This Girl Isn’t Afraid to Speak Up About “That Girl”
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 13:03
Have you ever thought twice about raising your hand because you were afraid that you might be participating "too much"? I know I have held down my hand – and my desire to speak – to heed that internal warning: a subtle but strong signal that I might be about to overstep my bounds and violate an unspoken rule about dominating class discussion.
This represents a strange contradiction for a school like Smith, don't you think? We're at this great institution trying to figure out who we are and what the world is all about, yet we're up against social conventions that seem at odds with our acquisition of identity.
The price we might pay for such a transgression is a label: God forbid that I might be "that girl." "That girl" is not just a talker. She's the one that stands out for some reason we don't appreciate, and we're a tough bunch, at our most dangerous when we use our social power to pass collective judgment.
Just like outside the gates, labels are all around us here at Smith. We live in a world where we are often silently – or not so silently – branded at a glance by people who automatically measure us by a thousand standards. They can be flattering, accurate, appropriate, malicious or patently false. People are pretty quick to judge.
The original "that girl" was the heroine of the late '60s sitcom by the same name, starring Marlo Thomas as a young woman trying to live on her own and figure out life. It is clear, however, that "that girl" means something else now.
I first heard about this more modern, more negative "that girl" before arriving at Smith, while reading J. Courtney Sullivan's book Commencement. Hailing from an all-girls' boarding school, I was used to being told that speaking up in class was a good thing and that I shouldn't hesitate to participate, a lesson I took to heart.
I had played the disinterested student in middle school, and that got me absolutely nowhere – it's not my style. But Sullivan makes it clear that "that" girl who asserts herself can be the object of social retribution.
Upon arriving at Smith, I encountered "that girl" prejudice first-hand and very quickly.
"There's a girl in my class that is such a that girl," a woman from one of my classes commented. "Ugh. That is so annoying," I replied. As a first-year here, I wanted absolutely everyone to like me and spoke accordingly. But as my acquaintance and I parted ways, I reflected on my confirmation of her statement, and regretted agreeing with her.
"That girl" she was talking about is that girl – in the sense that she is who she is – and I think that's okay. Why put a label on her – or anyone else?
Is she interrupting the professor we want to hear more from? Does she seem to like the sound of her own voice a little too much? Maybe. But we're all here to do well, to be active learners, and naturally, participating in class is a part of that.
As I had mentioned in a previous opinions article, "nobody likes a misplaced opinion." To that end, I do believe having a sense of when it is appropriate to speak is important. Being an active listener is just as important as being an active participant, and that is something we mustn't lose sight of. I know I have caught myself a couple of times feeling as though I was just participating to participate. This is something to be mindful of.
If you feel as though your learning is truly being compromised by the dominance of another classmate, perhaps you should articulate your concerns to your professor directly – posting your thoughts about this issue on Smith Confessional, however, won't do anyone any good. It just creates a tense atmosphere in which Smithies are not fully comfortable speaking their minds in the classroom, and potentially outside of the classroom as well.
"That girl" is often the prefix to a judgment we don't need to make, one that might as well be about clothes, or hair, or some other form of self-expression we try out as we figure out who it is we're going to be. I know sometimes I'm "that girl." I think we all are, one way or another.