Taking Up Space

Last week after our reflection dinner, my suitemate Alex told me how she noticed I take up less space when I contribute to group discussions. She said I would cross my arms and legs and always start with “I don’t know if this is right…” when I speak. After she made that comment, I suddenly realized I do use verbal qualifiers quite often and I do tend to make myself smaller and look down when I talk in group settings.

As I reflect on how my body language projects uncertainty and a lack of confidence, I started to recognize how my low self-confidence can be limiting sometimes. From reading about why women don’t run for office to discussing women’s empowerment and activism last week in seminar, I started to reflect on my own behavior, especially in spaces that I don’t feel comfortable. Often times I don’t believe in myself and question my ability. I usually don’t contribute much in class discussions because I am not sure that my argument is as valid and well-developed as my peers’. Instead of getting competitive and speaking up for myself, I’ve frequently said things like “I don’t think I am cut out for that” or “I don’t think I have it in me” without even trying. I have lowered my expectations for myself and thus I never think I am qualified to do anything.

Our society urges girls to take up less space and boys to take up more. Gendered body practices are taught subtly and learned early. In “Throwing Like a Girl,” author Iris Marion Young points out that girls don’t take up lateral space, because the concept of femininity creates a set of structures that delimit the typical situation of being a woman in a particular society. Therefore, women learn to live out our existence in accordance with the definition that patriarchal culture assigns to us. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her inspiriting TEDx talk: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.”

These readings and conversations have helped me realize that there are so many little things I can change about my own behavior to fight for the right to space, and I challenge you to do the same:

1. Stop saying “I’m sorry” for no reason.

2. Drop the word “just” from every request.

3. Speak up when I disagree.

4. Speak up when I agree.

5. Take up space when I should.

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