Saturday, October 13, 2012

Maybe I'm a Mean Girl Too. What About You?

I went to the gym yesterday after writing this post. My mind was on mean girls, good girls, and the thought of women and power. I knew there was so much more I wanted to say, but also that there were too many directions I could go in, and I would end up writing on this subject for days. I needed to clear my mind, to understand exactly what it was I needed to get out.

While dutifully sweating away on the elliptical, I read ELLE, just about the only magazine left there that I hadn't already picked up. When I'm at the gym, I want to be distracted with candy, like US Weekly. ELLE is mostly just pictures of tall, thin women in fancy clothes sandwiched in between long articles in small type that I can't read while running. Hence the reason I was on the elliptical. Note to ELLE editors...if you want me to choose you at the gym over US Weekly, you need bigger font and some women under 5'7" in your ads.

Despite my general dislike, apparently this was the magazine I needed to be reading right then. Serendipity was calling. In the January 2011 issue of ELLE, I found this:

"Ask the most successful woman you know whether she's ambitious. Chances are that her reaction will recall the faux feminine coyness of Miss Piggy, the Muppet who'd flutter her eyelashes and simper, 'moi?' at such a question - even as she aimed a lethal karate chop to get you out of her way." 

The author goes on to comment that she has interviewed countless famous and powerful women. Yet only one ever admitted to being ambitious. Every other woman fell back on being humble, demure, and thankful that life had somehow graced her with such luck. The author further questioned whether successful women minimize the power of their own actions because they really believe what they're saying or if they're simply giving the public what it expects to hear.

I have a feeling it's both. 

As I read this article, I thought back to the last year of my life. I wrote two cookbooks while working on a master's degree, maintaining this blog, and beginning my own wellness coaching business. I remember more than once being asked how the books came about. My answer? "Oh I was just in the right place at the right time." Never once did I say, "Well, I worked hard. I met another woman - my co-author - who was as ambitious as I was, and together we worked our asses off to make it happen. That's how the books came about."

Even as I was devaluing my own efforts, I would e-mail with fellow bloggers and cookbook authors, commending them for their work ethic. Telling them how amazing I thought they were because they could keep up with their blogs, their jobs, and write a book at the same time.

So why couldn't I give myself that same credit?

For one, to admit just how much I was accomplishing would be to acknowledge that I'm pretty fucking awesome. I would have to see myself honestly, which would mean standing up to the truth that I was capable and powerful. And that seems to be a truth that I, and many women around me, have trouble with. If I am strong and smart and can really make things happen, then I have no excuse for sitting around feeling sorry for myself. I cannot blame the world for anything I have yet to accomplish, for any perceived lack in my life. I can no longer just think about my dreams. I have to act on them. Because owning my power means my dreams can come true, and the only thing standing between them and me... is me.

And you know what that means. I have to roll my sleeves up, get in the dirty muck that is my own fear, and work even harder.

It's a lot easier to just go on believing everything is luck and you either have it or you don't. 

The other reason I find it difficult to give myself credit, and I suspect that I'm not alone in this, is precisely because it does go against societal norms for women to tout their own accomplishments. As a "good girl," I want to be liked. I want to be seen as kind, moral, and a friend to everyone. Somewhere in me is this little seed of belief, this niggling judgment, that if I am ambitious, then I am no longer good or moral. That if I were truly a good person, then I would get a desk job to pay the bills so that I could do the work I truly feel called to for free. The very thought of admitting that I want to be a successful businesswoman and make a living doing the work I love elicits anxiety in me. My desire to be successful is like a secret I have to hide for fear people might suddenly brand me with the scarlet letter. A for Ambitious. And if ambitious, then therefore greedy, a money grubber, and worse, ungodly.

I don't think it's a coincidence that food blogs are primarily written by women. While we've wised up and begun learning to market ourselves and actually make money doing something we spend so much time on, the fact is many of us just do it for free. Because we love it, yes. But maybe because we're also uncomfortable with valuing our work, with saying that what we do is important?

Just a thought.

As a female food blogger - here I am finally moseying my way around to what I knew was in there struggling to get out - as a female food blogger, I am ambitious. Many of us will deny it, but it goes with the territory. If we didn't have aspirations, we would just write in our diaries and share our recipes with only those friends who ask for them.

Yesterday I talked about how competitive working at Jenny Craig was. That's perhaps not very surprising. But you know what surprises me? That nobody talks about how competitive the food blogging world is. I suppose it shouldn't shock me. We're mostly women. And so many of us won't admit what we all secretly know.

We are all ambitious. We all check our stats. We all love what we do and want to be able to make money doing it. We all want to live out our dreams. What a dastardly secret we hold.

I could write a whole other post dedicated to the games I've watched occur behind the scenes as bloggers work to get more readers, to be the most popular girl in high school. But that would simply be a game of my own. Look at how everyone else acts when no one is watching. You should read my blog. I'm the nice one, I'm the good girl. You should like me the most. You see, even after all this self-analysis, a part of me still falls into this trap of wanting to be seen as the kindest of them all.  The purest of pure, a veritable Snow White slaving away in my kitchen.

There are a lot of mean girls amongst us, and even more good girls. Most of us, myself included if I'm being honest, are a little of both. And in the end it doesn't matter because we're all the same at the core.

We all want to be successful. We all have dreams.

The only thing getting in our way now is admitting it, fully and completely, and without judgment.

So I admit it. I am ignoring my morality stick, that one that even now is shaming me. "Oh Iris. You can't put this out there. You can't say what you really think, what you really want. What will everyone say to you? Worse, what will they say behind your back?"

You know what, morality stick? Shove it. I kick ass, I'm going to work my ass off so I can kick even bigger ass, and I'm tired of denying it to myself or anyone else.

And you know what, reader? You kick ass too. What do you think about that? 


Amber Shea @Almost Vegan said...

Great post, Iris. I can relate on too many levels. Reminds me a lot of "imposter syndrome," which almost made me fall out of my chair the first time I read about it - I had no idea it was so common that there was actually a name for it. "Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be." (

Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome post. I really needed to read this today.

I recently was in a workshop, and the instructor asked a question, and I quietly answered, thinking the answer was obvious and that everyone knew it. Not only was I right, but she said in the 12 years she was teaching, no one had ever answered it right. My instinct was to write my old teacher and thank her, giving her the credit, but it didn't quite sit right with me. Because I couldn't actually remember her telling me this info, I think I figured it out for myself. But I am equally uncomfortable thinking that I'm such a smarty pants.

So, thanks to you, I'll (for this moment) embrace my awesomeness!


Cheryl Harris said...

I think you're awesome too!

It's so awesome for women to be able to step up and accept praise, because it definitely does go against the norm.

I do have to say, though, I deliberately don't give out my blog info to clients and don't accept ads because I blog for me. I also uninstalled my stats. Maybe I'm alone in that one, but we all blog for different reasons.

aseafish said...

I sat here just now, reading your post with my mouth wide open. "Wow!" was my first thought, followed quickly by a nod of the head and "of course."

I have not admitted much of this to myself, most decidedly not anyone else. I shyly mention that I write a food blog on occasion. Probably, directly related to this whole concept, I've shied away from my blog, convinced I have nothing of importance to say. It's a back and forth thing for me, as you've mentioned here.

Not only to I completely blog for free, I convince myself at times that I have no right even to do that. I'm a sitting duck for those readers who like to complain that we don't give them just what they're looking for. I've been called smug, condescending, self-serving, and useless. Probably the worst part is that I then decide it must be my fault for not being someone I'm not.

Thanks for the reminder. I'm exactly who I should be and where I've chosen to be.


Ricki said...

Amen, girlfriend!

Cara said...

I love this, thank you for sharing! I have seen so many female bloggers claim things like "I just do this for me, I don't care what anyone thinks of my photos, I don't check my stats" etc etc. And I call total BS. I am not afraid to admit that I am doing this with the purpose of sharing with others and hopefully helping others. And that means having ambition and caring about the "business" side of things. Glad to have a sister in crime!

Anonymous said...

Yes, we need to give ourselves more credit. We won't always get it from others so toot your own horn or maybe it won't get tooted. And demand recognition for everything you do... otherwise it gets taken for granted.

Just yesterday, despite working until 3am the night before, I vacuumed the house, did the grocery shopping, cooked a fabulous roasted chicken and au gratin (yes from scratch) potato dish, made lunches for the entire week (10 lunches!), squeezed an entire bag of oranges for juice, made beef broth, did dishes dishes dishes dishes, two loads of laundry and changed the bed linens. I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting, but did anyone say thank you? No! So, after dinner and after making all those lunches I loudly proclaimed myself a Domestic Goddess dangit. I prompted some feedback about the meal, and when it came back "good" I said "No, it's damn good. Try making it yourself and you'll see how hard it is to coordinate all of this."

So there. :D

Iris said...

Amber, Imposter Syndrome exactly! I'd never heard of that but it hits the button on the nose!

Maeve, Embrace your awesomeness!

Cheryl, Thank you for commenting with your own perspective! You're so right that we all have our own reasons for doing this and I have always felt you put out a calming and peaceful energy in what you do!

Pamela, Ignore the complainers and no that you have every right to be an awesome blogger! Which is what you are!

Ricki, Yes! :)

Cara, Always happy to have another sister in crime!

Anon, You ARE a domestic goddess. And I bet your roasted chicken and au gratin was amazing.

mary fran | frannycakes said...

I hope you don't think that being ambitious and successful makes you a mean girl. It makes you driven. And competent.

But most assuredly not mean.

You are only mean if you want to hurt someone else. If your goals are simply to take them down. And I have never seen that from you.

So go you! Keep up the good work lady!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

I agree with frannycakes. Your ambition and drive does not make you mean. It's not as if by being successful that we (as women) take success away from other women. I think sometimes it feels like that's what is going to happen. Why it's "bad" to be successful, to have everything. In fact, quite the opposite. You can be successful and in the process, your success can spur more success in OTHER women - there's enough to go around if we all decide that we're ALL "fucking awesome" and give ourselves some much-deserved credit. :) And Iris, you ARE awesome.


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