The joy of being too much
This post originally appeared in The Joy Thief newsletter. To get more articles like this straight to your inbox, subscribe.
Have you ever been told you were too much?
But, how many times have you been told you were too much?
Because, I’ve lost count.
From a mother who told me I was too spiteful and too spoilt, to managers who said I was too loud or too forward, to boyfriends who said I was too needy and too emotional. Every single one of these descriptors screams that I was too much.
Women, and other non-male genders are conditioned into ‘niceness’; to please, to be polite, to be submissive, to change themselves in order to get through the world unscathed.
In this contortion of self, our joy is being stolen because we can not be authentic. Our joy is stolen every time we force ourselves into a shape that we are not. And, when we don’t conform, we are labelled as a negative, rather than a neutral or a positive.
I was not spiteful, I was in need of stable care.
I was not spoilt, I knew what I wanted.
I was not too loud, I was being outspoken.
I was not too forward, I was asking a direct question.
I was not too needy, I was asking for what I needed.
I was not too emotional, I was expressing my emotions.
You see, the neutral changes things.
Being ‘too much’ is about power controlling joy. Those who call us ‘too much’ control our joy, taking away our power to even ask for joy, let alone get what we need to create joy. I know this because I have only ever been ‘too much’. Rarely have I been ‘not enough’. And, if I am so infrequently ‘not enough’, but so frequently ‘too much’ then my conclusion is… I am somewhere in between. I am enough.
It is those that call us too much who are not enough. They can not, for reasons both within and outside of their control, provide us joy. In some cases, they call us too much to keep us static, to stop us leaving. People, including parents and employers, who create joylessness, keep us static by saying we are ‘too much’, perhaps because they know, even subconsciously, that were we to realise we were enough, that we could create our own joy or find it elsewhere, we would leave to get it.
In many instances, individuals who suppress our joy are mirroring the collective. They are co-opting the world that would disappear our traits that demand joy and demand others not be party to stealing our joy. Our current economic system is a joy thief that thrives on joylessness. The less joy we have the more we consume to create joy and so continues the economic cycle that only gives those with the most power the most joy.
As society’s designated primary care givers, women are often giving out joy at their own expense because they are told to give joy. When they realise their worth and decide to take joy for themselves too, then we are ‘too much’. Men are allowed to be ‘not enough’ while they revel in their own joy, but women are always ‘too much’ while they ask for the same level of joy assigned to men.
I have had a turbulent relationship with my Mom. She didn’t provide what I needed as a child. But I also hold empathy for her because I don’t hold my Dad to the same standard, despite him failing to provide stable care too.
I feel a tenderness because, although she failed to provide joy and at time prevented joy, she has given me the gift of being ‘too much’ without apology. We come from a line of women who are ‘too much’. I know this because I was taught to question authority (ironically though I was punished for questioning her parental authority). That conditioning of ‘niceness’ and silence that so many women have, I had to a much lesser degree and it is a trait I learnt from my mother, which lets me know that she must have learnt it from another women, who likely learned it from another. I don’t know the women that came before her, but I am sure my ancestry is built on the foundations of working-class feminists who would not choose silence simply because it was easy.
Maybe that makes them stupid. It seems that when women close their mouths and follow orders life is easier. Sometimes they are rewarded, afforded more privileges, more benefits, more access to joy. But easy, isn’t always joyful, and I believe my working class fore-mothers knew this, knew that they didn’t want or need life to be easier, because life as working class women was already hard (granted it would have been harder for working class women of colour — but that does not negate from the struggle of white working class women, only that white working class women had something that didn’t oppress and marginalise them further) so what was a little more hardness from men in order to retain their joy of authenticity?
I am from a line of women who, more often than not, chose not to perform femininity to please someone else’s joy and it can be confusing and isolating to watch men act in the exact same way and be praised or rewarded while we are told we are too much.
Doesn’t everyone deserve to show up as their authentic selves? Including our selves that have traits not aligned with our presenting genders? Don’t we deserve not to be labelled negatively for that?
It it joyful and freeing to be able to show up as yourself, to not contort what you want to say or how you say it in case someone takes offence because your tone isn’t meek enough or warm enough or you’re not acting stupid enough.
As non-male genders, we are told we have to be something and that something is nice, quiet, submissive. It can be hard, but where it is safe to do so, and perhaps sometimes when it is a little risky (such as when our privilege is at stake) I encourage you to find the joy of not conforming to these gendered ideals, especially if they don’t feel authentic to you. There is joy in being ‘too much’ and I want you to find it.
And I also want you to think about when you have told others that they are ‘too much’. What joy have you stolen in order to keep people from their joy? We’ve all done it. Myself included. Moving forward, give everyone the joy of being authentic.
My promise to you is that I will continue to revel in being ‘too much’. I will continue to ask for more joy from the collective, and ignore individuals who would diminish my joy by calling me ‘too much’. As someone who is female presenting, I will not cease to dole out joy but I will only do so when it gives me joy, and I will more often take joy when I want it so long as it doesn’t harm others. I encourage you to do the same.
The system is a joy thief. #StealBackJoy