Men are from Mars

15 Mar

Almost a month ago now I wrote a post called “I Thought We Were Friends.” It was something that had been knocking around in my head for quite some time. In publishing it I felt somewhat relieved but also, and perhaps more powerfully, exposed and anxious. I was afraid that some people who read it would, rightfully, feel implicated in my words. I was concerned about shedding light on something that I had been hiding for a very long time, something that I tried to act as though I was somehow above. Let me explain.

I am a feminist. I wear that badge proudly. And as a feminist, albeit one that understands her feminism more off of a general engagement with the world around her and the ever-important conversations with peers as opposed to a deep understanding of the theories of various feminist waves, I go through the world with a certain understanding of myself in it. That feeling is, in part, one of a want for safety and equality, with a deep understanding that I cannot, currently, expect either of those things. It is also a feeling, self-imposed perhaps, that I ought to be strong. That I should be beyond all of the trappings of being raised female in this culture. That I should somehow be a finished product, beyond it all. How absurd. But even in the knowledge that I expect miracles from myself, I cannot help but feel like something of a failure when I fall into old habits. Old habits that are examined and discussed ad nauseam but that I never feel entirely capable of kicking.

I remember back in high school and on into college, having conversations with girl friends about boys. I remember so many conversations, more than I could ever count, about guys being so persistent that we just went along with things. We went along with things because it seemed easier to say okay than to stand up for ourselves not because it would necessarily be horrible in the moment  – although we all know it could have been – but because maybe those boys, those boys that were pressuring us into things, even things as harmless as a kiss, might not like us anymore.

They might not like me.

And who am I kidding? I still have these conversations. Regularly. And what’s crazy about it is that no matter how many times I have these conversations, it still takes us a while to get to the inevitable part, the part where we went along with something we weren’t into. And it’s like, a lightbulb goes off every single time. That feeling of

Oh, shit, you too?!

And it’s surprising but it shouldn’t be. And it’s embarrassing but it shouldn’t be. The idea that all these years later we are still doing what we used to do as teenagers. The idea that we haven’t learned anything, gotten stronger, gotten to the point where it isn’t about what is easy in the moment, but what we can live with tomorrow and the next day and the next day. The belief that we should be immune to the social forces that swirl around us from birth. That we should, in our feminism and in our knowledge about power dynamics and the patriarchy and the support from our friends and (if we’re lucky) our families, be above it all is so overwhelming but can also be disempowering. Every failure feels so much more monumental because it’s like,

Fuck, I should have known better. I’ve been here before. I know how this goes.

It’s like a regression. I woke up a strong, self-reliant, intelligent woman and somehow, through the course of the day, became someone unwilling to rock the boat. I somehow became someone who went from speaking her mind to sparing someone else’s feelings at the expense of her own. And for what? So he can wake up with his ego in tact and I can beat myself up about an unwanted encounter, and my weakness in the moment, for months? Because, in all honesty, my anger and disappointment with myself goes on for months. But at least he still likes me, right? Give me a break.

I guess I am writing this because this experience is somewhat universal. I am not even close to the only one. And I am not saying that this is solely a female experience, either. Just that the forces that surround us daily mean that our experiences as women, as a “minority,” are tied into social and institutionalized forces, forces that keep us from separating ourselves as individuals, as people deserving of respect, from the learned feeling that we should accommodate others, especially males. That we should protect their feelings and their egos and then we should keep quiet because this is not a conversation we have out loud. Because we are taught, on the other end, that it is shameful. Don’t rock the boat, but don’t be a slut. If you find yourself there, you have no one to blame but yourself. You gave him the idea, you should go along with it. Don’t be a tease.

And what’s crazy is that a lot of times it isn’t his fault either. We are masterful at keeping quiet in the moment and licking our wounds alone. He might never even know. He might never even know that he read the moment wrong because we will never tell him. And for so many people if we were to say what we say to our friends, that we did it because it seemed easier and less awkward and less hurtful than saying no, he also would have wished it never happened. He also would feel some amount of shame. But we are selfish and we keep all the shame for ourselves.

I wrote this because, following my last post, I got two responses. One response was from women and one response was from men. Overwhelmingly, the women in my life were like

Holy shit yes! This! I have been there!

And the men, all well-intentioned people that I love, were like

I am worried about you. I don’t want you to become bitter. It’s because of the career you are in, the bar that you work at, the people you surround yourself with.

But it isn’t any of those things. It is because we – men and women – occupy such different worlds. So much more different than I knew previous to the publication of that post. My experience is not unique, not by a long shot. It is universal. But the fact that men overwhelmingly had no idea that it happened, that it was real, spoke volumes to me. That because I wrote it it became about me rather than about us was huge. I felt some sort of comfort in the fact that I am not alone. But the chasm is so overwhelmingly huge! Because the men I spoke with were people who I love and who were willing to have an open conversation, people who entered the conversation ready to listen and absorb. They weren’t trying to teach me, they were trying to learn. And people, not just men, but people in general, aren’t all like that. Which makes this even crazier. I can’t imagine what people unwilling to listen thought, how wide the gap is between us and them. Sometimes I feel like we have been quiet for so long that no one can hear us anymore. And I honestly don’t know how to begin to fix that.

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