Don’t tell us to calm down. Don’t tell us to smile.

don't tell us to calm down, stress, self-care, women

Don’t tell us to calm down. Don’t tell us to smile.

Calm down. You’re taking these too seriously. Smile more. Don’t be so assertive. Don’t get so riled up. I can’t talk to you when you’re so emotional. Can’t you take a joke?

Don’t tell women to calm down.

My husband loved to make little jabs and ‘jokes’ at my expense. When I would speak up and ask him to stop, or express my discomfort his favorite refrain was, “Can’t you take a little joke?” Another form of ‘calm down’, as I saw it.  It was a passive aggressive maneuver designed to downplay, excuse his behavior, and shift the problem on me. No sense of humor. When in fact he was assigning these negative connotations to my behavior to allow himself a reason to disengage. We eventually divorced, to get to the punch line.

There have been a couple of articles lately on women and self-care and whether we’re defining self-care in the right way. One noted that what’s most often passed off as self-care is a day at the spa. The second article examined the phrase “calm down” and why it’s more often applied to women. But “calm down” isn’t the right answer–it’s really not a solution at all. It’s a phrase used to shush women. A reminder that we’re a bit too much for those around us.

I was a talkative child and often admonished to be quieter, tamer, more ‘girl-like’. The latter came in motherly tones accompanied with statements like, “Guys won’t like you if you’re so assertive.” “You would be prettier if you wore more makeup”, etc.  Why do we try to tamp down the essence of girls and women while giving boys and men to go-ahead to be in charge, assertive, aggressive even?

Here’s what Amy Hughes says in her article, Do We Really Need to Calm Ourselves Down? 

Just whose idea was it that we have to drink herbal tea and escape to a hot bath to get through our day? Is there something wrong with our energized selves? And what happens to our natural life-energy when we constantly tell ourselves that a state of arousal—happiness, anxiety, anger, excitement, sexuality, what have you—must be put to bed, cut off, or deadened? Where is the line between smothering and quieting, between destructive and constructive calming down?

I love the idea of acknowledging our energized selves.  I don’t want to be perpetually calm. I reserve calm for dealing with traumatic injury and the possibility of a head-on collision while driving 70 miles an hour. I want to be calm when dealing with a child’s temper tantrum. But otherwise?

I choose alive and sassy. Radiating energy, aroused by life. Outrageous at times. I choose the wisdom and courage to say exactly what I want when some man says to me, “you don’t smile enough”, or “Just calm down dearie”. In the face of sexism, racism and ageism.

So, back to self-care. What does that mean for you? For me? It might mean saying no to an invitation that I
don’t really think I’ll enjoy. Changing your mind. Carving out a bit of free time. Delegating, asking for help. Speaking up to loved ones. Giving yourself permission to indulge in a favorite something.

What would self-care look like for you?

  • Kathy @ SMART Living 365
    Posted at 12:20h, 14 December Reply

    Hi Walker! I love this post. Early in our marriage my husband Thom said the same thing to me. Back when I was younger it seemed somehow reasonable. Besides, back then I used to smoke and I would light one up and take a step back. But when I quit smoking nearly 30 years ago I realized I gave up my pacifier and started speaking up more and more. Fortunately Thom learned fairly quickly to never tell me to “calm down.” But even though he is one of the most supportive husbands I know, there are still times that I can tell he wants to “control” me….of course if I’m honest there are times when I’d like to do the same. But learning and maturing into our true selves have gotten us past that…and now I’m happy to say I’m far more alive and sassy than most women I know–and proud to be! I completely agree that a “spa” day is usually just a coverup for a person who isn’t giving herself permission to be her real self. Thanks again for a great post! ~Kathy

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:01h, 14 December Reply

      Thanks! I think we all have those moments when we want to control things and people around us. It took me a long while to learn to speak up to him–and he never heard it as he had dismissed me long before!

  • Linda
    Posted at 13:44h, 14 December Reply

    Nothing against spa days and herbal tea, but they don’t solve the larger problems. I now know, as you do, that “calm down” is an attempt to shut us up. This at a time in our lives when we know so much more than our younger selves did! And, I feel that speaking up, being sassy and full of life, paves the way for the younger women. We can be their voice and inspiration! Thanks for this post.

    • Walker
      Posted at 16:04h, 14 December Reply

      “…speaking up, being sassy and full of life, paves the way for the younger women.” I agree Linda, it’s a great way to model aging, wisdom and independence. Thank you!

  • Rebecca Olkowski (@baby_boomster)
    Posted at 15:25h, 14 December Reply

    I’ve become much more vocal and assertive as I’ve grown older but I’ll do a spa day any day.

    • Walker
      Posted at 16:05h, 14 December Reply

      Me too! And still got a ways to go. I love a spa visit as an occasional treat-but for me self-care has changed as I’ve come to understand what my needs are.

  • oncealittlegirl
    Posted at 16:21h, 14 December Reply

    Derogatory comments followed by “oh, lighten up,” is one of those things difficult people do. Calling people on it is the very best way of handling it. “did you mean to say I’m _____?” actually stops it quite dead in the tracks. I have a whole set of taped lessons on “How to deal with difficult people, cuz I’ve had quite a few to deal with. Of course, I’m never difficult. I’m nice. Well, most of the time. That’s the way I was trained.

    • Walker
      Posted at 08:51h, 15 December Reply

      Excellent suggestion. And of course you’re nice. That’s how we all were trained!

  • Roxanne Jones
    Posted at 17:12h, 14 December Reply

    Love this post. And your list of what self-care entails…saying no is a biggie. For me it’s also having quiet time to just be, with no interruptions or requests to engage. Spending time with women friends. Hunkering down with a good book. A good night’s sleep. And laughter.

    • Walker
      Posted at 08:52h, 15 December Reply

      Love all of those Roxanne. Diving into a book when I need a distraction is often the very best answer for me.

  • Carol Cassara (@ccassara)
    Posted at 10:57h, 15 December Reply

    I am sooo the opposite of calm! Unless I am calm. Yes, there are many ways men marginalize women and like you, I have had my share of them. My feeling of female superiority carries me through, though. ;-)))

    • Walker
      Posted at 11:00h, 15 December Reply

      Amen and thanks to the female superiority in you!!!

  • Richard
    Posted at 11:53h, 23 December Reply

    Certainly, good advice for personal relationship. But, if a coworker, boss, or subordinate ever offers: “I can’t talk with you when you are so emotional”, “Don’t get so riled up.”, or “Calm down”, it’s probably good advice if you want to be successful in US corporations.

    This was a long, hard lesson for me to learn, but when I look back on my career, staying cool amd calm while addressing adversity and leading others was one of my greatest accomplishments that I only achieved in my last few years of my career.

    You don’t have to work on your emotional intelligence, its a choice to succeed at work.

    • Lynne Spreen
      Posted at 09:06h, 02 January Reply

      Richard, that’s a loaded lesson though. How often do we tell men, “I can’t talk with you when you are so emotional,” etc. I recommend The Feminist Fight Club, which talks about those comments as a way of shutting down females – I am not making this up, it happens – in the workplace. When it happens, the woman has to wrangle back her authority without looking like she’s EXACTLY what the coworker, boss, or subordinate has just labeled her. AND get her point across. It’s so fraught. Luckily the book has lots of useful and funny tactics.

      • Richard
        Posted at 13:41h, 02 January Reply

        Hi Lynne, thanks for the discussion.
        To answer your question “How often do we tell men, “I can’t talk with you when you are so emotional,” etc., I would say that I saw it a lot, myself included.
        I’m not sure why women make this into an anti-female issue? Insecurity, I guess. Or, is it always easier to blame other people for our lack of success than to change and grow?
        Once my emotional intelligence improved over decades of difficult, pressure situations, I became a better leader and would always remind my team to look at the bigger picture, relax, stay calm, and make decisions based on data, not your first emotional reaction. I was judged to be a good leader and successful and both men and women would ask to be part of my teams. None of it was easy or natural for me. Its called work for a reason…
        Another point that I will challenge: A woman at work doesn’t have to “wrangle back her authority”, she has to EARN respect and authority by her actions.

        • Walker
          Posted at 11:02h, 05 January Reply

          You say, “I’m not sure why women make this into an anti-female issue? Insecurity, I guess. Or, is it always easier to blame other people for our lack of success than to change and grow?”
          Richard, your comment is a perfect example of the pushback women get when talking about dealing with men who do just this. Label women as insecure, blaming, less than……. As a man you do not experience the world as women do. You have a privilege in this world that favors the male over the female, so I would suggest you stop trying to tell women what they do and don’t know.

  • Lynne Spreen
    Posted at 09:02h, 02 January Reply

    What a great post! Self-care for me is the everyday, ongoing need to say to myself and everybody else: STOP. I am going now. Leave me alone. I need to write, practice piano, exercise, work my business, meditate…and if I don’t, I feel unhealthy. But sometimes I have to serve other people, at which time I look at my mental list of priorities to see if what I’m choosing to do is high enough on the list to justify knocking out self-care. Family is #1, so I may ruefully skip all of the above, knowing I’m honoring my top value. But even that can’t go on forever. As harsh as it may sound for “us ladies” to admit, we’re not put on this earth to serve humanity. At least not all the time.

    • Walker
      Posted at 09:30h, 02 January Reply

      The last sentence is one I’ve had to remember and work on. I Think it’s part of the good woman/good wife/good mother training….. It’s pretty freeing to be able to say No to those things that we know don’t serve us well.
      I still need to work on speaking up when I’m uncomfortable or need to take care of myself–that may be why I chose the word Audacity as my guiding word for 2017.

  • Valerie
    Posted at 15:48h, 13 January Reply

    Let me just say… Bravo! The “calm down” language really bothers me. I have an opinion. I have a mouth. I use both. Yay me! And yay for other women who choose to bristle when we are told to calm down. I cannot be hushed so conveniently.

    • Walker
      Posted at 15:59h, 13 January Reply

      Love that last sentence, “I cannot be hushed so conveniently”. I’m currently being trolled on Google+ by a guy who has real issues with women. He’s called me a Cunt and talked about privilege, etc…What he’s really done was to reinforce the point of my article by giving us a real life example of how men tried to silence women by threatening, demeaning and in this case, name calling.

  • Chef's Last Diet
    Posted at 21:18h, 13 January Reply

    I hate ‘calm down’ and ‘you’re overreacting’ which really mean ‘I don’t want to hear what you’re saying’ or ‘I don’t want to see myself through your lens’. And telling women to smile, because it feels better for them to have you smile. Jeez. Fortunately (or not) I am unable to dissemble.

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:16h, 14 January Reply

      Yep–the first few times a man told me to smile I wasn’t quite sure how to respond because it was someone I knew. The most recent offender was a first (and only) date who wrote me the next morning to say that I didn’t smile enough so therefore I must be unhappy with life!!!!

  • Spices Of Lust
    Posted at 01:29h, 06 August Reply

    I do tell my wife to calm down sometimes, but from my point of view, it is because her energy is being wasted on something that did not deserve it.

  • Jonathan Hirsch
    Posted at 16:25h, 27 September Reply

    As a straight male, I know for an ABSOLUTE FACT that this works both ways, as one is perfectly entitled to shut someone else up, tell them to relax or put them in their place if the recipient is chastising, berating, criticizing, insulting or triggering another without a valid cause. Or if an individual is behaving in an objectively unreasonable manner,then sometimes it can be justified

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 11:29h, 19 October Reply

      I understand that men do experience some of the same things that women do, but I don’t think men every tell other men to smile or to calm down. This is really about the way that men view women in our society. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Jonathan Hirsch
    Posted at 08:57h, 25 December Reply

    You’re not wrong on that one Mrs. Walker, and thank you for being so reasonable and objective, and that troll who got off calling you the C word, I hope that you set him straight and don’t give him a second thought, he’s probably a virgin who still lives with his parents

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