Mythbusting #digimeet - Women are soft


When I first moved to Newcastle upon Tyne for University in 2004, having grown up in North Yorkshire, I was the southerner and I had to prove I wasn't a softie. This was achieved by leaving the coat and tights at home for a night out. For any southerners believing this to be crazy, I'll let you in on something. It is. Northerners are not really any harder than you. They're just more accustomed to ice-cold winds and they drink enough that they're wrapped in a sufficiently warm beer jacket.

Aside from being labelled a 'southern softie', I have, for years, been told I am soft but not with a tone of admiration, with a tone that adds 'too'. I've often been told I need to toughen up. Respond less emotionally. Refrain from wearing my heart on my sleeve.

As others have already written this morning, one of the most problematic results of a label is that an assumption is made that expects someone to deny their true selves. Yet I believe there to be an even more damaging result of labels than this.

There's a suggestion to my label as 'too soft' that I am therefore vulnerable and I I open myself to manipulation from others, as if being shouted at and interrupted is something I invite upon myself. It is this view that leads society down holes it shouldn't venture. Certain unacceptable behaviours are permitted because the woman should have behaved differently.

I know a woman who has reached the top of her game at work against all the odds in a male dominated arena. Her colleagues know her as someone not to be messed with. Yet at home, for over a decade, she has been victim to domestic violence. She was manipulated in the extreme because her hardness at work belied what she should be as a woman. She should have been softer and so she was punished.

I know a woman who, having got pregnant at a young age, was criticised by those around her. She had been too soft and allowed a man into her life that she should have known was never going to stick around. For the rest of her life she would harden to people she had known ignoring her in the street, to her mother's distaste, and absorb the shame as something she deserved for her weakness.

It is deemed that softness, whether too much or not enough, can be punished because an assumption exists of the way women should be.

The other myths being discussed today- women are bossy, domesticated, baby makers... are problematic for similar reasons. These labels all permit judgement and ill- treatment for those that fit the label too much or not enough.

As has also been pointed out today, the language we choose is significant and if women are soft what does that make men? Hard? Strong? The language we use for women often set just as damaging expectations for men. I've seen the damaging effect for young teenage boys trying to find their place in the world when they have a softer side; continually working to show off just how hard they can be, often through reckless behaviour. Yet when such men find a space outside of these expectations they turn into great fathers and leaders with an empathetic outlook. Where this continues to be hidden, it results in men who are denying their true selves.

Labels make a one-dimensional statement about a person.

They sustain a dichotomy between men and women.

They define sets of behaviours that apply or do not. There is no in between.

Softness is often separated from strength and yet this image contains both. Her action is calm, soft, and yet there is true strength and bravery in her actions. 

Shot by Jonathan Bachman for Reuters

Labels are unacceptable. They are lazy and they are damaging for a multitude of reasons. They leave people questioning their identities. They permit unacceptable behaviours and above all, they perpetuate a society that lacks equality. 

Let's continue to bust myths, ditch labels and challenge one another when we're lazy with language towards both others and ourselves.

Author Profile

Hannah Tyreman

Hannah Tyreman

I'm on a teaching, leadership,CPD adventure and I'm learning to enjoy it.

3 stories


A Alexander A Alexander @andream656 2 months ago
This is a really powerful piece. So true we only really ever see one side when we all have so many dimensions to our lives.
Hannah Wilson Hannah Wilson @misswilsey 2 months ago
A poignant piece @hannahtyremancpd - with a lot of these myths there is a continuum with an unwritten rule book where we try to fathom out where the tipping point is. I worked in a very masculine academy with loud shouty male leaders, where if you were a 'soft' man you were written off as being weak. Because I was tall and loud, I managed to break through the glass ceiling but was criticised for wearing my heart on my sleeve. When I was promoted to SLT as my authentic self, having proven the naysayers wrong that you can be firm, but fair, you can command respect, without yelling in people's faces, I received an overwhelming amount of support from the men who were not represented, as not only was it a tipping point for female leaders but for the male leaders who wanted to lead authentically. And we wonder why we have such an issue in our society with boys/ men's mental health?
Anna Ambrose Anna Ambrose @annaambrose 2 months ago
This is incredibly powerful @hannahtyremancpd, if only everyone could revel in how multi dimensional we all are. I especially like your point about labels giving us the excuse to judge ppl for fitting them either too much or too little, it's so true.
Elizabeth Wright Elizabeth Wright @lizwright 2 months ago
I admit I looked at this article from the stance of character traits and character strengths; my job is all about character, teaching character, taking character interventions into schools. The idea of softness is often wrapped up in the traits of compassion and empathy, two traits that are seen as desirable in general, and yet derided in certain arenas - as you @hannahtyremancpd have so succinctly and beautifully put. Compassion and empathy are traits that we all could benefit from cultivating, whether male or female, and are traits that should be encouraged in the pupils that we work with and are striving to support to become the best human beings they can be. Imagine a fair and equal world, where we could learn from each other, be accepting of and curious about our differences, and ultimately lift each other up, instead of pushing others not deemed worthy down.
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