Bad dates, boundaries and why I might just burn my bra
Freedom belongs to all of us. But hatred does too.
Confession time, folks, I’m angry. So I guess that makes me an angry feminist; the very thing I’ve been in denial about for months, years, hell, probably my whole adult life.
When I came out I thought it was a big deal. Daring, even. But I wanted to be the warm and fuzzy feminist, you know, all compassion and good vibes.
How wrong I was.
But it’s been a slow burn, this anger, as it often is for us girls.
On some level I’ve been abiding by the old school feminine ideal. The one that says look pretty, play nice, don’t upset the boys. Until one day, a week or so ago, I decided I no longer wanted to play nice. And I unleashed the hounds of a woman scorned.
Well, sort of. Here’s what really happened.
While watching the news coverage of Charlottesville I was reduced to tears. I’m a highly sensitive soul, you see, so when I witness this kind of hatred ‘out there’ in the world, I feel it intensely ‘in here’. I have to work hard to separate feelings that belong to me from those that belong to everyone else.
So, there I was, all teary eyed, watching the horror unfold when I realised that this hatred belongs to all of us. Oof, sounds harsh, right? Indeed. So let me reframe it for you.
Hatred, in this instance, is a combination of three things. Resentment, fear and denial: resentment that someone else enjoys privileges unavailable to you; fear that you are not truly deserving of those privileges anyway; and denial that you actually have any power to change this.
Getting angry, I believe, is the way we solve this problem because it requires us to address these feelings, to take responsibility for them and find ways to change them.
Anger can therefore be a force for good and there’s more on that here.
But what happens when we don’t get angry? What happens when we just let our resentment, fear and denial fester instead? We relinquish our personal responsibility, that’s what. And we look for someone to blame, which is where the hate comes in.
It’s also, I guess, what a lot of people believe to be the driving force behind feminism. We’re a bunch of man-hating sour grapes, some might say, hence my own resistance to the anger. Until the day the penny dropped.
I realised I could not arrive at the warm fuzzy goodness of compassion until I’d truly addressed its opposite. And I could not really reach my feminist destination until I’d crossed the angry bridges of resentment, fear and denial still standing in my own life.
So I took those tentative first steps and here’s what I discovered. The vast majority of our anger stems from the relationship we have with our boundaries — be they the personal boundaries that we consciously build to protect ourselves, or the social boundaries we adopt from others in the belief that they will protect us instead.
Let’s look at both in isolation, starting with the latter. These are the social contracts we abide by simply because it seems more straightforward to do so than not. They’re like warm body syndrome. We conform to them for an easy life, which ultimately means that we self-censor.
In turn, self-censorship becomes self-sabotage. Deep down we know something’s amiss so we look for ways to dull this awareness rather than face up to something we’re not ready to see.
It seems safer to numb out than act out.
Over time we come to believe that these social boundaries are the issue; that the problem exists outside of us. Other people are responsible for stealing our freedoms. But it’s actually the absence of personal boundaries that’s the real problem. Without these we can never be free.
We may get a sense that things are fundamentally unfair — that our sense of worth has been violated in some way — but we don’t really know how or why since we have no real understanding of our personal worth.
But the truth of this is too troubling to process. It requires us to admit something is wrong on the inside rather than the outside. It necessitates that we take ownership of our feelings of resentment, fear and denial, which left unchecked will mutate into hatred.
And, left unchecked, hatred can rule our lives.
So what’s the solution?
We have to dismantle the social boundaries that inspire hatred by constructing personal boundaries that cultivate compassion.
Let me give you an example that seems lightweight, but truly is loaded.
A week or so ago I was on a date. Now, this date is a big deal. It’s been two years since that happened and I’m feeling brave to be back out there. Well, I was, right up until he says ‘he wants to treat me like a princess’ and I think, oh Christ, the role-play has begun. But I willingly partake in the game.
He buys me a drink. It’s not what I asked for. I smile. I sip. I say nothing. He asks me the same questions over and over, each time neglecting to pay attention to my answers. But whatever I say is irrelevant since he’s soon groping my bottom in plain sight of the whole bar.
And yet the date continues. I let it continue. I choose to give him a chance because I believe he’s unaware of his behaviour. Poor sod. He’s been socialised to get whatever he wants when he wants. And I’ve been socialised to give it to him. To look pretty, play nice and not upset the boys — even if they’re not playing nice at all.
So I am not ignorant in this situation. Nor am I in denial. Instead I am watching us both as we conform to this bullshit social contract that exists between men and women. I am witnessing the boundaries that exist between us; that prevent the occurrence of any real connection or compassion or relationship. And still I say nothing.
Instead I drink to dull my awareness until it’s time to go home.
A week passes and he asks for a repeat date, giving specific instruction for a meeting at a time and location to suit him. I’m busy so I pass. But the text correspondence trickles on. He clearly expects me to meet him at his convenience for more bottom groping. This is a man who values his schedule. This is also a man who devalues mine. So I push back.
Get you, lol; I think Missy likes to have her way, he retaliates, trivialising the boundaries I am laying down. I cannot tolerate this any longer.
My response is deeply considered, but it is also angry. I’m suddenly acutely aware of the sovereignty of my personal boundaries, of my bottom. And I’m not speaking only to him, but all of men in my life. I say all the things I’d wished I’d said all those times I’d stayed silent while they groped.
Yes, I am waking up to the truth of my anger, but I am not a man hater. My anger comes from a place of compassion since I expect better from him. I expect better from all of them. And I expect better from myself.
More than any of this, I expect better for all of us.
I didn’t just call out his bad behaviour; I called out mine too. I called out the ways we’d hurt each other, the ways we’d conformed to our gender roles. Man unable to relate; woman unable to retaliate. And I knew that as I’d censored myself, as I’d sabotaged my own freedom of expression, I’d stripped him of his too.
I wasn’t just angry with him, with all the men, I was angry with myself.
No matter my apparent external emancipation, it seemed I was still internally bound to these social contracts that demand submission. And I finally understood why I’ve found it so damn hard to lay down boundaries. To know what it is that I value, to know what it is that I’m allowed to value.
Finally I understood that I am allowed to value myself, since knowing that I matter as an individual is the premise of my compassion for others.
And so my anger is compassion. My anger is freedom. And feminism is freedom. It is liberation from the lies I have told myself. It is liberation from the ways I have not only imprisoned myself, but also imprisoned others by playing into the hands of this system that demands our conformity.
So this is my vow to no longer behave in ways that permit our mutual self-sabotage to continue. And this, my friends, is how I become both the angry and the compassionate feminist.
I don’t just want to be free; I want to care for other’s freedoms too. I don’t want to seek out men and attack them, but understand them. I want our experience as men and women (whatever our race or class or sexual or religious preference) to be shared. I want us to shape this experience to support and nurture our mutual freedom, our self-discovery and expression.
And if that means calling bullshit when I see it, then that’s the way it’s going to be. If not, my silence becomes permission for the bullshit to continue. I know the results will not be immediate, but my efforts will be consistent.
Take my date, for example, who remains unaware of the ways he’s limiting the possibility of real connection, compassion or relationship to unfold in his life. But maybe, just maybe, over time (and with guidance) his awareness will grow. Maybe he too will find freedom.
And this is my hope for all of us since we have a responsibility to value each other as free and uncensored individuals — to acknowledge that the ultimate privilege is freedom.
And freedom belongs to all of us.
We must be willing (and brave enough) to not simply please others so that they like us, but to do what’s right for everyone. It might not make us popular at first, but it will be worth it. Because we are worth it.
So please call out those who treat you badly and you will treat yourself better in the long run. As will they. You may even help them to treat themselves better.
What goes around comes around, so let us take hatred out of circulation.
Now that, my friends, is compassion in action. It is feminism in action. And I, for one, am feeling very warm and fuzzy at the prospect.
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