– Alexia Larcher
A few days ago, David asked me what it was like to be an introvert woman. I told him that in all honesty, I don’t know. I have a tough time sifting my life experiences to pin down what is specifically due to my being an introvert woman versus an introvert, a woman, or a nerd.
If I were to sew a thread through my introvert life, I would start when I was eight years old. One day, I was looking over the playground, watching everyone running after each other back and forth while I wanted to do nothing more but read and I thought to myself “I’m weird.” Of course adults gave me flak for not playing with others, but it was not a matter of play. I spent quite some time doing sports, even at that age. No, the problem, if you could call it that, was that I had few friends because I didn’t talk very much. I didn’t feel like talking unless I had something different to contribute from what had already been said, so I would rarely say anything. I would listen, but I wouldn’t speak.
Most of my classmates were surprised if I even talked to them, but I only saw myself as an outsider whenever I’d actually try to interact with them. Several people thought I was hitting on them just because I happened to wish a good morning to them. Some people thought that this was a clue that I was easy to boss around due to my being a woman: non-imposing, generally shorter. Yet if I happened to do something independent, I would be labelled a “bitch”. It didn’t matter to these people that they never even talked to me. In their minds, I “had to” follow them and nurture their every meager desire. These interactions were strange enough to me that I would feel even more disinclined to socialize.
Every once in a while someone would say something that interested me so I would add something to the conversation, which seemed to surprise everyone in the vicinity. People were so shocked that they would rarely respond to what I said. The moment would be lost. One girl in my math class, where we had been placed into groups of four, started ranting at me that I “thought I was so much better than her”. My sin? I had not said anything that wasn’t related to math class. I actually liked that girl’s company too. I found her interesting. Sometimes I wonder what happened to her.
I’ve usually made a larger number of male friends than female friends not because of any particular inclination, but because the male friends never expected me to be chatty or to display constant overt friendliness. Interestingly, it’s become a lot easier for me to find women who enjoy the same hobbies as I do because of the internet.
It took me a long time to understand why any of this was consistently happening to me (I knew it was something I was doing.) I only discovered the notion of introversion in my early 20s, about the same time I discovered the existence of Carl Jung. By that point in my life, I had other things on my plate and so I forgot about it for a few more years, when I was finally making enough money to support myself and start thinking about going out in public again. Because in one way, that has always been an issue for me. As a woman, I have always had to dress according to a certain standard. I always have to wear makeup when I go to work. I have to wear high heels as often as I can. I have to exaggerate my visibility, partly because I am quiet. These are the basics in society to be accepted as a woman.
Being quiet as a woman in a group of women is a hurdle of its own. If I am openly ignored in a group of women, it means that they have deemed me unacceptable company. I know I am being judged even as the other women are skating words around me and ignoring my presence. It’s the silent truth. They have passed their irreversible, final judgement and it’s a negative one. If they have dubbed me an outsider, they are also likely to make my life more difficult in great and small ways.
Some women seem to believe that my silence means I am ready to backstab them and some women actually enjoy my listening skills enough that they tell me that they believe all women are backstabbers. (My response to these confessions is to stay quiet but wonder if these women expect a reply to that statement.) A certain amount of my time is spent dealing with the fact that my being a woman restricts the amount of personal power I will ever yield over others, nevermind my being quiet as an extra hurdle. If I am going to end up spending a lot of time with a person, for whatever reason, I am even less likely to speak my mind. Strong opinions vocalized offline are more likely to bear harsh consequences to the detriment of personal relationships. I am more likely to try to smooth out disagreement and ignore microaggressions. I recognize them and I wish they wouldn’t happen, but I try not to contribute to long-term problems.
Some women are the grown up versions of the girls who believed that I am easy to control because I am quiet or that I cannot have opinions that are different from their own. They try to tell me what I should do (cook), who I should befriend (always someone who is poisonous to me), what I should like (their favorite TV shows) or what should I like doing in my free time (cooking for other people so they can discuss what I’m eating over lunch). If I say no to any of these things, they say “But I’m your frieeeeeeeeeeeend!” No, you are not. You are my enemy. Go away before I throttle you with cringing Maritimer politeness. Hiss.
Some extroverted women do not understand why I do not try to befriend all their friends (or all their work friends). These women are always extroverts. They always have at least a half-dozen extrovert friends, most of whom think and treat me like the most boring person in the world. These groups never try to ask me questions or engage me in anything other than the most basic small talk. The first friend eventually gets fed up with my “stubborn refusal to fit in” and dumps me in a string of painful passive-aggressive moves.
Although I have mainly listed negative consequences from being an introverted woman, ultimately we share the same things that anybody who has felt alienated from society go through. We are more likely to think independently of others. We are more likely to become observant. We are quite aware of our difference and can choose to “pass” for normal according to the other labels that people have given us. We are more likely to create new ways of living. All of this happens because we don’t fit.