When Bisha K Ali tapped out her frustrations in a Facebook post about all the nonsensical, contradictory things we’re told, she had no idea it would go viral. It’s ace and it did. She tells Standard Issue how it came about.
I opened up a document and gave it a glib title – GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS – and tried to write up some of the ideas I had swimming around about micro-aggressions. I hate the word micro-aggressions – because while the prefix ‘micro’ describes the acts of aggression, the impact of hundreds of these over years is less micro and more exhausting, heartbreaking and rage-inducing.
The plan was to turn these thoughts into a gut-wrenchingly hilarious bit that I could add to my standup routine (and I will eventually accomplish this if it kills me); but it didn’t work out that way. I ended up churning out all of the things that we get told by those around us – our parents, our family, our friends, peers – that when put together are directly contradictory and hurtful.
There is no way that we can live up to all of the expectations and beliefs that others hold about how we should live our lives. It is absolutely impossible – yet so many of us seem to clamour to keep up with what other people think. There’s a lot of joy in realising that everyone you’ve met is full of it, and no one actually knows what they’re doing. It’s OK to not be overflowing with confidence, be a self-esteem queen or have trouble looking at yourself in the mirror. Taking stock of the judgemental noise we’re all subject to from cradle to the grave is liberating.
The post that I made is severely edited down: it’s a subset of the things that people hear, and it’s fairly general. There are a lot more judgments, expectations and value systems enforced on individuals that intersect with race, class, culture and sexuality. The list is virtually endless.
Though it’s lovely to see the post resonating with so many people, it’s also horribly sad. Hopefully I’ll turn that sadness around once I throw in some punchlines. Until then, my takeaway is that we all need to think a little more carefully about our throwaway judgments and expectations of each other – even if we think we have each other’s best interests in mind.
Bisha’s post in full:
“You’re so adorable! You’re gonna be a heartbreaker one day. Your daughter’s so well behaved. Aren’t you pretty? If you give me a smile I’ll give you an extra one too. Do you like princesses? Girls aren’t ghostbusters, they’re princesses! You don’t like princesses? Aah you’re a tomboy, that’s cool too. Tomboys are always popular with the boys, but for the wrong reasons. If you want to get a boyfriend you’re better off not being a tomboy. Aren’t you a little young to be dating? Are you really going to wear that outfit? You’ll give people the wrong idea.
Why don’t you show off some skin? Dress a little nicer, that way you’ll be able to find someone. No one’s gonna notice you dressed like that. Never on a first date. What do you mean you don’t feel ready, this is the third date? Frigid bitch.
You fucked him on a first date? What a slut. Have you seen how she dresses? She’s begging for attention. You read comics? You must like all the attention you get from the guys. Oh you like videogames? It’s not gonna score you any points you know.
You can’t dress like that for work, too much leg and too much cleavage. You’re dressed inappropriately. ‘Aaah I’m so hungover, I got wasted last night and went home with this fit bird but I didn’t even get her name, haha.’ Your outfit is distracting in the workplace. You’re gorgeous, I can’t believe you don’t have a boyfriend! You don’t have a boyfriend because you don’t take care of yourself. If you don’t love yourself, how will anyone ever love you?
I can’t date someone who has been with more people than me, or who makes more money than me. Are you taking contraception? I don’t want to deal with all of that, so you should take care of it. Why are you taking contraception? Is it cause you’re sleeping around? He’s not good enough for you, you’re way out of his league. Why are you so stuck up? You should care more about what’s on the inside. He’s stunning, he’s way out of your league. When are you going to settle down?
Congratulations on your engagement, do you think you’ll take his name? It’s traditional, some traditions are just nice to keep up. You’re not changing your name to his, are you? Aren’t you an independent, free thinking woman?
You don’t want kids? But being a mother is part of being a woman. A family isn’t complete without children, I have no idea why you wouldn’t want kids. You’re pregnant! That’s amazing. Did you plan it? Are you going to carry on working? So you’re going to be a stay at home Mum, huh? A housekeeper? Yeah they say it’s a ‘full time job.’ You’re having a kid but you’re going to carry on with your career? Yeah, good luck with that. How can you abandon your children and let someone else raise them while you carry on working? People shouldn’t have kids if they can’t care for them.
Oh wow, she’s so adorable! She’s gonna be a heartbreaker some day.”
– Some stuff people say to other humans.
Bisha K Ali is a writer and comedian. Off stage, she can be found under a duvet with a notebook.