in trying to decide what to post about in honor of international women’s month, i went back and forth between a few options. one idea was to feature 31 phenomenal women (who i know personally) and what their presence meant to me; that would be far too lengthy. one was to pick a famous woman like maya angelou and cover her greatness while highlighting my favorite quotes from her; while maya is my girl, that seemed a bit too predictable. the last idea was to find a quote that encompassed my experiences as a woman; it is like my classmate from scu, chinae, heard this even with us being close to 400 miles away from one another.
“one time someone told me i was intimidating and rebecca looked at them and said, ‘is she intimidating or are you intimidated?’ and from that moment on, i refuse to take responsibility for how others react to my presence.”
first of all, i am so grateful chinae posted this. secondly, i tried to find ayanna on twitter but think she has either removed her profile or changed her handle. third, shout out to whoever this rebecca woman is. she somehow was able to capture how i feel pretty much daily in a concise enough way to fit into one tweet.
okay. let’s unpack this shit because from where i am standing, there are layers on layers on layers.
intimidating is defined by merriam webster as causing a loss of courage or self-confidence: producing feelings of fear or timidity.
i felt it necessary to post this definition because in rereading it myself, i realized how it is misused even more frequently than i originally thought.
when i think about the number of times i have been called intimidating, it must be over one thousand times. you might read this and think it is an exaggeration but that is a word i am all too familiar with.
over the years, i have tried to figure out all of the reasons i have been called intimidating. as a child, i was frequently one of the tallest and heaviest kids in my class. once i switched schools in third grade, i was also one of the only black kids present. if the interactions between black youth and law enforcement (and the media) has shown us anything, it is that black kids are seen as older and more threatening at a much earlier age than children of other races. the current president of the united states has multiple children who are adults in their 30s yet in the media, they are still referred to as “just being kids.” so the first thing about me that is intimidating is something i have absolutely no control over – the color of my skin. the second thing is my height. the third thing is my weight.
as i got older, i was told that my voice was intimidating. now if you know me, you know it is rare for me to yell or scream – that just isn’t in my disposition. my voice has been described as intimidating because of how deep it is. there is definitely some bass to it. i have no problem singing along to barry white. even still, the word intimidating has always felt like a bit of a stretch to me. but by this point, i had heard it so often that i just rolled with it.
once i reached adulthood, there were a whole other host of qualities about me that were referred to as intimidating but the one that i was reminded of the most was (and is) my education. i have two degrees – a bachelor of science in psychology (with a philosophy minor) and a master of arts in counseling psychology (with a marriage and family therapy emphasis); both are from santa clara university. whether it was from family friends who would mock me or people in the workplace who would tell me how taken aback people could be by my degrees, after awhile, i realized i was carrying around this small sense of shame.
why the actual fuck was i carrying around a small sense of shame for being a bright and beautiful badass plus-sized black woman with a deep voice and two degrees from a prestigious university?
while i decided some time ago that this was not my baggage to carry, i never knew exactly how to word why or how that shift occurred.
after stumbling upon this quote posted by chinae from this mystery woman, rebecca, i had this aha moment. i am not intimidating just because someone is intimidated. me being comfortable in my skin and being unapologetic about said comfort does not stop anyone else from being able to do the exact same thing.
so the next time someone calls you intimidating, before you start to retreat, apologize or shift the way you are operating, ask yourself are you the actual cause of someone losing courage or self-confidence or were those issues they were battling long before you stepped on the scene?
have you been called intimidating? if so, why? i would love to hear more on this topic.
while we might be wrapping up international women’s month, on this blog, we will celebrate women today and every other day of the year.