On Being a “Show-Off”

Twice in the last week, I’ve been called a show-off.

This is nothing new for me, but it really ticks me off.

Especially now, with all that’s happening.

Let me tell you why.

Even before I started school, I loved to read. Books were my only friends, for a long time. I was a weird kid.

Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price. These were my heroes.

Although I was arguably a bit young for some of those, no one had ever told me about reading levels. Yet.

So I went to school, and proudly read aloud in my first grade class, without stumbling once.

My teacher called me a show-off, and said I was making the other kids uncomfortable.

I wasn’t allowed to read aloud in that class anymore.

Before high school, I loved math. As Vanilla Ice would say, if there was a problem, yo I’d solve it.

For me, it wasn’t about proficiency, but the thrill of discovery. Back then, like reading a new story, figuring out how numbers worked was like a mystery. I would go from despair to ecstasy in a single moment, every time my brain felt that magical click–wait a minute, I think I’ve got it!

In freshman algebra, there was this girl named Rachel. Everyone called her Britney, though. She was pretty, in that bleach blonde way that was huge in the 90s.

Britney–I mean Rachel–her catch phrase was, “I don’t get this.”

“I don’t get this!” she’d cry, as if making an important announcement. Every guy in the room would turn to look, including the teacher. None of them bothered to help her, of course, but they loved to commiserate. When I’d answer a question correctly in front of people, or finish my homework early, on the other hand…. There it was again. Discomfort. Resistance. Unease. Especially on the part of the boys in the room.

Not long after that, I stopped doing math homework. I’d half-ass my studies, particularly in male taught (and historically, male dominated) subjects like math and science. Eventually, I lost that feeling of challenging myself, of seeking to dominate those thought processes that didn’t come easily to me. Ironically, no one ever corrected me for not trying.

Here’s why I’m especially pissed off about this: I can guarantee I’m not the only girl with a dozen stories like this. How do I know? Because it keeps happening, year after year.

As women, we are told that it’s not okay to be more than good at something, and proud of it. When women excel, we’re told to be humble. Gracious. Don’t publicize the results of all your hard work. Make sure to mention how difficult it was, while you’re at it. Stop “showing off.” Let someone else have a turn. Nobody wants to see you being excellent. It will make them feel uncomfortable.

But why? All my life, I’ve looked up to excellent people–especially women. Especially, especially the ones who made me feel like I was barely trying by comparison. Because, unlike men, our egos aren’t based on a sense that we have to be (or at least appear) to be the best in the room. As women, our self-esteem comes from what we know, deep down, to be true: that we are capable of true greatness. Not just goodness, or better-than-others-ness, but conscious, continuous evolution from the person we used to be.

Sometimes we forget this lesson, or it’s actively un-taught throughout our lives. But women have this unique ability to inspire greatness, merely by striving to be great. Maybe it’s in spite of what they tell us, or maybe it’s because of that. I’m not really sure.

I’d rather be the person who makes someone want to try harder and be better. I would rather NOT be the person someone else looks at to say “well, at least she can’t do it, either.” Call me a “show-off” if you want.

You’re not qualified for that job.

Well, neither is he. And look–he applied, and got it, anyway.

You shouldn’t brag.

What is “bragging,” exactly, if not just saying true things which happen to also be accomplishments?

(Also, have you ever noticed that “bragging” tends to be considered bad for girls, but normal for boys?)

Girls should be ladylike.

Spoiler alert: You can do anything, as a lady, and guess what–it’s ladylike.

Nobody likes a show-off.

Actually, I do.

2 thoughts on “On Being a “Show-Off”

  1. I have always been a very fast reader, with good comprehension. I’d almost always be the first one done with in-class assignments or tests, and several teachers would scold me for bringing my work up so early – I “couldn’t possibly have done my best.” After awhile, I’d stay at my desk and doodle until someone else was the first one done, then I’d turn mine in. I think I still hold back, born in those school moments so long ago. Young girls don’t forget the messages we give them.

  2. A show-off? You could read, rather, you had the special ability to read novels before you started school? And a teacher called you a show-off? Shame on that teacher. Shame in a George R.R. Martin kind of way (but the show, I didn’t read the books, in fact, I don’t think I could finish reading a novel until I got to college). By all means,do show off!

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