Oprah Winfrey isn’t nice. At least that’s what her best friend Gayle King says.

I don’t remember where I heard it, but I recall Oprah telling the story of her genuinely nice best friend Gayle.

I also recall Oprah’s surprise – and mine, in turn – when Gayle did not return the sentiment. Instead suggesting that Oprah was a lot of wonderful things, but “nice” was not one of them.

The key here is to read between the lines. Gayle was not insulting Oprah. She was stating a fact. One of the most generous, giving, sharing, inspiring and influential women in the world is not nice.

In other words, being nice – pleasing, agreeable and delightful as defined in the dictionary – wasn’t Oprah’s natural tendency. And she didn’t find or place value upon whether she was perceived as such.

Being nice was genuine for Gayle. Being nice for Oprah was…well…just that…nice.

This story really resonated with me.

How did “niceness” become the yardstick upon which many women measure their success at being women?

How did being pleasing, agreeable and delightful become the gauge for our likability, acceptance and worth in the world?

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
I’m exposed
And it’s no big surprise
Don’t you think I know
Exactly where I stand
This world is forcing me
To hold your hand

If you’re female and you were at least eight years old around the mid-’90s, you probably recognize the above lyrics from the bad-ass rock anthem by No Doubt, fronted by my favorite female rocker, Gwen Stefani.

Even if you’re unfamiliar, chances are, just reading the lyrics now – which are featured throughout this blog post – you’ll find something that will resonate with your “growing up female” experience.

“I’m Just a Girl” was No Doubt’s first major hit, released in 1995.  I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, and working at a local alternative rock hit radio station in Des Moines, Iowa – a dream job for me at that stage in my life.

I was young and had a job in my chosen field of study, just months after receiving a degree in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Advertising.  And I was passionate about music!

I myself was just a girl in the world. Finding my way. Caught between the definitions of my past, the stereotypical limiting beliefs in my own mind and reinforced by the world surrounding me, and the roaring female beast I felt within.

‘cause I’m just a girl, little ol’ me
Don’t let me out of your sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty & petite
So don’t let me have any rights
Oh…I’ve had it up to here!
The moment that I step outside
So many reasons for me to run and hide
I can’t do the little things
I hold so dear
‘cause it’s all those little things
That I fear

One of the greatest perks of my job was getting free tickets to area concerts, live shows and events. So on March 4, 1996, I found myself sitting in anticipation, not of the evening’s headlining performance by Bush, but of the opening alternative rock band from southern California (with ska, punk and even reggae influences) that had recently burst onto the mainstream scene.

Lead singer Gwen Stefani’s performance in Hilton Coliseum that night changed what I felt was possible for me in the world.  From the moment she set foot on the stage, she commanded the audience’s attention.  All eyes were on her as she belted out what every female in that audience could identify with in one way, shape or form.

Her “oh yah, take that, in your face” message and presence had men wanting her and women wanting to be her.

She pouted, almost baby-talking, eyelashes batting, platinum-blonde ponytail bouncing, mid-drift exposed in a baby-doll T-shirt.

“I’m just a girl. I’m just a girl in the world.”

And in the next line, as if to say LISTEN UP and LISTEN CLOSELY, she made direct eye contact with what seemed to be every individual in the crowd. She began jumping up and down like a 2 year old who was just given a free pass to jump on her parents’ bed, combat boots stomping the stage with super-human force.

“That’s all that you’ll let me be!!!”

It was more than wanting to be her. I was her. And she was me. Along with every other woman in that venue. The energy was palpable. The connection. The common denominator. The validation. The confirmation.

It was as if to say, “I will not sit here and be pleasant, agreeable or delightful for one second longer!”

‘cause I’m just a girl
I’d rather not be
‘cause they won’t let me drive
Late at night
I’m just a girl
Guess I’m some kind of freak
‘cause they all sit and stare
With their eyes
I’m just a girl
Take a good look at me
Just your typical prototype
Oh…I’ve had it up to here!
Oh…am I making myself clear?

For me, growing up in small-town Iowa, the younger sister of a big brother, seeing Gwen perform live on stage that night magnified everything I had ever felt growing up GIRL.

Every time I sat quietly.

Every time I accepted “No, because you’re a girl” as a reasonable answer.

Every time I was a good little girl – as defined by the world around me.

Every time I felt lesser than because I was “being a girl.”

Or thought that throwing like a girl was an insult.

Every time my sex or sexuality was used to control, shame or put me in “my place”.

For every time I based my own value (or accepted value placed upon me by others) on my appearance, my cooperation, my ability to accommodate and take care of others, in lieu of myself.

Or for the lack of value I learned to place upon speaking up, asking questions, having an opinion, finding out for myself through my own experience, wanting what I want, or not wanting what I don’t and challenging the status quo.

For not owning and embracing my natural ability to feel, to be emotional and to talk about it, and to know with complete certainty that those qualities  are and were part of my strength.

Gwen put into words – and lit them on fire – all the feelings we, as girls, as women, have felt at one time or another.

In doing so, she ignited a desire and power to exude our femaleness in all its rawness. Not what we’re told is appropriately feminine. Not what is socially acceptable as feminine. Not what is specifically appealing to others as feminine. But what is truly and authentically feminine, to me as a female, to each and every one of us as individual women.

Your brand of feminine is exactly who you are.

I’m just a girl, living in captivity
Your rule of thumb
Makes me worry some
I’m just a girl, what’s my destiny?
What I’ve succumbed to is making me numb
I’m just a girl. My apologies
What I’ve become is burdensome
I’m just a girl. Lucky me
Twiddle-dum there’s no comparison

So unleash the Kracken!

Not in a “here comes an ugly, vicious sea monster” way (which is, unfortunately, how we’re sometimes treated when we’re operating at our full power and potential as women).

But in a “can you feel the sheer, raw, unapologetic force that she is?” way.

Not even “can you feel it?” But rather, “How can you not?”

I’m just a girl.
I’m just a girl in the world.
Oh…I’ve had it up to here!

And it’s time to be all that you’re meant to be. (as defined by you).

Whether that involves being nice or not.

What is your favorite thing about being a woman? What is your favorite trait or quality? Are you sure? Ask yourself what is really true, and what you have possibly agreed to or bought in to.

And then speak up. Use your voice. Start a conversation or pose a question below.

Don’t forget to devote a small chunk of time to this week’s TAL Adventure Challenge, which is designed to help you ROAR!