Why we all need to let our masks slip: Lucy Mangan on the pressure to make nice

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Lucy Mangan
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As a habitual non-expresser of emotion – both by temperament and early training by northern parents who cleave firmly even now to the belief that any feeling (including hunger and needing the loo more than once every 12 hours) is weakness – I rejoiced in Gifty Louise’s reaction to being unexpectedly booted off The X Factor. She was monumentally pissed off, as she had every right to be, to lose out to novelty act (to give it its best-case-scenario name) Honey G and every line of her face expressed said monumental pissed-offedness. It was glorious.

Many people, however, disagreed. Loudly. They took to Twitter to tell her that she was a “sore loser”, had “a face like a slapped arse”, should improve her “bad attitude” and “be grateful you got that far”. She was advised to “Get over it love. There’s a lot worse things happening in the world.”

Gifty followed up her face with an equally eloquent tweet of her own. “Not going to pretend I’m happy and smile for the beneficial [sic] of others,” she wrote. “I worked my ass off and I was gutted. I’m allowed to be.”

The second wave of tweets that broke after that made it clear that, actually, she wasn’t allowed to be gutted. Or so many – many, many, many – apparently believe, and often with an unpleasantly racist twist to their opinions.

Over on GBBO, winner Candice’s reaction was generally judged to have been too happy. Too much. Bit vulgar, you know? And of course over the other side of the pond, Hillary Rodham Clinton has been walking a tightrope for months, if not years – a naturally reserved person trying to be warm and “womanly” enough to please the voters without tipping over into outright, obvious fakery. The only possible good thing about a Trump win will be the sudden end to this need to fit her square peg self into the round hole designated for her by asswipes.

It is clear, then, that it is not at all the done thing for us ladies to be too expressive either way. A studied but pleasant neutrality, I guess, is what we’re aiming for. Something that will keep everyone happy and not disturb the equilibrium.

It’s yet another manifestation, in other words, of the pressure on women to make nice. It’s only when a face and tweets like Gifty’s fleetingly occurs that I realise the omnipresence of the mask we all wear. I reckon I spend at least 70% of my interactions per day behind that mask – pretending an interest in others’ pets, cajoling people into doing jobs that I have paid them to do, patting down feathers ruffled by others or that I am worried I inadvertently ruffled myself (at any point up to about three years ago). Of the remaining 30%, 25% of my interactions are too mundane to require anything (getting my five-year-old to clean his teeth, for example) and I am me only for the remaining 5% of them. My poor husband bears the brunt of that, because by that point the last 5% of me is f**king furious. With myself, mainly, for being such a people-pleasing twunt.

It is hard to change the world, but changing yourself is easier – you only have to make yourself listen to you, for a start. So from now on I shall be channelling a touch of Gifty Louise wherever I go. Which will be down the bunker if Trump wins, obviously. Where I will be expressing some very, very strong emotions indeed.