Every woman has to make a choice in her day-to-day life. The choice is not usually conscious, and it is almost never spoken of to others. It is intimately intertwined with her self-esteem, her sexuality, and her emotional history. The choice is very simple, but each option brings the same amount of baggage.
For every woman, starting somewhere in our teenage years, it comes down to this:
Look at Me
Don’t Look at Me
Choosing the path of “Look at Me” might involve a long-term plan for the personality, as in the case of using traditionally masculine traits to get ahead in the workplace (aggression, action and achievement, etc.). Or, it could mean something as simple as wearing clothing that calls attention to the person. “Don’t Look at Me” goes in the opposite direction. This choice involves the woman stepping behind the scenes, fading into the background, and in general trying to avoid attention whenever she can.
This article is not a judgment on either choice. Different options work for different people, and women might choose to go one route for a period of time, and then make a switch somewhere down the road. Likewise, this is not a personality play that is limited to women. Plenty of men experiment with Look at Me/Don’t Look at Me, too.
However, this article is for those women who might be introverted, artistic and/or sensitive, and who, somewhere along the way, made the Don’t Look at Me choice and now are struggling with manifesting the goals and dreams they have for their writing life.
If you are a woman who is a writer or an artist, and you’re struggling with invisibility issues, the following statements might apply to you:
You have trouble showing your writing to others
You feel a significant hike in anxiety when you think about submitting your work someplace
You earn less than you’re worth in your job
You avoid confrontation in pretty much all of your relationships
You frequently agree with people to “keep the peace”
You always let other people choose the restaurant, the movie, the day you hang out
You have a hard time saying no in general
Now, if you read over this list and much of it resonated with you, this is not a reason to hang your head in shame. You have done nothing wrong, and nothing is wrong with you. You are a woman who was born with a specific temperament and then faced with a choice that doesn’t leave much wiggle room. The real problem is that women who struggle with feeling invisible usually know on some level that they have this problem, and then they judge themselves for it. And then they try—unsuccessfully—to be something different from what they really are.
It’s not hard to see how we got here. American culture ADORES masculine traits. We are a nation who was raised on cowboys, heroes, and rough-and-tumble sports. We reward workaholism and teach people to value themselves almost solely through their careers. And I agree, masculine traits are beautiful and fascinating, but our culture has taken it too far and swung out of balance. We need both the feminine and the masculine to truly thrive.
So, if you’re a woman writer struggling with invisibility issues, you’ve probably already noticed that your sensitive side doesn’t do well when you try to push yourself into being aggressive or commanding. It took me years to accept that pushing myself to be more assertive wasn’t working. I would yell at customer service people on the phone, and then call them right back and apologize. Or I would show up for an interview wearing a flashy outfit and a fake smile and feel awful about it the rest of the week.
The truth is, I like my plain clothes. I like being nice to people. I don’t demand, and I don’t command. It’s just not in my nature. And when I go against my nature, it’s like swimming upstream. It takes so much extra energy and brings on so much stress that I waste all of my talent just treading water.
So, what’s the solution?
Well, there are no easy answers. There isn’t a bullet-point list of “5 easy ways to be more assertive” that really works. The truth of the matter is that the struggle with invisibility is a complex process for any woman going through it. It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. What will be most helpful is to accept where you’re at and work with it. Bringing awareness to what you feel as particular situations unfold can be insightful too. There are ways to ask for what you want, and ways to put boundaries in place, that can also align with gentle natures and sensitive personalities.
What is most important is that you keep writing. The act of writing releases current emotional blocks and can also help with clearing old dysfunctional patterns. I was chatting with a writer on Twitter yesterday who told me, “Memoir writing is not for sissies” and I wholeheartedly agree. Writing any sort of autobiographical material can really help us dig out the roots of behaviors that aren’t working for us anymore. And writing fiction helps to exercise the imagination, showing us that we do have the power to change our world through our thoughts and intentions.
It’s okay if you struggle with feeling invisible sometimes. So many of us do. You’re not unique and you’re definitely not alone. And most of the time, bringing awareness to how you feel is the beginning of starting to shift that energy. Keep writing, keep working at it.
But most importantly, keep being yourself.