Of sugar, spice and everything nice

“I can tell from your face you are a very open and sweet girl.” “Aren’t you just the sweetest thing?” “I like you. You are so sweet.”

 I’m Not Sweet.

The above words represent just a few of the hundreds of “compliments” I have received in my life on my “sweetness.”

Be they recent acquaintances, older women or total strangers, these people certainly do not mean to offend. And yet, I struggle to respond politely. Sometimes I may cringe slightly. I am not flattered, because I am not sweet.

I will accept these words from my grandmother (if she was here to say it), but from anyone else I would rather receive words that mean something in themselves.

Since childhood, I have been “sweet” more often than I have been anything else—beautiful, intelligent, kind and interesting are only a handful of the more preferable adjectives that come to mind. It is beginning to grate. We tell little girls—and little boys, too—that they are sweet. The word carries connotations of innocence, naiveté, and, surely, goodness; however, I have no desire to carry it with me beyond girlhood.

As an adult, and as a woman, I would be pleased to be thought kind, compassionate and caring. I would be equally, if not more, flattered by intelligent, original or brave. Words like beautiful or cute are more problematic, but that is a story for another time.

I certainly do not wish to be called sweet. Sweetness lacks depth. An excess of sugar, of sweetness, in a dish conceals the absence of other, more complex flavors. We add sugar to things we don’t like to make them more palatable.

Sweet is weak. Sweet is what we tell girls they should be so they can grow into complacent, permissive women. Sweet doesn’t know self-defense, and sweet definitely doesn’t know how to throw a punch.

When sweet walks into a bar, she smiles at the vulgarity of strangers, for she has never learned to scowl. Sweet and assertive do not mix well. Sweet and angry? An outright oxymoron.

I am not sweet. I have depth. I am strong. I know how to defend myself, and I have expended a considerable amount of energy to learn how to punch. I scowl when strangers get out of line at a bar. I get angry.

Still, I do not do these things as often as I would like. Sometimes sweetness hangs over my life like an inescapable prophecy. The well-intentioned words of others have cursed me with this nagging desire to be nice. Despite everything, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t want to cause a scene. A part of me, clearly, clings to the sugar spoon.

Even so, I am not sweet. Sweet doesn’t speak her mind. Sweet is always modest to a fault, and timid. Sweet hunches her shoulders.

I have never been afraid of expressing my opinions; I know my worth, and I stand up straight.

Now, if you are thinking that modesty is a virtue, and that there is nothing wrong, per se, with wanting to be sweet, I would almost agree with you. Only, why is it we rarely expect these qualities of men? We hardly ever criticize a man for speaking his mind. And when did you last see a man with rounded shoulders and a complacent smile and think, “He seems sweet”? I am continually perturbed by this double standard, and so I continue my vendetta against sweetness…

Many times, I have succumbed to the same temptation to describe people in this way. I might say of a coworker, “Oh she’s so sweet!” or, “He seems sweet,” of someone I have briefly met. I fall into these platitudes’ trap as often as anyone else, for they convey affection without demanding any precision of language. I constantly try to remind myself to say what I really mean—to use words that mean something.

Because these people are not sweet. They are strong and complex. They get angry sometimes. They probably know how to throw a punch.

Like me, they deserve real compliments.

Note: This is one writer’s perspective, and I welcome mindful dialogue around this. That’s what we’re here for. This is when it is something borrowed.

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