You just know the “spice” in that phrase “sugar and spice and everything nice” isn’t chili powder or paprika, but cinnamon and nutmeg.
Girls and women are expected to be as palatable as apple pie.
But of course despite the sweet imagery that “everything nice” dictum, we generally experience it as a rigid and oppressive indoctrination.
This indoctrination is so all-encompassing and culturally integrated that we don’t even recognize it as rigid and oppressive — we feel it as a compulsion to put others’ comfort and feelings above our own, a tendency so ingrained it usually becomes a central part of our very personalities.
This is how patriarchy works — for those of us being taught to accept the lesser position in its hierarchy, it tastes like pumpkin spice and operates like niceness bootcamp.
This aromatic repression generally inhibits us and our success in life. The expectation that women are always nice means that when we are in charge — especially in charge of men — it often looks to people like we are being bossy, unpleasant, or even mean.
That makes it pretty hard or a women to become the boss. (It’s no surprise that only 5% of Fortune 500 companies are headed by women.)
But this calculus actually turns on its head in the freelance world. While sexism of course still exists in hiring decisions and the gender pay gap is alive and well in freelancing, women’s learned skill in making people happy is a boon to our relationships with clients.
Clients by and large want freelancers to make their lives easier — to do the work that needs to get done without a lot of trouble or complication. Well, women have honed our skills at that for centuries.
Of course we can go too far in trying to please clients: It’s common for women freelancers to try so hard to please that they get taken advantage of, such as by accepting low pay, expanding workloads, or unreasonable deadlines without complaint.
But within those client relationships where we are being treated well and paid fairly for our work, our tendency to think about the happiness of others — in this case our clients — can work strongly in our favor.
As someone who has hired both women and men to freelance under me, I can say that my experience with women has been invariably smoother and more pleasant. Among those I’ve worked with, they are less likely to object to reasonable demands, more likely to take feedback with equanimity, and less likely to miss deadlines or just stop responding.
That is not to say that all women freelancers are pros — far from it — but our learned compulsion to satisfy others gives us a finely attuned sense of how to succeed in the relational business that is freelancing.
As long as you proactively build your skills at respectfully asking for what you want (especially in terms of pay) and pushing back against unfair demands, then there’s no shame in letting the womanly art of pleasing others work for you. You’ve spent a lot of emotional effort perfecting it, after all.
Now put it to work to produce some happy clients and get the chance to call yourself “boss.”