When I told my best guy friend that I was going to try to stop being nice for 24 hours, he laughed hysterically.
He found it hilarious that this was even necessary as a social experiment. My guess is that he didn't get it because men don't typically feel the unspoken pressure to be selfless. They inherently understand the importance of not only putting themselves first, but also not feeling bad about it.
Women, however, are taught to be constant pleasers, Disney princess-perfect: Don't cuss, don't be too opinionated about what you want and make sure every person in your general presence is comfortable, even if that compromises your own convenience.
We're told to smile (even by random creeps on the sidewalk), cross our legs and help out however we can.
I say "I'm sorry" mindlessly and feel an almost paralyzing anxiety about being accommodating to others.
Kindness is part of the beauty of being a woman. But, when we squeeze ourselves to fit into these tiny spaces, we miss out on job promotions and chances to showcase our individuality. Most egregiously, we continue to teach ourselves that we're small.
I decided I owed it to myself to let go of my female guilt, if only for a day. Here's what happened.
I found out men do not understand female guilt.
Bright and early, as I headed to work, the lessons had already began.
The New York City subway is, hands down, a hostile environment. Women are constantly cornered into uncomfortable spaces because some 6-foot-tall asshole refuses to adjust, enabling everyone to fit in the train car.
I noticed two guys sitting one seat apart from each other, manspreading so much that the seat between them was closed off to anyone else. Several women eyed the seat, but didn't want to go through the trouble of asking the men to move.
Typically, I would've done the same. However, I was tired from a long night and asked to sit down.
One guy barely moved his knee, but the other hastily made room for me to sit. I repeated myself louder to pressure the lazy one to get out of my way, which he finally did.
On most days, I sacrifice comfort even in trivial ways because I don't want to make others feel annoyed. As a single woman living in New York City, I've learned to use niceness as a protective measure. The last thing I want to do is bruise a man's ego to the point of rage and end up on the five o'clock news.
But, in this instance, why did I feel so far out of my comfort zone just asking for a seat?
I learned being nice is second nature. It's a b*tch.
Finally, I got off the metal death trap that is the F train and made my way to Starbucks, where I became a living doorstop.
I'm usually pretty adamant about holding doors for others. On my way out of the store, I stood waiting for not one, but three people to enter into the store before I allowed myself to head out.
Normally, I would've waited until the coast was completely clear, but I darted in front of the fourth person (a man!) who tried to enter as well. Why should I stand there -- uncomfortably balancing my work bags and piping hot beverage -- just so people could happily waltz through the door? More importantly, why was I willing to do so?
Yes, I felt bad for cutting him off, but it was either him or my green tea.
At work, fought the urge to answer texts.
Before lunch, my homegirl texted me to vent about her boyfriend's ridiculous tweets.
I usually answer her messages right away, giving her my undivided attention so she doesn't feel like she's talking to thin air. However, in an effort to remove the "nice" label from my forehead, I didn't jump to answer.
I didn't want to ignore her or dismiss her feelings. I just needed to prioritize my own responsibilities. I made sure not to respond until I had an actual free moment at work.
Getting what I want doesn't have to upset me.
At this point in the day, I thought I was in the clear. What else could possibly come up to make me feel uncomfortable? The Elite Daily Women's beauty sale, that's what. Every month or so, the women's section divvies up samples for charity.
For weeks, I had been eyeing a bottle of Moschino's new Fresh perfume. Finally, the $82 Windex-inspired pop art bottle was sparkling right before my eyes, begging me to buy it at a discounted price. When I found out my co-worker, Zara, was also eyeing it, however, it put a damper on my excitement.
How dare I be so happy to snatch away something someone else wanted it just as badly?
I eventually took it, but offered Zara a hug in the hopes she didn't hate me. I was so overcome with female guilt, I was pathetically apologetic.
By the end of the day, I was running out of willpower.
When I left work, I was pooped. Quitting something that comes naturally is the mental equivalent of a SoulCycle class.
While I was glad I asserted myself, even for something as small as a seat on a train (and yes, I'm still loving my Moschino spray), there were times I had to tell myself out loud to stop feeling so upset about it.
I made a conscious effort to stop saying "I'm sorry" as a crutch or offer up an "It's fine" if I was really ticked off about something. In those moments, I realized how deeply rooted female guilt is, both on a trivial level (like asking for a seat) and otherwise.
What's really incredible is that I eventually felt guilty about the guilt. It becomes a vicious cycle, one I'm learning to end.
Though it cost me some awkwardness, being more vocal about what I wanted was first step toward a new habit.