“Who Hurt You?”
Yesterday I posted a series of snaps about how disappointed in and disgusted by men I am. The comments came on the trail of a personal betrayal that I am currently healing from, an act of violation that brought home to me for the umpteenth time how utterly despicable patriarchal men are.
Some people expressed shock at my comments, others agreed wholeheartedly. And one person asked me, “who upset you?”
“Who hurt you?” “Why are you so angry?” “Why do you take things so personally?”; comments often used to invalidate, silence or dismiss people’s — too often, women’s — words. We are supposed to deny that we are hurt or angry, that we are deeply affected by things, in hopes that people will take us seriously. We must aspire towards objectivity; the astonishingly daft notion that we are somehow able to stand outside our own experience and detachedly speak on it. Before we are given credibility, we must establish that we are dispassionate, objective observers; our audience must know that this has nothing to do with us, so that they can breathe easier knowing that it therefore has nothing to do with them.
But here’s the thing. Someone did hurt me. I’ve been hurt; been getting hurt and harmed and crossed and wronged and failed since I was a child. I am not and have never been impervious to pain; if anything, motherhood has now made me doubly aware of and more vulnerable to it. And I ache. Far too often I am reminded by men that thanks to their presence in it, the world is not a safe place for me or for my daughter. I am reminded by society that when men violate my boundaries I am to blame, I am alone, and my story will rarely count for anything. I am reminded that the cards are stacked against me and people like me. I am reminded that despite all this, I ought to be grateful that I don’t have it ‘worse’.
Who hurt me? Men did. Men do. Women who are invested in patriarchy do. People who hate what I am, what I represent, do. The pain is endless and swelling and always on the edge of my existence, waiting to be brought front and center by the casual, active, unrelenting dehumanisation that is effected on me and mine day in and day out, subtly and overtly.
Somehow, I am supposed to sit in silence and take this pain into myself; hold it in my body and be grateful that it is not greater than it is. If I must speak on it, I must do so demurely, voice down and legs crossed, hands in my lap and eyes averted, knowing that it is not my place to speak out about the daily violence that patriarchy and its cohorts wreak on me and mine. I am hurt, and I am told to be quiet about it.
How then, will I not be angry? I have every right to be. This is my life; this is the span of it and the scope of it, the inescapable reality of it. Everything that I become beyond the choking confines of femininity prescribed for me I must fight tooth and nail for, risk dignity and peace for, retreat into hard-won safe spaces for.
I must snatch my life — my own life! — away from the closed grip of respectability and propriety, just so I can live. And even the living that I do I must negotiate daily, assessing risk, modulating self, navigating that evanescent border between claiming my right to self and being ‘put in my place’ by people offended and/or threatened by my existence. Or worse, by people who see my existence as little more than an appendage to their own; a plaything to be consumed, a muse to be pored over, a vehicle for the mollification of their deepest fears.
I am hurt. I am tired. I am angry. You will know this, because I refuse to hide it. I refuse to allow anyone tell me who or what I am; strong, so that they may continue to undermine me? Resilient, so they can keep trying to break me? Stoic, so that they can deny ever knowing they hurt me?
You will not escape the arc of my emotion. I will not dial it down for your comfort. I will not couch my pain in niceties to help you absolve yourself of it. If there are rocks broken on my back, I will lay the jagged pieces out for you to walk over. Cry and rage with me, or leave me be. True regard for my humanity demands nothing less.
I exist fully, along every stop on the spectrum of personhood. My pain is real, as is my unwavering commitment to snatching my life back as many times as necessary from those who would crush it. I am ready to scream at the top of my lungs at the injustices daily meted out against me and women like me; in rage, in solidarity, in sorrow, in hope. No matter what failing of feeling I am accused of, I will never cease to exist in my full humanity; hurt, angry, despairing, alive. And you will deal.