I’ve learnt, but what does this mean?

I used to be tremendously afraid of conflict. And through months and months of talking it through with others, I have been constantly faced with one question: why am I so afraid of pissing people off?

Yes, it makes sense to avoid conflict, to maintain good relationships, but we are fundamentally very different individuals with very different opinions and ideas- so why would I expect that conflict will never exist? What was it that stopped me from engaging in conflicts? A desire to please others? A fear that I would be overpowered? An anxiety of not seeming to look like a ‘woman’?

I came to a realisation that I am experiencing what seems to be a gender identity crisis- What does being a woman means? What does being a woman who comes from a collectivist to an individualist culture means? What does being a woman who was brought up to do wifely duties yet studying a doctorate at the moment means? How does this impact on the people around me who may have perceived a big change in me, the M pre-doctorate and the M during-doctorate. The M who used to smile sweetly and politely but now stands up for her beliefs.

It has been an interesting journey so far. I recently got engaged, and some of the comments I received in my engagement card was to ‘be more submissive’, or ‘you’re sensitive’. More recently, I realised that, when I expressed my opinions vehemently, my male friends started leaving the table for a smoke or look around uncomfortably (Except for my fiancé who would debate to death with me). To clarify, I am in no way blaming them, merely very interested and curious at this phenomenon! The feedback I received was that I was behaving in a ‘sensitive’ manner. Am I? I acknowledge that when I feel very strongly about something, I can feel blood rushing to my face, my eyes flaring up and I respond with fervour. Moreover, I feel that I can take what is being said to me, and respond to it accordingly. I don’t feel at all uncomfortable in being challenged unless comments becomes personal – which I feel becomes the case a lot of the time. Topics tend to veer off to comments on personal attributes or quality rather than about the subject/topic itself. This is when I get defensive, which perhaps I should reflect on.

This anxiety where I will ‘piss people off’ and it’s a huge no no took alot of conscious effort to work through. It hasn’t come easily, it has taken years of confidence cultivating. It has served me well in my field especially, it had allowed me to publish, to present my opinion and ideas.

Perhaps, my male and even female friends are not used to this different me, perhaps it’s something about being a woman within a collectivist culture, perhaps it’s me coming across as defensive- it remains to be examined.

Last but not least, perhaps something to bolster recent knock-backs.


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