I Don’t Care If I’m Pleasing To You
An Open Letter to A Certain Kind of Man, In Which I Swear A Lot!
I’m fairly certain that you aren’t open to edification. When I have some time, I’ll decide if I want to detail my thoughts-though I must say, the way you express your interest hasn’t particularly endeared me to you.
This was the tail end of a “discussion” I recently had with some guy who apparently thought very highly about what his perspective is on the role of feminism in convincing women they are victims. He’d pontificated about this at the end of an article written by a woman I like who had had the temerity to write about some of the scary and hurtful ways that she’d been victimized in abusive relationships. She was tired of being told by clueless men how feminism had given her a victim mentality (rather than it being the natural reaction to pervasive victimization at the hands of various men, which no doubt had turned her into a feminist). But this guy had to skip over the horrific experiences and had gone right to the “you are over-reacting” diatribe.
I just have no patience for this kind of clap-trap any more! I understand full well that this sort of mansplaining comes out of a sense of insecurity. It comes from the societal expectation that men should be competent, have the answers, handle the situation at hand, etc. It comes from fear and discomfort about a changing society — one where it is even more glaringly apparent than before how often woman are still often treated horribly with few repercussions. I have compassion for that and it still doesn’t mean that I’m going to tolerate it unremarked, particularly if you’ve gone out of your way to say antagonistic or cruel things to a woman who has been hurt enough already.
I’ve written some pretty scathing replies in the past to just this kind of man, but something about this particular guy’s clueless belief that I actually cared about his opinion of me combined with the notion that I couldn’t possibly wait to be edified further sent me a bit around the bend. In my reply I told him that I didn’t give a fuck whether or not I’d endeared myself to him. That it wasn’t my mission in life to be pleasing or acceptable to random men. If he wanted to read the 7 articles I’d linked about life as a woman at Nike, Pixar, CBS, etc., etc., then maybe we could talk.
But, you know, at least a part of the reason that I said that is because there was a time in my life where I routinely did bend over backwards to be pleasing and acceptable; in general, and to men in particular. I was quite a little Stepford child/teen/young adult. It was soul-crushing and there is no way in hell I’m going back there! That was also at the root of my reply.
I recently read a blog from a popular Medium writer in which she talked about her previous toxic relationship and how she’d gotten very accomplished at always managing herself in order to be pleasing and acceptable to him. Fortunately, she eventually cut him loose and she doesn’t have to do this now in her current healthy relationship, but by her own account, the vestiges of the old ways still rear their ugly heads from time to time. This is from a strong woman who rides a motorcycle and who routinely writes about how to be emotionally healthy and to stand on your own two feet. And yet, not that many years ago she found herself censoring her speech, monitoring her actions and otherwise turning herself inside out to be acceptable to this man she was dating.
Why would a strong, independent woman do that? Why would any of us do that? Well, to begin with, there’s the pervasive messaging. Even if you’ve grown up fairly self-confident; even if you are successful in a male-dominated arena; even if you can hold your own in most situations, you’ve still spent your entire life swimming in an ocean that tells you time and again in myriad ways about how you, as a woman, ought to defer to other people’s needs and feelings — and particularly male needs and feelings. It should be your main priority to be pretty, thin, smiling, agreeable, docile and never more strong or authoritative than the man you are with. Otherwise you are bossy, a ball-buster, a bitch! Always think about how what you do affects him or reflects on him, even though he isn’t expected to do the same in return.
The first 25 years of my life were spent being routinely bullied by boys and men. I know there are “mean girls” in the world but I’ve only personally encountered about 4 of them ever. The number of mean boys and men I’ve enountered is really too many to tabulate. It’s in the hundreds and maybe even into the thousands. I recently wrote an article about when your unexamined wounds run your life from behind the scenes, but my wounds around this topic are far from unexamined. I know full well that they are getting poked at in these instances, but the way that I’ve consciously decided to deal with them, at least for right now, is to not take any more bullying. I will not sit down and be quiet and agreeable! I will not be polite although I will still try to be civil! Grace and even-handedness in the face of this kind of rude behavior can go fuck itself! I’ve been there and done that for too long!!
To that guy and others like him: I don’t care if you never learned how to talk to women without talking at them. I don’t care if you are scared because things are changing and you don’t know where you fit in any longer and what’s expected of you as a man. I don’t care if you are trying to live up to the hegemonic rules of the Man Box. If you take your shit out on me or on other women who are writing about their lives and their experiences, I WILL say something about it!
I will be more than happy to talk to you about some of the challenges that men face and to listen to what you have to say about that, as long as you aren’t engaged in a zero-sum game of “my pain is worse.” You can write your own goddam article about what kinds of things you are grappling with, but you don’t get to negate what women are speaking about by inserting your pain as more important, as more worthy of being discussed. And you don’t get to tell women to stop over-reacting. If you insist on doing these things, you will get called on it.
I do not imagine that my doing this will make you stop or otherwise change your mind, but at this juncture that is hardly the point. I’m all done with being agreeable and docile. I do not care one whit if you find me pleasing or appropriate. If you think I’m a bitch, I take it as a compliment. It means I’m meeting my intention to say what I think needs to be said without censoring myself for your comfort. It’s not my fucking job to manage your emotions for you! Grow up and be an adult, rather than a child in larger clothing.
Most of my life I tried hard to follow my social programming. But around age 40 I had an experience with a male teacher that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I said “No more!” I’m not going to be the scapegoat for some man’s unprocessed angst and insecurities any longer.
Deal with yourself! Deal with your fears and your shadow and stop trying to make yourself feel better by making someone else feel worse. That’s weak and pathetic and hardly “manly!”
Maybe one day I’ll be chill. Maybe one day I’ll be Zen enough to let this kind of thing just roll off my back. But that day has not yet arrived. I’m still in the stage where I believe that the healthiest thing for me is to keep standing up for myself and for other women who are being needlessly bullied. We’ve been told to smile through the pain for too long. We’ve been told to take what we are given and make the best of it for too long. We’ve been told to sit down and shut up for too long. I’m here to tell you, time is up for that horseshit! You can keep at it if you want, but you longer get to do so with impugnity.
My measure as a woman and as a human being will not be tied to how pleasing and acceptable I am to anybody, and particularly not to the likes of you!