If I am an expert in anything, it’s in being quiet. As a young child, I was so silent that I had to learn basic sign language in order to communicate with my family. I expected to grow out of my shyness as one grows out of old shoes or bad habits. Instead, to this day, I wear my timidity like a shrunken safety blanket, one that I have come to despise yet still can’t seem to rid of. As much as I dislike admitting it, keeping my mouth shut is one of my strongest skills.
My inner voice reprimands my outer self every time she chooses to be silent. “How can you be so weak, so submissive?,” I ask myself. “Where is your strength, your confidence?” I hate that I come across as shy first and feminist second. I hate that I reinforce the stereotype of females being meek and compliant. Most of all, I hate that I have trouble recognizing that I can be both quiet and a feminist at the same time.
Instead, I live between two rooms, my feet uncertain of which way to wander. In the room to my left, women sit quietly, scrawling poems and secrets into pads of lined paper. The wind outside the windows makes more noise than any of the room’s inhabitants. The women are calm and strong in their silence in the way that trees or seeds are strong. In the room to my right, shouts of protest and wise words reverberate against the walls. I see women standing tall beside one another, assertive and unapologetic. And I, uncertain of whether I fit into either space, rock self-consciously in between the two.
The rooms, of course, are all in my head. At some point in my life, I somehow got this idea that being a feminist equated being bold and unwavering in the face of any challenge. To be quiet or naturally timid was to be a “bad feminist,” I told myself. To this day, I find it difficult to remove this misconception from my mind. The fact that I participate in typically “girly” things such as wearing dresses, doing embroidery, and following as opposed to leading only furthers this inner conflict. How can I possibly help deconstruct traditional gender roles when I myself conform to many traits viewed as conventionally feminine? I see myself swaying indecisively between the traditional stereotype of a young woman and expectations of how a feminist should be.
In weekly young feminist meetings, I feel like an imposter sitting quietly in the corner as more outspoken members express their opinions. At protests, I berate myself for not having a presence as powerful as those around me. I can’t stand how my voice shakes when I question a statement containing misogynistic undertones, and I wonder if my quietness might be taken for complacency; if keeping my thoughts to myself is one of my greatest strengths or weaknesses.
I hope that one day I’ll fully understand that being shy or timid doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist, and that being a feminist doesn’t automatically translate into being loud, assertive or aggressive. That one day I’ll recognize that there exists no textbook type of feminist, just as there exists no ideal type of woman.