The Shapes We Mae

Disclaimers or Why We Make Them

Lily MyersComment

I remember the first time I noticed a woman apologizing profusely for something that wasn't her fault. My Intro to Psychology T.A., a quiet senior girl, was leading our study group through a review session and was trying to get the projector to work. The projector kept shutting off, interrupting the session. Every time it malfunctioned, she'd repeat the word "sorry" five or six times. The study group was mostly boys. I was struck by this image: this soft-spoken girl, standing at the front of a large group of men, apologizing over and over for taking up their time, even though A) it wasn't her fault and B) she was there, in the first place, just to help them.

It's by now a well-known cultural fact that women are taught to apologize much more than men. We are taught to be accommodators; to monitor the space we take up; to refrain from imposing much of anything on anyone. (Check out this great essay by Kate's mom on the subject). But it's not just the word "sorry". Lately I've been tuning into the subtler ways that women disclaim their existence. The list of examples is inexhaustible, but I'll give one major instance from my own life.

Two months ago, I graduated from college and moved to New York. It is new and daunting and wonderful, and I find myself in many conversations that center around the same question: "So what are you doing here?" And every time, I know the answer: I am here to write. I want to be a writer. In fact, I am a writer. And yet, these sentences never emerge confidently from my mouth. They are surrounded by disclaimers: "I know it sounds dumb/naive/idealistic, but…" or "I know it might not work, but…" or "I know I sound like a romantic, but…"

Yes, it is difficult to make it as a writer. But I know that I want to try. So why must I make it painfully clear to everyone that I am expecting myself to fail? It's one thing to be realistic; it's another to constantly diminish one's dream. Women are taught that it's a crime to sound egotistical or narcissistic; when I say that I want to be a writer, I am afraid of sounding presumptuous or overly confident. I want to assure the world that, no, I don't think I'm THAT great. And that's the reason we use disclaimers: so people know that we are humble, that we "know our place".

But here's the thing. What we say matters. What we say about ourselves matters. And when we have a dream we're chasing, if we constantly articulate that dream surrounded by apologies and disclaimers, we are weakening our own conviction. If I say "I know it probably won't happen, but…" enough times, I am going to believe it more and more.

So I am challenging myself to claim my own dream, and claim it boldly. It's not easy; my reflexes scream "but modesty! but humility!" every time I try to simply say, "yes, I'm a writer." But it's getting easier each time, and it is making a difference in how I think about my abilities and my future. So here's to claiming our thoughts, desires, and ambitions fully and unapologetically. The world needs us, ladies.