A few weeks ago, I came upon a post on a feminist social media account* that really resonated with me. It was a graphic depicting a concept called “kneecapping sentences,” and women do it all too often.
Here are some examples of kneecapping sentences:
That kind of makes me uncomfortable.
I’m just trying to help you.
Maybe you should leave.
I think I already knew that.
I’m sorta feeling overwhelmed right now.
Do you notice anything that these sentences have in common?
If you were wondering, it’s their use of words like kind of, sorta, just, maybe, and I think. These are words that people — but especially women — tend to use when they’re interacting with others and are trying to be “nice” or “polite.” These are the “kneecaps” of the sentences. When women don’t feel comfortable saying something straightforward for fear of being perceived as too direct or mean, they use kneecaps.
Here’s why this is problematic, though: women have every right to feel comfortable expressing their feelings without needing to censor themselves, or soften the delivery for someone else’s sake. We live in a society that idolizes the strength and assertiveness of men, but discourages the same idea in women. If a man said something like, “Hey, you should leave,” most people wouldn’t think anything of it. But if a woman said the same thing, many people would consider her bossy or rude. This double-standard is only perpetuating sexism and enforcing the false idea that women need to be polite, demure individuals who are always hyperconscious and delicate when interacting socially. In reality, though, women are already tired of censoring themselves. We live in a society where we have to endure the patronization of mansplainers, deal with being interrupted when we’re saying something important, and be name-called and ridiculed for having traits that are never frowned upon when men possess them. In fact, men are so accustomed to saying whatever they want, whenever they want, that you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of a man kneecapping his sentences. (Which is good for men — everyone should be able to do that! But women need to have that opportunity, too.)
And what’s more, women have a right to call people out when they feel uncomfortable, mistreated, overwhelmed, or patronized. All too often, when a man explains something to us that we clearly already know, we have no idea how to respond. When someone’s making us uncomfortable, we rarely say anything — and if we do, we’re seen as judgmental and obnoxious, so we “kneecap” it. When someone is mistreating us and we want them to GTFO, we can’t usually demand them to leave without being labelled negatively. And even when we are simply trying to help people or offer support, we have trouble defending ourselves when they blow up at us.
But women should feel empowered to speak their minds without having to use kneecaps on their sentences or censor themselves solely for the purpose of trying not to offend someone else. If someone is offended by a woman’s self-awareness and transparency, so what? Men are not held to this same standard, and it’s not fair. In order for us to make valuable progress as a society, we need women to feel comfortable calling people out when they’re making us feel uncomfortable, or when they’re mansplaining, or when we need our space and we want someone to leave. We need to feel comfortable justifying our intentions when we’re trying to help someone, even if they aren’t taking it well. We need to be able to say these things without any other expectations. We need to be able to say these things without unconsciously kneecapping. We need to be able to say these things without feeling like we have to make them sound “nice.”
So, women, let’s use these phrases:
That makes me uncomfortable.
I’m trying to help you.
You should leave.
I already knew that.
I’m feeling overwhelmed right now.
(They’re much more powerful, right? Wouldn’t it feel liberating?)
Oh, and if people could hear us saying these things in conversation without perpetually criticizing us or assuming bad intentions, that would be helpful, too.
Then maybe, finally, we can be heard.
*The account where I first saw this term be used was WitchesvsPatriarchy on Reddit. They deserve the credit for coining this concept!