20 Things Women Should Never Feel Guilty About
I am the kind of person who will say sorry upon bumping into a pole. I will also follow up an assertion of my opinion with a "sorry" if someone disagrees with me even slightly. My frequent use of the word "sorry" comes from a deeply rooted fear of being an inconvenience to anyone or imposing myself where I feel like I don't belong. In other words, it comes from guilt.
A few years ago, I came across Joan Didion's essay "On Self-Respect," which changed my relationship with guilt. In her piece, Didion writes, "Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs." Reading her words forced me to realize that feeling guilty about the things that made me myself was not only self-defeating, but also self-denying.
I am not alone. Countless women express feelings of shame over not meeting up with social expectations when it comes to their careers, looks, relationships, opinions — the list goes on and on. Guilt is a toxic emotion, and much less forgiving than remorse or acceptance. While it's pervasive, you can tame it with self-awareness. From wearing makeup to saying no, here is a list of things that should never make women feel guilty.
— Additional reporting by Lauren Harano
It should almost be a given that you shouldn't feel guilty about taking time for self-care, but there are contrarians out there who may call you selfish or narcissistic for embracing wellness. I've learned, however, that when you take care of yourself, you won't be in the mindset to feel guilty about what other people have to say about you. Plus, taking care of yourself means you'll have enough energy to take care of those around you!
I've known for most of my life that I wanted to write. While writing might be a precarious profession, I've realized that it's self-defeating to compare myself to other people who do work that I don't want to do. Everyone deserves respect for their career choices.
Not Immediately Answering Texts and Calls
As 21st-century dwellers, our lives are dominated by the looming expectation of immediate responses. To maintain my sanity, I turn off push notifications and take my time when answering people. I'm a firm believer in quality over quantity of responses!
Not Keeping the House Clean at All Times
I am a compulsive stress cleaner. But after reading Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, I believe that society puts unfair pressure on women to be clean and orderly at all times. The eccentric aunt in the novel ultimately rejects all forms of domesticity, including, as the title suggests, housekeeping. While I'll continue to be a chronic stress cleaner, I think it's OK to cut yourself slack when you don't have the time or energy to finish all of your chores.
The Entertainment That You Enjoy
As someone who identifies as a feminist, I won't always be consuming harrowing stories about strong, independent women or watching documentaries about social justice. I happen to love romantic comedies and fashion magazines, which are niches in media sometimes deemed as regressive or trivial. It's perfectly fine to love what you love, as long as you think critically about what you're consuming.
Expressing Your Feelings
Emotional control can leave you with more inner peace, but it's OK to express strong feelings. There's an ugly stereotype that women who show their frustrations or sadness are hysterical or needy. After a bad week, nothing feels more cathartic to me than a healthy scream or cry.
Your Relationship Status
Those in relationships get judged for not spending enough time with family and friends. Those who embrace being single get judged for not having a partner. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you spend time with people who you care about.
In the book Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers, Wendy Sachs talks about failing fast and learning from your failures. In the professional sense, making mistakes can be costly and feel disappointing, but they're formative for your growth as a professional and as a person. As someone who is relatively young in her career, I've learned to own my wrongs and move forward by striving to do better.
As a born and raised people pleaser, I had to learn how to not say yes to everything that people wanted from me. Saying no to things you don't want to do is empowering, since it frees up your time and allows you to focus on what matters most to you.
As a tall woman, I have spent a lot of my life shrinking my body to make myself fit conventional standards of femininity, which has resulted in a nearly incorrigible slouch. No matter what your body type, you should be allowed to feel comfortable enough to assert your presence.
Turning Down Nice People
Albeit a diehard rom-com fan, I've learned that life is not a Richard Curtis film where I inevitably need to accept the affections of all moderately decent romantic suitors. Sometimes you won't feel any chemistry with a nice person, and that's perfectly fine.
Knowing Your Worth
Asking for a raise can be an incredibly awkward and stressful experience. But knowing your value at a company or when working with clients can free you from doing work that might be barring you from better opportunities.
Whether or Not You Want Children
Children can be a sensitive subject for women. Expressing a desire to have children can make you seem uninterested in a career, while not wanting to have children can draw accusations of weakness or selfishness. Just do what makes you the happiest version of yourself.
Not Having It All
Instead of leaning in, I find myself, like comedian Ali Wong, wanting to "lie down" most of the time. It gets harder and harder these days to envision myself with a perfect career, healthy retirement account, and Martha Stewart-approved home in the immediate future. I've learned that it's OK to embrace the uncertainties of life and to ask for help when I need it. Instead of wanting to have it all, I'm happy with what I have.
Your Views on Marriage
You're damned if you say "I do" and you're damned if you say "I don't." Some people get shamed for marrying too young or too old, while others get shamed for not wanting to marry at all. Coming from a traditional family, I've been getting a lot of questions about when (not if) I'll get married as I inch towards my mid-twenties. Most of the time, I shamelessly answer curious relatives with a shrug.
I've had way too many people tell me that they prefer it when women don't wear makeup. It might come to their surprise that I wear makeup to express myself rather than cater to their restricting standards of beauty. If you'll excuse me, I'll be scouring the web for the perfect shade of red lipstick.
In social settings, I sometimes restrain myself from eating as much as I want in order to avoid looking gluttonous. Food, however, should nourish you and make you feel good, rather than being a looming source of shame.
How You Talk
Young women, especially those in media, often get targeted with accusations of vocal fry and upspeak. Imagine how much more we'd get done if we accepted how people sound and listened to the actual content of what they're saying!
In our Instagram-filtered lives, it is tempting to opt for name brands when it comes to clothes, beauty goods, and home supplies. People shouldn't feel cheap or unsophisticated if they make ends meet by buying off-brand products from drugstores, thrift shops, or outlets. To this day, most of my closet consists of hand-me-downs, Target finds, and Goodwill buys.
Standing Up For Yourself
There have been so many times when I've texted my friends if I sounded too mean or reactionary to someone when I simply expressed an opinion. Being able to own your feelings makes you your own person, not shrill or sharp-tongued.