Jen Hatmaker is known for pushing people out of their comfort zones. Her new book, Fierce, Free, Full of Fire challenges readers to become their glorious selves. No more hiding or people-pleasing up in here, sisters. No more being sidelined in your own life. Hatmaker says it is time for us to be brave, to claim our gifts and quirks and emotions.
You are set free and set up and set on fire
Read an excerpt below of Jen Hatmaker’s Fierce, Free and Full of Fire and get inspired!
Women are expected to thread this impossible needle of being just enough for whomever is asking, a Goldilocks prototype who always picks the right chair. We are expected to push the needle but not too far, challenge the status quo but not too dramatically, and lead in strength but not if it makes someone uncomfortable.
Hold my earrings!
While it is true that women have historically been shrink-wrapped into a tidier version of traditional domesticity, it is also true that there is no one-size-fits-all message for how much space women should take up. That’s just silly. Any notion that we should shrink or expand on-demand to meet some prototype of empowerment (either less or more) harms the community of women immeasurably.
To those wired to lead and live large—let’s call them Mega Women—telling them to be smaller is absurd. Are we going to call up Oprah and Kamala and Reese and Michelle O. and Malala and Tina and Beth and tell them their power is outsized? That they missed the meeting on appropriate lady rules and should tone it down? I pity the misguided soul that attempts to tether Shonda Rhimes. Some women were meant for bigger spaces, because they were born with big personalities, big ideas, and big capacity. Where would we be if Mega Women hadn’t powered through opposition to build and create, lead and influence, disrupt, and reform? What world would we live in if they didn’t push past boundaries for more? One without Scandal and Bossypants and the right to vote and preach, I’ll tell you that right now. That world would be a disaster; we are all beneficiaries of Mega Women and their Mega Lives.
What about the opposite end of the spectrum? To the women thriving in a quiet, private life, let’s say Modest Women, insisting they loom larger is preposterous. Why should they? Who said the Mega Women are the only ones who register? Why should our most gentle, behind-the-scenes women be peer pressured into expansive spaces they don’t want to fill? We’ve conflated “big” with “important,” but that is a false equivalency. There isn’t a person or community on earth that hasn’t been nurtured by Modest Women who occupy humble spaces, supporting their people in ways that may be hidden to the watching eye but run deep as the ocean in their actual lives. The spotlight has corrosive powers, and these women avoid its contamination and inject our culture with inordinate amounts of grace. Modest Women have been some of the most impactful mentors in my life. Their influence might not roar, but it is no less powerful.
How about somewhere between the two? To the women perfectly, absolutely content with what they have and where they are, right in the pocket in the middle of the dial—Mezzo Women, we’ll say—calling them mediocre is ludicrous. Who decided everyday contentment is lacking? Why does leadership have to look big and loud? Frankly, intermediators are doing a wonderful service to the world right now. I see them acting beautifully as bridge builders, peacemakers, compromise-brokers, and soothers. They are actively leading in their spheres, raising their voices at their volume and in their way. They are anchored in their communities and deeply in tune with their neighbors. They are role models combatting the insatiability of a “more is better” culture. Where would we be if Mezzo Women hadn’t planted roots and held their communities together? What world would we live in if they didn’t temper the alpha culture with reason and dialogue? Mezzo Women are the reason we still have a sense of home, connection, comfort. How dare anyone convince them to be dissatisfied with their lives.
There is no superior volume to aim for.
The key to health here is knowing who you are, how you were formed, and in what space you thrive. There is no superior volume to aim for—we are in great need of Mega, Mezzo, and Modest Women—rather, determine your proper container. We wobble when pressured to dial up or down against our makeup. To a Mezzo Woman, there is nothing more exhausting than being urged to act bigger, reach higher, live bigger. Let her live, Universe! And you can try to tell a Mega Woman to shrink it down, but you better duck. And I guess insisting that our Modest Women act dominant is our way to destroy their perfectly engineered souls? I have always resisted one-size-fits-all instruction here, because women take up different amounts of space based on their inherent design, preferences, and personalities.
My agenda is not for all women to take up more space.
I want you to say confidently, “I take up the right amount of space.”
Listen, there is nothing wrong with how much space you are geared to take up. There is not a superior way to be, regardless of what messages you are picking up in the atmosphere. You do not need to be more or less; what matters is decoding what container you flourish in. This is your work, your verdict, and your line to hold. It is upon you to insist on your space, even when it is discouraged or belittled.
And here you may need some courage.
When the command aimed at women is “be less,” the tactics include insulting, condescending, bullying, and manipulating. The goal is to make you shrink, so the maneuver will attempt to make you feel small. Your competence will be challenged, your authority dismissed, your experience questioned, your voice silenced. The endgame is your feeling deflated enough to bench yourself. Happens all the time. This coercion can occur inside a marriage, extended family, career, church, friendship, or any community. With women having already internalized a lifetime of messages that they are too much, it doesn’t take much browbeating to reinforce the memo.
You are not required to justify your space nor hustle for approval.
If someone wants you to be smaller, that is their problem, not yours. You do not need to offer a lengthy defense of your credentials or opinions. An assertive woman will always face resistance, if not early on, eventually. Some potential responses that don’t include your dancing like a monkey for permission:
- I am more than capable for this task/work/position/ responsibility.
- I am not asking for your permission. I am not asking for your approval.
- I am not asking for your opinion.
- I appreciate your position here, but I still disagree.
- I will not be bullied out of this (or into this).
- I’ve done the work and made my decision.
- I will lead/execute/create in my way.
You choose to wither on command or not. Regardless of how fierce the opposition, it is your decision to own your space or concede it. Never does this require hysterics or rudeness, which typically weaken your position even as those exact tactics are used against you, because #doublestandard. Rather, it requires sturdy confidence: I take up the right amount of space here. The end.
I know a thing or two about standing your ground.
I could fill every page of this book with correspondence meant to terrify me into submission, ranging from “your husband needs to get you in check” to “this is why mommy bloggers shouldn’t be given laptops” to “the term sit down and shut up was literally created for women like you.” I once confronted an evangelical professor online for his outrageous assertion that providing basic protections for LGBTQ employees at an international nonprofit that has served the world’s poor for decades signaled “the collapse of Christianity.”
At the time, I was still on the payroll of a conservative publishing house, and my editor called me, desperately whispering, “I am in a staff meeting, and everyone is freaking out about your blog! It is the subject of the whole meeting!” I literally blinked a few times into my phone and said, “And?” Their male authors criticized countless folks online and in their books, but they were stymied by a female challenger. They were not at all offended that this professor (and in-house author!) denied the salvation of the organization’s president but only with my rebuttal. WHATEVER SHALL WE DO WHEN A LADY WRITER CALLS OUT ONE OF OUR BROS? Good reader, I wondered if we would be able to collaborate anymore. (Narrator’s voice: They were unable to collaborate anymore.)
When people tell you to sit down and shut up, you don’t have to.
I cannot make this any simpler. You can resist bullcrap and live to tell. What a world! They can’t kill you! You are not required to depreciate so others can continue to take up more than their allotment. The status quo is counting on your submission, but you do not have to bow down.
This will create tension, but I’m convinced a tension-free culture is a dangerous one. Tension can be defined as the act of stretching or the state of being stretched. This practice is imperative to a healthy ethos. Folks have stretched me without mercy in the last decade, and I am categorically better for it. You will feel the stretch, you will cause the stretch in others, and this is called growing. If no one injects tension into the atmosphere, we will always default to existing power structures that operate beautifully as long as no one puts any pressure on them.
Inversely, when the command aimed at women is “be more,” the tactics include patronizing, shaming, mocking, and coercing. The goal is to make you expand, so the maneuver, ironically, is also to make you feel small. Your goals are too pedestrian, your presence too inconsequential, your performance lacking. The endgame is you feeling ashamed enough to try and Be More. Happens all the time. Having already internalized a lifetime of messages that women are not enough, it takes very little shaming to affirm what we suspected: we are somehow failing. This dynamic can also incur inside a marriage, extended family, career, church, friendship, or any community.
You are not required to justify your space nor hustle for approval either.
If someone wants you to loom larger, that is their problem, not yours. You do not need to offer a lengthy defense of your credentials or opinions. Just like the assertive woman, a reserved woman faces resistance too. Some responses that don’t require your dancing like a monkey for approval:
- I am enough here.
- I am content with who I am.
- I am content with what I have.
- I am content with how I live.
- I hear your opinion, but I don’t share it.
- I will not be bullied into this.
- I will lead/execute/create in my own way.
Holding your space against outside pressure to be more is no different than those urged to be less. This is yours to protect. If someone wants you to be bigger by suggesting that you are too small, that is shame-based manipulation and you should resist it fiercely. In owning your space, there is no need to reach for the tools of dominance—aggression, arguing, offensiveness—but rather sturdy confidence:
I take up the right amount of space here. The end.
If you’ve liked this excerpt from Jen Hatmaker’s Fierce, Free, Full of Fire, pick it up today at your favorite place to buy books! Be sure to follow Jen Hatmaker on Instagram and Facebook.