A Personal Story about Calm Waters, Closed Mouths, and Other Ways Women Might Die


“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” — Jane Austen

Speak on it, Jane!

In our society, where demure trumps direct and poised trumps impassioned — but only where women are concerned — it seems akin to murder or treason for a woman to speak up for herself in conversation with a male – more specifically, an older male.

Have you ever been defined through that calm waters lens?

You know the type, right?

That “Why does she always have to make shit so uncomfortable for everybody by speaking out?” type. That “Aw hell, I hope no one says anything to get her riled up” type. That “Somebody needs to remind her that sometimes the best response is no response” type.

Does that type of woman live in your mirror?

Because for damn sure, she is nowhere near mine.

And finally, after spending nearly the first half of my thirties trying to fabricate a just-let-it-go self, I have no intention of revisiting that inauthentic path.

I know my type, and I know that my job as an ever-evolving, sentient being is to protect and assert my Me-ness – to stand out without the intention of doing harm to anyone, including myself.

My type is not one to absorb what is needed to make other people more comfortable in their Them-ness.

This does not mean that I don’t exercise consideration, compassion, and assessment of my patterns and motives with the intention of refining my Me-ness should I feel like I handled someone without the regard and respect I myself would want.

Not at all.

I understand and value respect – reverence in some cases – but my type does not automatically serve up helpings of Yes’m and No’m to anyone just because they hold a particular position or because they’ve lived longer than I have.

And whenever that expectation of subservience is directed at me, I get all caged tiger-like. And from there, my mode of expression shifts from thoughtful and peace-focused, to all-out warrior woman mode. Seriously.

Such was the case recently, when an important male elder in my life tried to crack a whip at my mouth, and expected me not only to be still, but to accept what he was attempting to do.

Ask Siegfried and Roy about their homeboy, Montecore.

The Gist of the Story

My husband and I left our daughters, ages nine and seven, with this elder and his wife while we went on a lunch date.

When we returned, we hung out at their house, as we usually do on Sundays, chatting and preparing for dinner.

About two hours after we’d been there, our nine-year-old asked if she could go outside to play with some neighborhood kids.

I said yes, but Male Elder called my daughter’s name, summoned her and her sister to him, and demanded that she tell her mother what happened.

I was confused.

My husband wasn’t in the same room as us, but I felt sure he didn’t know “what happened” either, or he would have discussed it with me.

I waited, deciding to just observe instead of question, for the moment.

My daughters followed his instructions, sat in front of me, and my oldest, Marley, began to speak.

Not three seconds into the sound of her voice, Male Elder interrupted her with verbal daggers such as liar, manipulator, and other terms I deemed grossly offensive and wholly inappropriate for a grown man to be hurling at a nine-year-old child.

It was then that I stepped out of observation mode.

“Can you please speak to me instead of her, as it seems you’re angry?”  I asked in what I am sure what a calm and respectful tone.

His response, however, was neither calm nor respectful.

“No, let her tell you! But it better be the truth this time. Marley, you are digging yourself into a hole, and—” he chimed.

“Yes, but since it seems that your version of what happened is different than hers, I’d rather talk to the adult first, and I’ll speak with Marley after.”

“No, she can speak. Let her tell you. Marley, go ahead and tell your mother what happened when you were outside today,” he insisted.

Marley began to speak. And again, he chimed in with the accusations.

“Can you either tell me what happened, or let her speak without interruption, please.” Those were my words, verbatim.

Finally, he let her speak.

And no sooner than she had finished, her story accented by tidbits of information from her sister, he began to explain his version of the story, and why my daughters had to be lying.

His story didn’t sit well with me at all.

But I wasn’t there, and I’m not one of those delusional my-kid-can-do-no-wrong types, so I needed more information still.

I instructed my daughters to leave the room, after which he and I spent nearly thirty minutes sorting through details.

Eventually, I realized that he was not interested in what actually happened with my daughters outside that day, but wholly pre-occupied with validating what he thought had happened.

He went on about kids these days, and back in his day, and other get-off-my-lawn type diatribes.

He also (repeatedly) attempted to manage our conversation by telling me what I should not be questioning (his judgment) and what I should be doing (parenting my daughters in a way that shows respect for their elders).

I gave my opinion, respectfully.

But the more it deviated from what he “knew” happened, the more upset he got.

And when he commented about me not recognizing who my daughters really are, I got on my Jane Austen vibe and ditched calm waters for a perfectly natural human emotion: anger.

[Queue Jane Austen]

I went caged tiger on his ass, and I meant every roar word that bellowed through my throat.

Have you been there?

Have you done your very best to utilize every social skill that your granny and your mama instilled in you, only to have that shit get stomped on by someone else’s irrational idea of respect?

Those moments can be tricky, particularly if it’s an elder, and even more so if it’s a male.

In my case, the elder is of a very traditional British-Caribbean school of thought, wrought with sexist ideologies of head-nodding women whose greatest pride comes from the cleanliness of her living room floors and the sweet smell of whateverthehell coming from her kitchen.

I don’t even like cooking, and I take more pride in my UFC fighter knowledge than the cleanliness of my floors.

I’m that type.

And if you sing any verses from my type of song, and your method of self-expression seems to threaten the mindset of elders in your life, remember this in your caged-tiger moments:

Acquiescence is never your only option, nor is it synonymous with respect.

Self-expression is almost always a risk, but if a woman is not willing to risk expression, she will never truly know what she is made up of, nor will she be able to gain the respect of others.

You must speak up on your own behalf and be willing to rock the shit out of any boat that is already rocking from disrespect and disregard for who you are and what you believe.

Calm waters can kill a woman, and you probably know a few women who’ve died inside from years of calm-water aspirations.

Surely, there are moments when the best thing to do is to shut up and wait for safety.

But don’t default to that logic, because your safety and your enslavement aren’t always the only two choices you have.

If you busy yourself with the art of tip-toeing around emotions and stroking other people’s irrational expectations, that duct tape of muted expression will remain firmly affixed to your mouth, and you will never be free to express what you need, nor command respect, let alone change.


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Akilah S. Richards is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a six-time author, digital content writer, and lifestyle coach who writes passionately about self-expression, womanhood, modern feminism, location independence and the unschooling lifestyle. Connect with Akilah on InstagramTumblr, or her #radicalselfie e-home, radicalselfie.comRead her articles.