Women say “I don’t know” because we were taught that our own knowing was not allowed. That our own knowing was not enough.
We say “I don’t know” because we’ve been so conditioned out of what we truly, deeply desire that we often can’t even access what that is anymore.
It becomes impossible to distinguish what we want to say from all the immediate thoughts of: “But what will this mean about me? What will they say if I say this? What am I allowed to want? Will I still be a good person if I want this?”
When we’re filtering what we really want to say through all of those questions (usually subconsciously), it results in “I don’t know.”
If you ask a group of teenage girls a question, they’ll often look at each other before deciding on their response. Teenage boys have opinions; teenage girls look at one another to form their opinions.
“Are you hungry?” should be a simple question; instead it becomes “What does it say about me if I’m hungry? Are they hungry? Is it polite to want food?”
“Do you want to have sex?” becomes “Have we been dating long enough yet? Will they still like me afterwards? If I start, will it be okay if I want to stop?”
We carry this into adulthood. It becomes the way we choose what we want from our lives, who we want in our lives.
We default to what we think society expects of us, often without even realizing we had another choice.
A lifetime of feeling like we don’t know means we spent years upon years of stuffing down our inner knowing, our intuition. Stuffing down what our bodies have been screaming.
Our bodies give opinions: Not this person, not this event, not this rule, not this food, not right now – and we override them automatically, before we even had a moment to consciously register we had that feeling in the first place.
“I don’t know” is often code for “I do know, but I am scared to say.” It’s code for “I do know, but I don’t want to seem ___.”
It’s code for “I do know, but admitting that I know would require me to face a lot of pain that I don’t want to face.”
“I don’t know” is a female response to a patriarchal culture that continuously tells us we are too much and not enough, that tells us what we say and do is never correct, that tells us it will never believe us, and will never treat us as equal.
Be a good girl. Be nicer. Be quieter. Be grateful. Be cooperative.
It is a survival response that makes sense. If you formed it, it’s because you needed it, at some point. Because of that, you don’t want to shame yourself for having it.
But also recognize that you are the only one who can pull yourself out of it, who can choose to unlearn it.
“I don’t know” can be a powerful statement in certain contexts – a humble one, showing a willingness to acknowledge and admit that we do not, in fact, know everything there is to know. But it’s not powerful when you default to it because you’ve been taught your entire life that you are not allowed to know. That it is wrong for you to know.
Watch how often you say “I don’t know.” When you’re expressing how you’re feeling. When you’re talking about whether or not you want to stay in your relationship. When you have an opinion about the world. When you have a question.
Trauma can cause us to become numb. To disassociate from our bodies – to not know. And while patriarchy gives some of us more trauma than others, to be sure, it leaves all of us with trauma. (Yes, even white men – it’s worth mentioning that the male equivalent of “I don’t know” is typically “I don’t care.”)
In your body, you know everything there is to know.
I touch my blood not because it is a magical time of the month (though it is) or because I do strange witchy things with it (though sometimes, I do).
I touch my blood because for my entire teenage life I was taught that my body was disgusting, should be hidden, and that my blood was meant to be plugged up with cotton inside my body or collected on throw-away pads until it turned brown, only to be disposed of in toxic waste containers in female restrooms.
I touch my blood because it comes out of my own body. It is life-giving. Because by putting it on my face I am saying this is not dirty, no matter how many people recoil in disgust – I am reclaiming something that has always been taken away from me: the right to my own body.
I touch my blood because to me it symbolizes “I do know.”
It reminds me that I am so clear with my body, I am so good with my body that I know what my body feels and what I want.
I know and ask for what I want in my relationship. I know and ask for what I want in my business, in the work I do in the world. I know and ask for what I want when I set boundaries with family and with strangers, when I make agreements or choose not to. I know how I’m feeling when I don’t want to attend an event, when I don’t want to be friends anymore, when I decide what I feel like eating – and I express it. I know and ask for what I want during sex.
But not always.
When I feel the panic, the conditioned “I don’t know,” I say to myself, “Pause.“
Because of course it still exists, at times. The wounds we were raised with are difficult to completely unlearn.
“I don’t know” to me most often signifies that what I really want feels too scary to say in that moment. So I pause, I check in with my body, and I ask why. I remind my body that it’s safe to express what I want now (as long as it is, this may not be the case), and I search beneath the feeling of “I don’t know” to find out what is most true.
It doesn’t always have to be specific. Sometimes the clearest answer is: “I don’t know, but what I do know is Not This.”
Listen to that.
Sometimes it is impossible to clearly discern, to untangle yourself from all the endless questions, to figure out what it is that you want, and that’s why it can be easier to start with what you don’t want.
And sometimes it is specific. If you pause, if you search.
Your body always knows. Your body does not lie. Your body is never wrong.
You might FEEL like it’s wrong, if you have many conflicting pieces. But if you check in with each of these pieces, you will probably realize that some pieces are not actually YOU. They are wounds, beliefs you picked up, fears conditioned by society, but they are not you. Feel underneath them, and you will find what is you.
It might feel hidden, because the scariest piece is often what it means for us when we know what we know. Because knowing might mean you choose to act on what you know, and that might mean you lose friends, lose money, lose relationships, or lose love.
And you might.
But when you do know, and you act on what you know, you gain something that will carry you through all of life: your relationship with yourself.
You begin to learn who you actually are. What you actually want – what one hundred percent of your unfiltered desires truly look like.
Your body can relax with you, then. It can say, thank you for finally listening to me – we can be friends, now that I can trust you.
Because you will be choosing yourself. And at the end of the day, your relationship with yourself is what will bring you the life you want – nothing else.