7 Women Discuss What It Means to Be An “Intimidating Woman”

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Photo: Brooke Lark

“Intimidation” is a funny thing. Most of us have probably felt it, upon meeting someone who seems to have it so together—the job, the spouse, the home, the wardrobe, the sense of nonchalance about it all—that for some reason, we automatically think less of ourselves. We wonder what we could ever offer such a person, how we would even have a conversation with them without blurting out something dumb about their shoes or the photo they posted on Instagram last Sunday. But if you’ve ever been told that you are intimidating, you know how strange it is to imagine that you, with your flaws and insecurities and weird habits, could ever produce such a feeling in another human.

What does it really mean to be intimidating as a woman? Is it a compliment? An insult? Is it something we can control? And how best should we respond to the feeling that being intimidated by another woman produces in ourselves? We asked seven women to open up about intimidation, a topic all of us can relate to, but that we rarely speak about.

Photo: Hau Greene

Hau Greene, CEO/Founder of VISAKAI

What does it mean to you to be “intimidating” as a woman?

“A woman who is confident and doesn’t take no for an answer. Women are often taught at a young age to be polite and to accept the answer they are given. Women are labeled as ‘intimidating’ if they go back to fight for what they deserve—one of my favorite movies of all times, Clueless, Cher said ‘never accept a first offer so I figure these grades are just a jumping off point to start negotiations.’ I live by this—I wouldn’t be able to have had the career in fashion that I’ve had and to launch VISAKAI without this as my mantra.”

Has anyone ever told you that you are intimidating?

“Yes, mostly by men. Never bothered me—and I think its a good thing in way, they should get used to a woman being in charge. I know I married the right guy because my husband not only supports but encourages my career and entrepreneurial ambitions.”

What do you do when you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman?

“I don’t generally find other women intimidating—I try to vibe off their energy and learn something from it instead. We have so much to learn from each other, as a new mom and new entrepreneur I’ve been so inspired by all the stories that we can share.”

Photo: Hailey Harmon

Hailey Harmon, Founder of AITCH AITCH

What does it mean to you to be “intimidating” as a woman?

“I believe that when people can’t put you in a box and categorize you, it can be a bit frightening for them. Intimidating is a word to describe woman of being complex, outspoken, and strong willed.  Intimidating can be many things, but for me, it means they’ve put themselves out there and aren’t afraid to speak their mind. To be frank, the people that say women are ‘intimidating’ seem to be living a few decades in the past.”

Has anyone ever told you that you are intimidating?

“Ha—yes.  I went through a bit of a punk phase in high school, which wasn’t very common at the high school I attended.  My friends all knew who I was and that I was a sweet person, but people who didn’t take the time to get to know me were definitely intimidated.  A girl that was a few years younger than me in high school told me she was intimidated by me, until I led a school-wide protest for a kid that was unfairly punished for something he didn’t do.  She realized that I wasn’t intimidating, I just had strong morals and values, and she thought I was a great person after that.”

What do you do when you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman?

“I get to know them, and learn as much from them as possible. I think the word ‘intimidating’ is used by society to put women in a category when they’re too complex to understand at a glance.  Some of the most amazing role models for me starting a business, I would say are ‘intimidating’ according to some people.  Really, they have strong values, work ethic, and options that they aren’t afraid to share.”

Photo: Claudine DeSola

Claudine DeSola, Co-Founder LIVARI, Founder Caravan Stylist Studio

What does it mean to you to be “intimidating” as a woman?

“When I think of intimidating I think of a few scenarios.  It could be seen as someone that is unapproachable but also it could be seen as someone that maybe knows more than the other, someone with more experience, or a higher title. I also think some celebrities could be intimidating because you watch them on TV,  listen to their music or read their books and you are so excited to meet them and that excitement can turn into intimidation. I think  in some senses it could be negative like that person makes the other  feel awkward or is a bully and others feel intimidated or it could be a positive because you are so awestruck by someone or maybe you waited so long to meet them that you were intimidated when you finally do meet them. I also think that body language can cause intimidation where someone doesn’t even say anything but their body language or their ‘resting bitch face’ can be intimidating.”

Has anyone ever told you that you are intimidating?

“Yes, I have been told that I was intimidating during interviews or in presentations. I think in the past I let stress take over sometimes and I took things a lot more serious and I think that my seriousness read ‘intimidation.’ I also think that when you meet with new people that sometimes they are just nervous on their side for an interview so you can be super nice but they might still be intimidated to meet you. I do practice mindfulness a lot more these days and just try to be chill. I learned there is nothing in life that you should overstress about especially if there are ways to control the outcome. I live life as an experiential marketer and creative with some crazy ideas and sometimes people are going to love them and some people are going to laugh behind your back. Now I just laugh back—if you don’t like my idea I just keep moving along. I also think I am a bit more aware of my facial expressions in meetings and try to just really tap into my chill aura so I am just more approachable. I am really interested in human interaction as a marketer that works with social influencers but IRL experiences at my studio so I want those interactions to be genuine and balanced If someone is intimidated by the other person then there is no balance.”

What do you do when you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman?

“I have definitely been intimidated before I would say on job interviews, on panels, and especially sometimes during that first ten minutes of meeting a new celebrity client or fashion designer. I find that sometimes it is in my head and I need to stay grounded. I have been fortunate to work with a lot of amazing actresses, musicians, athletes, models and fashion designers over the years from styling to producing their fashion shows.  Sometimes I have definitely been intimidated during my first encounter with someone and it isn’t just that they are a name–it is sometimes the mix of because who they are, who they know, what they have done and how much of your work is going to reflect on them. I thinking knowing your work is going to be seen and discussed with others is intimidating because you worry about failure. There is a lot of pressure and the pressure could make you feel intimidated. In those cases, you are intimidated by the scenario not by the person. I have definitely been nervous on my first meeting with some of my celebrity clients and after ten minutes I take a breathe and remember that they hired me for a reason and to pull it together. I also look into everyone’s eyes. I think if you look away it will show you are intimidated or uncomfortable. I also have a rule, ‘I only work with nice people.’ I will never work with someone that makes me feel bad or intimidated in a negative way.”

Photo: Niki Cheng

Niki Cheng, Owner of Calligaris NYC, Camerich NYC and forthcoming M Collection showroom

What does it mean to you to be “intimidating” as a woman?

“To me it means that people look up to you and your success–not just at work but your personal life as well. They see this woman as ‘having it all.’ I don’t view this as a negative label at all! Women should celebrate their success.”

Has anyone ever told you that you are intimidating?

“Yes! All the time and I like it, actually!”

What do you do when you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman?

“I would ask her if she wants my autograph. Kidding! In my business, I have met and worked with people from all walks of life and I love making new connections. If I ever felt intimidated, I would show someone kindness and a huge smile. If we made a connection, I would make her feel more at ease through humor and see if there is any way I could help.”

Photo: Bri Seeley

Bri Seeley, Life Coach, Author of Permission to Leap

What does it mean to do you to be “intimidating” as a woman?

“It means that you are owning your space, your power and your voice in the world. It also means that you’re likely surrounding yourself with the wrong people. Because the right people will only continue to empower you, and if they’re trying to diminish you or shame you for being ‘intimidating’ …. they’re likely not the people you want to be spending your time with.”

Has anyone ever said you are intimidating?

“All. The. Time. I think I’ve gotten it in every area of life as well. Business, dating, exercising, health, etc. I’ve learned now to recognize that as an indication that whoever is saying this to me is not aligned with who I am in the world. When someone tries to label you with a title–it’s your choice whether or not to accept it. Just because someone says you’re intimidating does not mean you are intimidating. It means this person’s perspective is different than yours. When I come upon someone who says I’m intimidating, it’s not an indicator that I need to change who I am. It’s an indicator that I need to attract different people in my life.”

When you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman, what do you do?

“This is always a signal for me to go inward. Because whatever feelings I have about someone else are never about that person, they’re about me. I go into meditation and begin to ask, ‘What is it about this person that’s bothering me?’ It could be that there is something within myself that needs healing, love or acceptance. It could be that I simply don’t align with their energy or message. It could be an invitation for me to play bigger. No matter what it is, I take responsibility for it. Our culture tells us to project our feelings onto the other person, but again, it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us. So I heal it and I move on.”

Photo: Sara Baker

Sara Baker, SVP, Public Relations

What does it mean to you to be “intimidating” as a woman?

“In 2017, being intimidating as a woman is often thought of as a negative. It’s associated with being aggressive (as opposed to assertive), bossy (as opposed to direct) and intense (as opposed to firm). But why? Why does society place negativity on women knowing who they are and what they want? Men are not often deemed intimidating when they are assertive and direct, yet women ‘shouldn’t’ act that way. Intimidation generally holds a negative connotation. But I think the characteristics that we associate with the word as it relates to women are actually positive. Women should be empowered to be driven, direct, and assertive. We should own being successful without the worry people will think it’s ‘intimidating.’ I feel it’s time as a society that we rethink the word ‘intimidation,’ when describing successful and powerful women.

Has anyone ever told you that you are intimidating?

“Yes. By men. ‘It’s intimidating that you know who you are and what you want’ (actual quote).”

What do you do when you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman?

“I haven’t had that experience personally. If I felt ‘intimidated,’ I think I’d embrace the situation as I support women in building each other up and being the strong, empowered, incredible creatures we are.”

Photo: Devon Fisher

Devon Fisher, Founder of Pondicherie

What does it mean to you to be intimidating as a woman?

“Intimidation is often based on an assumption and is a reaction to a woman who exudes a confidence in herself. But I don’t think that a woman’s confidence and intimidation should go hand in hand. A smart, confident man would rarely be described as ‘intimidating’ but instead described as having attractive qualities as a leader.”

What do you do when you find yourself feeling intimidated by another woman?

“Intimidation can often be misguided. So often women may be intimidated by other women because of their success or their accomplishments. For me, intimidation comes from a woman who is elegantly confident and has made an impact on the world around her by being true to herself and using her strength in a positive way. Often the most ‘intimidating’ women are not those who I find unapproachable–they are often just the opposite. I don’t think intimidating has to mean scary, or inaccessible. It simply means you look up to them in a big way, that they have a part of their character that you want to better understand or learn from.”

Has anyone ever told you that you are intimidating?

“No one has ever told me that directly, but I do believe that intimidation is so often a ‘secret’ feeling. I’ve always tried to be approachable, open minded and true to myself, and my hope is that more people are inspired than intimidated. I’d love to see intimidation as something that we as women can overcome. It shouldn’t be a barrier and missed opportunity to support one another.”

Cait Munro
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