Don’t be mousy. Don’t be mousy.
I go to the bookshop counter, thinking these instructions; preparing myself so that I won’t speak naturally (in a mousy way), but instead, so I will speak like someone who is confident and comfortable.
“Hey, do you have Time Out magazine?”
The guy points to some shelves in the corner. “Yeah, over here…”
I look in the direction of his pointing finger and realise there is actually a magazine section, and of course, the Time Out magazine will be in the magazine section. Duh. For some reason, I thought it was a freebie magazine; the kind that shops keep in small stacks, just inside their doorways.
My incorrect assumption makes me feel stupid, and I instinctively respond: “Sorry… I must be blind.” As I hear myself apologising, I try to correct it (I don’t need to apologise for this, I don’t want to be that sort of person, don’t be mousy!) and my voice fades out halfway through the sentence.
The shop assistant walks over and checks that there’s a copy. There is. I browse through the magazine, searching for an article where Girls Club is mentioned. I can’t find it, and as I return Time Out to the shelf, my eyes are drawn to the colours/graphics/design of The Lifted Brow. I’ve never read it, and I’m always curious about papers and magazines… I understand them in pre-internet contexts (Readers Digest making its way through the family as everyone reads their favourite sections, girlfriends flicking through Cosmo, adults reading the newspaper as part of their morning routine) but they seem so strange now. It’s $9 and that seems like a fair price to pay for something that piqued my curiosity but I might not like it.
I prepare myself on the way to the counter again. Don’t be mousy. Beck’s Sea Change is playing on the stereo.
“Thanks,” I say, putting the paper on the counter. “Have you heard the new Beck?”
“What… No, I didn’t know there was new Beck.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard that it sounds more like Sea Change. More ballads, maybe.”
“Oh… Huh. Maybe he had another terrible breakup.”
I pay and leave the store, in search of coffee.
My voice can sound so small and mousy. I hear it and think, Wait, what? I want to try that again! and, Why did I say that? It makes me angry at myself.
Maybe I’m accidentally standing in front of the drinks fridge in a café, and someone wants to get to the fridge, and I apologise to them. “Oh, sorry!” Why do I have to say “sorry” for standing here? Other people wouldn’t say sorry, because the situation doesn’t warrant an apology – they would just step out of the way. I say “Thank you” and “Please” profusely, and I’m acutely aware of everyone’s actions around me, so that I can be as nice as possible. The bartender turns around, or the waiter refills my water glass, and I attentively pounce: “Thank you!”
Am I trying to be acquiescent, so that people will like me (or, at the least, so they will have no reasons to dislike me)? Are these behaviours that I learned, or learned to mimic, or are they really part of my personality? I hear myself talking to someone else in a shop, an office, or on the phone, and I’m usually being ultra timid and polite, and I stop to think: This is not who I want to be.
It’s not that being nice or polite or attentive or kind is bad; far from it. But there are different ways of behaving in a polite manner, or exhibiting gratitude, without being acquiescent. I want to be nice, but not meek.
I see it happen with my body, too. I make myself small and mousy when I hug my arms, take up the minimum amount of space, avoid eye contact, and fold in my shoulders. I’m aware of it, and I’m also aware of how I see many males doing the opposite: taking up lots of space, making direct eye contact, doing all of those power positions. When I notice that I’m doing it, I try to stretch out and take up more space. I know that sounding or looking meek are bad for me – according to the power positions theory, if you pretend to act like someone who is confident and powerful, then you find it easier to say what you wanted to say. You find it easier to assert yourself, and to communicate.
And, of course, this all culminates in me being mousy in my actions. Squeak.* I find it really hard asking for favours, or taking people up on them. Even when a company is offering something that’s a part of their service! For more than 10 years, my car service company has offered a courtesy car or a lift home, and it’s included in the price of my car service. I always say no – without even thinking about it. Why?! Why don’t I want to be a bother to anyone? Why is it so hard to ask someone else to do something for me? Is it low self-worth? I try to never owe people money to the extent that it’s ridiculous (I’ll pay you back for that coffee, I promise!), I have trouble charging people for my work, and I feel weird claiming anything back from taxes and insurance. And as for the times when I really need to be assertive… like when someone treats me poorly and I need to speak up, or when I need to give someone constructive criticism at work? Yikes. That’s a whole other realm.
To try to address all this, I have added “Be Bold” to my resolutions. I don’t know how I will tackle it, yet, but it’s on the list now.
*Tangential – my sister has four new pets: JUMPING MOUSE. They have big back legs like miniature kangaroos, and they’re terribly cute and funny and curious. They are native Australian animals, and she needs a permit to keep them. Those are her photos in the image ^^ up there. Follow @lewoo on Instagram for more.