The Shame of it All (or, Making Sense of Misogyny)

"That was his response," she said.

"Wow, he didn't hear you at all..." she whispered in shock.

--

As a woman, there is no shortage of microaggressions we are exposed to on a fairly regular basis. Story after story can be told by women who find this behavior towards them seemingly expected. The #metoo movement made this clear for all of us, though the more egregious stories obviously stick out in our minds from what was shared around this movement. And rightfully so. Those stories are easy to cling to because it is easier to have rage around incidents that we notice as unacceptable and have not participated in ourselves (eg: aggressive sexual assault).

But misogyny is trickier. Its microaggressions are the ones that cause me, personally, the heaviest burden. Like a pinprick, they sting, but I can move on from them fairly quickly. What I've been realizing lately is that these small, insidious pinpricks of words and actions that demean me as a woman end up creating a tattoo of shame over time.

It seems that Kate Manne's article, "The Logic of Misogyny" really gets at the heart of this issue:

Because of women’s service position, their subordination often has a masked quality about it: it is supposed to look amicable and seamless, rather than coerced. Service with a smile, not a grimace, is the watchword.

This is the moment we have all experienced of a man telling us to smile, or worse, to reassess our attitude. This is the man that is made uncomfortable because we dress in heels and jewelry and exude unapologetic status and power in a situation where he believes he should be made to feel comfortable (not just the workplace, but also places like the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the airport). This is the moment we are talked down to or scolded because we aren't meeting the male expectation. Or worse, making him uncomfortable.

Manne explains all of this further:

Misogyny is what happens when women break ranks or roles and disrupt the patriarchal order: they tend to be perceived as uppity, unruly, out of line, or insubordinate. Misogyny is not an undifferentiated hatred of women—which, in light of women’s social roles, would make little sense on men’s part. Why would a man disparage the women looking up at him admiringly, or bite the hands that soothe and serve him? Misogyny isn’t simply hateful; it imposes social costs on noncompliant women, who are liable to be labeled witches, bitches, sluts, and “feminazis,” among other things.  

Recently, I had an unfortunate experience with what I can only describe as public shaming. Or, a misogynistic wildfire, if you will. A publicly posted personal account of a man's feelings around the fact that, because of what I viewed as incompatibility in communication styles, I decided that I no longer wanted to continue seeing him. This was a public retelling of our interactions strewn across a public space for all to see. And judge.

Again, I have to go back to Kate Manne's article. I cannot stress enough how much this relates to my specific situation:

From the inside, such bullying doesn’t feel like it looks, evidently. It doesn’t feel like unleashing one’s inner Trump in mixed company. Rather it feels as though one is simply standing up for oneself, or for morality, or for the downtrodden—like a moral crusade, not a witch-hunt. And it often feels as if one’s hatred has nothing to do with gender... In social and moral reality, such behavior is indefensible. But indefensibility is not the same thing as unintelligibility. It is not difficult to see why misogynistic aggression might coexist with progressive commitments. Many white men, including those who espouse egalitarian and progressive values—even those who pride themselves on being good feminists—have recently experienced a loss of power and status relative to nonwhites and white women. Some are in denial. And some are angry. Some are lashing out in grief cloaked in outrage.

What followed was a thread of vilifying responses. Publicly. In a space where I did not have a voice or a face. There was judgment. And shaming. And gaslighting. And while this person did not specifically say these things about me, he encouraged these notions through emoji affirmation (lots of hearts and praise hands). Men and women, alike, emotional catcalling to an invisible figure (me) based on my noncompliance in allowing unacceptable communication from this man. He later thanked these people publicly for supporting him. In truth, he was thanking them for this:

But women may also be prone to police other women’s bodies and behavior, elevating themselves in the terms of patriarchal values or signaling their loyalty to patriarchal figures (Manne).

Like the catcalling we all know and hate, this emotional catcalling shouted words describing me as overreacting, insensitive, and not communicating well (just to name a few). Unlike being called to by strangers who assert some opinion about my looks, what they would like to do to me, or demanding something from me, this struck me on a much more psychological level. This was catcalling about my character. But, the advances were equally unwanted, equally shaming, and left me afraid to respond in fear of inciting anger and thus more damage.

In the end, it is hard to come to any peace with this. But honestly, I think it is not only acceptable, but my right, to to speak out against this behavior.

I wrote and rewrote this blog post with a lot of fear about publishing it. I have to give a lot of credit to Kate Manne and her work and words around misogyny. Listening to a podcast she was on I heard her discuss the fact that, in our current world, men own misogyny. While women are the receivers of it, it is men who hold the power to push it down on the women around them. Ultimately, I felt like I needed to own this experience. Speak out. It was not without a lot of fear, and shame, and careful consideration.

But I own this experience. And I won't apologize for writing about it.

A Thin Line

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Don't be sorry. Just be better." And she meant it.

--

Empathy is an amazingly beautiful thing. It allows us to step outside of ourselves and place ourselves in someone else's situation. It can be hard. It is usually painful. But empathy connects and allows for incredible vulnerability. Unpresidented connections can be built from these moments. 

But what happens when empathy becomes about us? Seeking, craving, and grabbing for empathy for empathy's sake? Or worse, for our own self validation? 

The reality is that there is an invisible line between empathy and ego.

And the line, so hard to see, can be traversed without even noticing. And then it is not longer beautiful. It is just a shameless exploitation of others. Empathy is never for us. But if you find yourself seeking it out for your own gains, it might be time to be better.

 

Winter to Spring

“Is this crazy?” she asked.

“Of course it is,” she replied, “that’s what makes it life.” 

— 

It’s been a little over three years since my marriage ended. I’m 32 years old and it feels impossible to know that I could have been married and divorced already in this lifetime. It feels impossible to know that I can live a completely different life. It feels impossible to even predict how life will change and unfold and hurt and be glorious in the future. Everything, most of the time, feels impossible and, yet, worth doing. 

The winter is never easy for me. Next week is daylight savings and I am practically marking the days off on the calendar in anticipation. Longer days. More light. Spring and growth and green and sun and, PLEASE WINTER PACK YOUR BAGS I AM READY TO BE DONE. I’ve already started to wake up on my own in the morning as the sunlight arrives as a natural alarm clock. It feels like hope.

Over the past three years I’ve learn a lot about myself. Most of it has scared the shit out of me. A lot of what I learned was undesirable. Yet, in some crazy way it has brought me closer to an amazing respect I am able to have towards who I am. In a lot of ways, the last year have been like a long winter. Some sun but mostly gray. It’s hard to move through a life knowing you got some shit to work out and being scared as hell to face it. It’s hard to live with regrets and guilt (oh, guilt? Seriously, fuck you). And it’s even harder to step up the plate when you know the work you have to do involves crawling deep inside yourself. Into the winter of your soul. 

But it feels like spring is near. 

Pockets of Joy

“I find you to be intriguing,” he said, with a smile. 

“I don’t consider that to be a compliment,” she lied.  

— 

Life is full of small, short, moments. The kind so fleeting you may not even remember them as time passes. Moments that feel like a pin prick. Sharp. Shocking. All consuming. Then, gone. In a world full of all sorts of ways to representment ourselves, I think the small moments are most telling of who we are. 

In July, I took a seemingly innocent trip to a second hand store to search for a mantle for my new house. My home has an incredibly majestic wall, and I despartly wanted to install a mantle. While rounding a corner, I came upon a fleet of pianos. Aisles and aisles of pianos. Right in the middle, a broken, red piano cried out to me. I loved it. I lamented my love for this piano. In a small moment, I said, “I want this piano.” In the next small moment, he said, “We can make that happen.” 

The piano now lives in my home, thanks to a now stranger but once lover. Our moments ended but that piano lives here with me (seemingly forever because this beauty is heavy af).  

It is a fascinating thing to learn something completely new as an adult. To have to be taught like a toddler, having no sense of how something works or how to teach yourself to be better. This piano, each week, is teaching me about humility, patience, exhaustion, presence, and joy.  

In many way, this piano serves as a metaphor for my adult life. The reckless love, the regret once realizing how broken it was, the sense of fear I’ve felt in trying to learn and understand it, and the awe I am in when I watch its ability to produce happiness in others. 

Being an adult, for me, is about recognizing the joy that exists. Not being so greedy that I want more. Not being so scared they aren’t big enough. Not being sad they aren’t more. And not being selfish enough to sabotage them. Just sinking into to those small moments and being thankful they exist. Being an adult is about making sure my expectations of myself are right-sized, not overshadowing or washing-out the small, tiny, pockets of joy. 

Hand on My Heart

"Do you even know what you want?" he questioned.

"I just want to be seen," she whispered.

--

Seventeen presidents. My grandmother lived through seventeen presidents. Two world wars. Pearl Harbor Day. JFK's assassination. 9/11. Basically every major historical event that happened in the 20th century she remembered. She could tell you were she was, what she was doing, what she felt hearing the news of each event. Incredible, isn't it?

I've spent my adult life far away from this women, but always making a trip out west to spend time with her. When I visited her over the last few years, taking the trip to Vegas to see her, I made a point to ask her to tell me stories of her marriage. Asking her about her childhood. Trying to hold on tightly to the untold stories that lived inside her, knowing she wouldn't be telling me stories of her life forever. I desperately wanted to know the stories she had never told me. I wanted to see all sides of her.

I had so many questions: How did it feel to fall in love with my grandfather? What did she do when he died? What was it like to deliver babies for a living? To be a working mother in the 1950's?  What did she regret? How did she stay so amazingly true to herself? What was the saddest moment of her life?

When I got the call she passed away last week, I didn't cry. I've imagined getting this call, and it always played out with sudden and uncontrollable crying. I am not sure why. I don't really cry often. I have also not experienced grief of this sort as an adult. When the words were softly spoken that she had passed, it just felt like a hand had grabbed my heart, squeezing it. Hard. It hurt, deep in my chest. 

I started to think about all the stories she has shared with me over the years. It instantly felt hard to remember the details. And now I can't ask her to tell them again. Fuck.

The hand gripped tighter. 

Grief has come differently than I imagined it would. It isn't fits of tears. It isn't a visible sadness. It is heaviness. And exhaustion. It is a heart that is bruised from a grip too tight. It is a lot of not knowing how it will feel to not hear these stories, watch her smile, or be in awe of her in real time. It is a lot of wishing she was still here. It is waves of breathlessness when I realize she is gone. It is a lot of begging that hand to loosen, please, just a little. 

It is so much unseen.

Maybe that is just grief in this situation, for this passed woman, for me. Perhaps a larger reflection on how much of what I experience is unseen, by choice and on purpose, is needed. How much I wish to be seen more than I let on, or more than I allow. Somehow I'm not surprised that even in her passing my grandmother is disrupting my own image of myself. I just wish I would ask her some questions about it.