Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of person, woman, that I am especially as an adult now. I think I’m still haunted by this memory, three years and counting:
Mum and I were standing directly across the counter of one of many restaurants selling fish-and-chips somewhere in Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, in early summer of 2013. We were waiting for our takeaway order; one moment we were chatting about random issues, the usual, and the next moment she said, without any preface or warning, “When you return home for good after Stanford, you’ve to learn to tone it down. Men don’t like it when you’re too outspoken and more intelligent; you’ve to learn to tone yourself down.”
I remember feeling furious, hearing that.
Back then, all I could make out was my rage and to a degree, feelings of betrayal – this was the last thing I thought I’d hear from her, hurricane of a woman that she herself is. Of all statements to come from her – she who has defied many odds and survived sexism, discrimination etc to be where she is – and here she is telling me to tone it… down? (Wow)
I am the way I am, I thought to myself back then, because you are the way that you are. I’m outspoken with a loud personality, sometimes too bold …because these are my mother’s characteristics. The irony.
Now that I’m part of the working world and back within the fold of my Malaysian society though – and I can’t believe I’m admitting this; perhaps I’ve just become more mature – whenever I mentally replay this scene, I’m befuddled. What now comes to mind is the belated realization of what did my mother go through on her journey to the top? What did she sacrifice – ‘tone down‘ – in order to survive in a man’s world?
I was wrong.
Now I understand she said those words because she didn’t want me to go through what she did. But I wonder and sometimes still wish that my mother would realize that a hurricane cannot disguise itself as a gentle breeze; some personalities cannot be suppressed. And just like her – women like us – I will always be ‘too much’. This year, honestly, I’ve heard chatters and comments about me being ‘too high’; ‘too difficult’ etc – sometimes they downplay my qualifications and personality by turning them into jokes but one too many times and the truth surfaces – that two weeks ago when I was home, I shared this with Dad. “Isn’t it fascinating?” I asked him. “Apparently it’s true. There are people who feel threatened or for whatever reason – they mind. They don’t dare to ‘try’ me. One friend said directly to me that I’ve and thus put people on a ‘Stanford pedestal’ such that even a ‘The Company standard’ – whatever that is – is not good enough. Wow. What did I ever do except chase after my dream?” Hearing that, good ol’ Dad gave a small laugh and simply said, “And you’re surprised by all these?” I guess there’s still a lot that I need to learn about the real world.
Whenever I recall that scene of my mother and myself at the fish-and-chips restaurant though, now I think:
She was right – men won’t like it. But she was also right about something else, though she never said this out loud because she proves it by becoming a living example – they’ll have to learn to accept. Because a hurricane cannot disguise itself as a gentle breeze; some personalities cannot be suppressed. And personally, I wish more people would pay attention not to the loudness of my personality, but the gentleness of my soul.