If you’re a strong, independent woman the chances that someone has told you that your tough exterior is an act are high. In this piece I discuss how the need for people to have women conform to the idea of a delicate emotional inside is part of the agenda to keep women down.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
If I had put a Rupee in a collection tin every single time a man who was (trying to) date me told me that I was “tough on the outside and a fragile girl on the inside” then I would have about as much money as I make working as a journalist (which is not too much but certainly way too much to make off a collection tin).
My ex used to insist that my “hardcore tough girl” demeanor was an act and on the inside I was a sweet and sensitive girl. The men who used to chase me (or did I chase them?) before I was an adult used to say that I seem cold and harsh but on the inside I am soft-hearted. The man I date now thinks I am fragile on the inside despite my *made-of-steel* exterior. There were men in between who said that I was not who I “pretended” to be, i just kept my vulnerability hidden because I didn’t want anyone to get to my insides and hurt them.
I’ve never really thought about these statements because I’ve always assumed that they are the pick-up lines of the “intelligentsia”. There seems to be something about the sentiment of the person wooing me knowing me better than I know myself that I am supposed to find irresistible. I must we wired wrong because not only do I not find it irresistible, I actually find that it annoys the living hell out of me. For starters, it’s the entire idea that I have an inside and an outside. Sure, physically, I have an outer coating made of skin and on the inside I have organs. But emotionally? I can’t quite decipher what my outside emotions are meant to be and which ones are inside emotions. Is it like having an inside voice? I doubt it.
I don’t know if I am “hard on the outside and soft on the inside” but I do know that on the *inside* I’m that person who will attack a minor issue with a machete until I find what is a major feminist issue that is causing the minor issue. I’m not saying all the men who said these things to me were coming from the same place but on some level it seems like some men cannot handle the idea of a strong, tough woman so on the *inside* she has to be sensitive, emotional and fragile. The strength has to be a sham, an act put up by a woman who isn’t really tough but knows how to put on a good show. That’s probably not what those guys were saying but that’s exactly what I was hearing. Or maybe I’m just being generous when I say that is not what they were saying.
A lot of the men who have said to me that my insides are fragile are people who know me well; people who know my life story and have lived with me closely. I assumed, although I admit I have never checked, that they also know the meaning of the word fragile and don’t hail from the tradition of “everything means what you want it to mean”. Maybe I was taught English by an idiot (and every single dictionary in the world is wrong) because it seems to me that fragile means something that is easily broken or damaged and I’d like every single man who ever said that to me to justify his case because personally I feel like I’ve managed to escape damage in the worst circumstances. Moreover, I don’t even believe in breaking, I’m flexible and I bend to accommodate pressure. I’ve done that my whole life. It’s hard to break objects that have high elasticity and I’ve always considered myself fairly elastic.
But of course, the insinuations of the dissonance between my inside and outside are always accompanied by insistence that I don’t know myself as well as the men who have known me five minutes (or five years) know me. I’m unable to see my fragility and softness because I am biased and I don’t want to admit it because admitting it means I am inviting people in to break me. I’m not making this up (and I’m pretty sure a fair number of women can relate), men have actually said these things, but if I was making it up it would have travelled through my bowels and come out of anus because it is a giant load of crap.
Sometimes it feels like, as a woman, no matter what I do I cannot prove that I am truly tough. The question of my soft and fragile insides will always be raised as if I am a giant walking vagina. I travel the country alone and have done so for years, but my independence is an act. I cover truly traumatizing things in painful detail and I still sleep at night, but my perseverance is an act. I make my own decisions and i deal with my own mental health but my strength is an act because at the end of the day the men who want me still want to see me as a delicate, fragile flower *on the inside*.
I am not a fucking flower and I have no interest in being one. Nor will I agree with men when they try to make me believe I am something I am not.
Am I sensitive? Yes. I am sensitive to the slightest changes and that is why I am good at my job. I notice everything and i let everything affect me because that is the only honest way I know to live. Do I get upset and experience upheavals? Yes. Am I soft-hearted? Yeah, show me an injured puppy and i will bawl till the sun comes up. I cry when I want and I laugh when I want. Neither my laughs nor my cries are an act. Sensitivity and vulnerability are not the opposite of being tough and strong. They are not **virtues** that I hide on the inside and if you spent five minutes looking instead of trying to figure out what your next self-important proclamation should be, you’d see that in an instant.
I don’t have an inside or an outside.
I have emotions.
I have feelings.
I have capability.
I have strength and self-awareness.
Everything I have is real, you just can’t believe it because you can’t see what you know to be a woman in it. I’m not tough on the outside and tender on the inside.
I’m a real woman, and I know too many men who can’t handle that.