The Fine Line Between Superior and Submissive

Every girl knows that the words that can dial any discussion from a 2 to a 10 in an instant are some variation of the following:

“Calm down.”

“Take a deep breath.”


It’s an instant red flag in a conversation, the turning point where it goes from a discourse with mutual respect to a bicker that suddenly feels personal. It’s one thing, of course, if these things are told to you while you’re having a full-on shiftfit while screaming and flinging breakables, in which case you should probably calm down/take a deep breath/relax/pop a Xanax.

But it’s quite another when they’re said to you in the middle of a civil discussion, where both parties are speaking in equal tones of respect and suddenly the man you’re speaking to tells you in his most condescending, placating tone to just “take a deep breath.” (Double points if, when you blink at him in surprise, he repeats himself with a chuckle, and says “really, just take a deep breath.”)

I have no doubt that every woman in the workforce has been told some variation of the above in some form or another throughout the length of her career, no matter how short or long. It’s no secret that what men perceive in other men as assertiveness and conviction, they perceive in women as bossiness and rudeness. Whether it’s fun to consider or not, there is a definite skewed perception between men and women in the workforce, and there likely always will be. Men who get fired up about their subjects are considered passionate and invested, whereas women who show too much excitement – either positively or negatively – are considered emotional and irrational.

It’s this mislabeling of ‘emotional’ that is really rankling me here.

Even in today’s media, the modern woman is lampooned simply for her womanhood. The recent election cycle was riddled with examples of this, the most prominent being President-Elect Trump decrying Megyn Kelly’s treatment of him, saying, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

This came in response to Kelly’s holding Trump accountable for past harsh things he’d said about women like any  news reporter might do. It was a lazy, uninspired way to discredit Kelly as ‘emotional’, since there’s long been a pervasive and accepted thought that a menstruating woman is emotional, hysterical, incapable of reason.

The flip side of this is, of course, that if you stand up for yourself, you can be considered arrogant. Returning to that hypothetical conversation when you’re discussing your work with a colleague and you’re told to ‘calm down’, what happens when you politely ignore or skirt that comment, and continue discussing the matter at hand?

You’re considered ‘superior’, of course.

I can’t speak too much to this subject right now, and I hope to delve more deeply into it in due time since it’s an important topic that deserves to be dissected. For now, though, I implore every young woman who might have a shaky foundation for her sense of self to stick to her guns. Being superior is preferable to being submissive since if you don’t stand up for yourself in the work place, who else will?

Whether you’re waiting tables or writing grant proposals or working in a corner office, don’t take chuckled requests for you to ‘woah, woah, calm down’ lightly. If you know that you’re being calm, and you know that you’re speaking to your colleagues with respect and professionalism, don’t allow yourself to be gaslighted. It doesn’t matter if it’s an underling, a peer, or a superior; if you’re giving respect, you should be receiving it. If someone tells you to relax when you’re already cool as a freaking cucumber, just calmly tell them as much. Saying “I’m cool as a freaking cucumber” probably won’t be very effective, but you get what I’m saying.

You deserve respect. You’re young, and you’re green, and you still feel like a little girl in a sea of Real Adults, sure. We all do. But you deserve respect. Remember that the next time someone tells you to ‘be rational here’ when you’re already being perfectly rational here.

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