I didn’t recognize that I even suffered from “Nicey-Nice Woman Syndrome” (NNWS) until I was mistreated while filming a TV project.
NNWS is exactly what it sounds like—a woman obsessed with being “nice” to avoid being perceived as “mean.” Although it’s not a medically recognized condition, I suffered silently for years.
I smiled when I was mad, didn’t negotiate for a higher raise—even though I was one of the top performing employees at my former job—and didn’t insist that a date take me home immediately after he made unwanted advances. After I said, “No,” he refused to drive me back to my dorm, and forced me to sleep on his couch as punishment. Even now I’m embarrassed to admit that I accepted such brute behavior.
After enduring four different labor violations on a TV project, when my agent asked if I wanted to file a claim with the state of California to seek damages, you know what I said?
“Well…I don’t know. It’s just that…”
I could tell from the sound of my agent’s voice that he was frustrated, but that he didn’t want to push me. I was hesitant, even though the company had clearly violated the state’s labor law, and even though filing was well within my legal rights.
I kept thinking, “I don’t want to cause any trouble. It’s not that big of a deal.” Alarmingly, what mattered most to me was how people would perceive me. Demanding justice was a distant afterthought. Even then, I questioned the validity of standing up for myself.
It was then that I decided to ask God for an answer. The response shocked me. As I prayed, I felt that I should file the claim and stand up to the company. It felt right and I felt peace. I told my agent to move forward.
When the check finally arrived, (more than forty days late, but before I filed a claim), my agent called. “Do you still want to file it?” he asked. I hesitated again. Now that I had the check, did I really need to file a claim?
“I know why you’re hesitant,” my agent continued, “You’re a good Christian woman…”
“No,” I fired back immediately. “Actually, when I prayed I felt like God gave me peace to move forward. It’s just that…”
It’s just that…
It’s just that I didn’t want to seem mean.
MEAN (adjective): The four letter word that I had been avoiding my entire life. MEAN: the things that nice girls aren’t, and good women should never become.
I realized that my life had become a twisted version of the Digital Underground song that says, “Kiss me and I’ll kiss you back.” For decades I’d heeded the message that told me that because I was a woman, my life mantra should be, “Hit me (literally or figuratively) and I’ll kiss you back.” My niceness was to be a cure-all for mistreatment, wage discrimination, abuse, and harassment; my only clap back was to smile silently.
But Jesus wasn’t asking me to be nice. He wasn’t calling me to grin and bear it. Thinking about the totality of Scripture, I was reminded that it talks about turning the other cheek (which gets misinterpreted and misapplied often), alongside requesting restitution and justice.
It’s just that…
It’s just that…
It’s just that my fear of what other people would think of me was overriding my desire to be treated with respect and fairness. It’s just that my deeply ingrained fear of not being nice was overshadowing the peace that God had given me. It’s just that my fear of being labeled “mean” was keeping me from allowing the law to protect me from mistreatment by big companies, whether that mistreatment was intentional or not. It’s just that I was in travail birthing the woman I was supposed to be, the one society had feared I’d dare become.
Mid-conversation with my agent, I stopped and prayed. I took a moment to breathe in peace so that it could settle in my heart and mind. In that state of peace, all of the competing voices quieted and I heard only God’s still voice. I told my agent to move forward, and I signed the paperwork.
Today I try to breathe in that peace daily. Resultantly, I feel fewer NNWS symptoms. I am more apt to speak up when I’ve been wronged, and I speak truth to power, even at the risk of being mislabeled and blackballed. I instructed my attorney to go after the full amount in damages, neither because I necessarily need it, nor because I think it’s necessarily warranted. I’m pursuing it because the state of California thinks that it’s warranted, and apparently so does God. I’m going for it because I choose to value my work more, even if I’ve been trained by society to devalue it. If that makes me a mean, “nasty woman,” then Santa will have to give his gifts to someone else this year. I can buy my own.
Los Angeles-based artist Chanté Griffin is fulfilling God’s call to be a voice to her generation. She has traveled as a spokesperson, written for numerous publications, worked in TV and film, and served as a campus minister with a national para-church ministry. She is the Lord’s servant.