Beyonce, looking like a goddess more than ever, hosted her Carter Push Party last weekend. While most are on the edge of our seats waiting for double the BEYbies, others were concerned with the less important details ― who attended the party and who did not. This invasive scrutiny of celebrity squads and their social life plays out in the everyday lives of women and girls everywhere. What no one talks about is how not only do we get sexist flak for having a Resting Bitch Face (RBF), but we also catch the same kind of criticism for being socially selective.
Maybe Resting Bitch Life should be a thing. As you recall, women are told both explicitly and implicitly from a young age that they should smile, sit pretty, people-please, ensure the boys find them attractive, stay small... the list goes on. These ingrained sexist messages account for that guy on the street or that guy in the bar telling a woman to fix her RBF and smile, as if she owes it to him. Then, it also accounts for the verbal lashing a woman gets if she rejects that man’s wishes. In fact, even women feed the patriarchy unknowingly when they turn to a girlfriend sporting a RBF and ask, “are you mad at me?” or, “why are you so cold?”
If you look closely, you’ll find an extension of the RBF problem as women navigate social situations and find their tribe. A variation of the aforementioned messages and interactions is embedded in response to choices we make when it comes to our social life and friendships. And that’s shaming women for being socially selective, which is when a person mindfully chooses who they spend their time with. As if yet another choice of ours is governed by society. As if we need another situation in which our “no” is not accepted and respected as a full sentence.
As much as women need to empower and support each other daily, women must also be able to say no in their social life. If they want to be happy and healthy, that is. They need to be able to say no to toxic and one-sided relationships. They need to be able to say no to men and women who don’t align with their own values, goals, and lifestyle. They need to be able to say no to social invitations in order to be out doing what the world needs them to do: kick ass. And, especially in 2017, they need to say no to those who “deny our humanity and right to exist” as Linda Sarsour, organizer of the Women’s March, tweeted.
When exercising these “nos,” women are often shamed or called names for their decisions to not associate with someone whose friendship would cause them to sacrifice some part of themselves. Women also get the same reaction when life demands a shift in priorities and alignment that alters their social life. We see media coverage feed this shaming, rooted in sexism, when we read stories about Kim and Beyonce and Kelly Ripa and Regis Philbin, for example. We are told more than once that Beyonce is “cold” to Kim when they couldn’t be more different (which may account for Beyonce setting her boundaries). Moreover, Kelly Ripa reunited, lovingly, with Regis only for him to state that Kelly hasn’t spoken to him (even if she hadn’t uhm, maybe she’s busy?).
This is a conversation that needs to be changed as we step toward strengthening the self-worth of women. The pressure to be nice ― to people-please ― results in women putting the needs and feelings of others before their own, which is often neither healthy nor empowering. This pressure and the messages behind it need to be unlearned. Women weren’t born to be martyrs and yet, many women feel obligated to stay in social circles that drain them versus uplift them. Many women feel they just “have to” socialize with the Ivanka in their life simply because they don’t want to stir the pot.
When we talk about women’s rights and our choices, we’re also talking about having the freedom to set our own boundaries. Boundaries are what keep us emotionally and mentally healthy. Freedom is the ability to live by our own standards, rules, and happiness ― not by those others have defined for us. This is why, for example, it’s so disturbing to hear Offred tell Mrs. Castillo in “The Handmaid’s Tale” that she’s happy when she’s anything but. The expectation for women to constantly smile, be with a certain crowd, and fit into the box society has defined for us, infringes on our right to decide what we feel is healthy for us and what we feel isn’t.
As Anna Lind Thomas put it : “ life is too short for crappy friends.” It is clear that the most powerful and inspiring women are who they are because they use discretion in their social lives. Oftentimes the most empowering thing we can do for women is hold space for them to say no and set a healthy boundary. We need to ensure women give themselves permission to balance being friendly with their right to choose their tribe.
Maybe then, more women will feel free to go live the life they want and deserve.