be.
I was never quite as bubbly as my friend’s friend. However, I was an introvert who often faked being an extrovert when I was trying to win people’s affection. And I worried that when I started intentionally choosing to act more introvertedly with people, that they would worry that I was changing myself for my boyfriend, too.
I grew up always trying to fade into the background. In high school I was voted (on an open ballot) as the 2nd-most shy person in the whole school. I was surprised that that many people knew my name! It made me realize that other people actually did see me despite my efforts for them not to, and that they had perceptions of who I was based on my quietness.
I didn’t like it. Being called stoic and shy made me seem unfriendly, unsociable, uninterested in the world and the people around me. The label didn’t really fit me—I had a solid group of friends I hung out with during and after school. I could act silly and laugh louder than any of them. The fact was, I was very social once I was comfortable with someone or a group of someones. The word shy was just what people who didn’t know me called me. I needed a new label.