3 “rules” of being a woman that were perhaps meant to be broken


In my last post, I wrote about how women can struggle with their own unconscious bias of what a woman should or should not be. Following the Heels on Wheels training run by Jacqueline Clark (yes you can be invited – drop me a message) an interesting saying about the three “rules” of being a woman was discussed:

She does it all
She looks good
And she is very, very nice.

Let’s break down these rules one at time:

“She does it all.”

I’d always thought this was a personality trait as opposed to something related to my gender, but I do feel the need to do it all, all the time. Going home is hard if I haven’t answered every email, replied to every Skype message and completed every task on my to do list. Elsewhere, a female colleague of mine stood in for someone on maternity leave and ended up consistently working late. She’d get behind on her job by taking on the responsibility of the other issues in her colleague’s absence.

I almost feel it’s a sign of weakness that I can’t do it all — that I don’t have the bandwidth. I find my thoughts wandering to criticism:

  • If your time management was better
  • If you hadn’t stopped for that cup of coffee this morning
  • If only you’d have skipped that meeting you knew would be pointless anyway,
  • If you’d have just rescheduled your doctor’s appointment.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be Wonder Women. We should remember though – that position has already been taken.

“She looks good.”

This came up during the networking event. I was shocked to hear how necessary makeup is to some women and they, in turn, were surprised that I stroll into the office every day without any on. Women on average spend 282 hours a year on their appearance, according to What Women Want: An Agenda for the Women’s Movement. But why? Is it the perceived male stare of disapproval? Or is it the confidence that makeup gives you?

I interviewed at a UK university as a researcher. It was one of my first big job opportunities coming out of university. I was all dressed up and looking business ready, but on my way to the interview it started pouring rain, and then a huge gust of wind deprived me of my umbrella. This left me with out of control hair and my makeup had run into a spectacular version of an evil clown. I looked a mess, no one could have taken me seriously. I genuinely considered just going home.

I decided to persist, and went into the interview — mascara dripping into my eye making it twitch; shivering with cold; with hair that made it appear as if there was a murdered tarantula on my head. I left the interview knowing I’d left a puddle left on the chair (not added for comedic effect – it happened) and went to scarf down a pizza to drown my sorrows.

I got a phone call 2 hours later offering me the role.

Believe it or not, you’re just as smart, witty and able without makeup on as you are with it.

“She’s always very, very nice.”

We can sometimes confuse when we’re being nasty with when we’re being firm.

Saying “no, I’m busy” or “I can’t help you with this” is not nasty, even though we feel bad about it. This happened to me last week when a back and forth ended in, “I’ve given you all the guidance I can. I’ve tried my absolute best to help you. I really don’t appreciate the tone you’re taking with me.” I felt horrible because it felt mean and blunt but actually, it wasn’t.

It’s okay to tell someone when they’re out of line.


  1. These 3 rules just sound like me, I can identify to each one as if I had written it. My New Year resolution is to ‘not be so hard on myself’.

    • Hi Kathy,

      I can totally identify, I am by own worst critic and actually have just had a stern word from my mentor about it. I was telling her about what I had done in my role and she was pretty impressed by what I’d achieved. I was just like, well it’s my job, that’s what I do, when actually I have done some pretty awesome things. But when it goes wrong, even if it’s not through my efforts, Im the first one to take all of that weight 🙁

      My mentor suggests doing an achievements notepad, taking 5 minutes at the end of the day to just write down an achievement. Perhaps that will provide you evidence on why you should give yourself a break – if you run into being hard on yourself, read them and just remind yourself for this one negative thing you probably have 10 positive things. 🙂


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