Great, Now I Hate Everybody
A reader recently emailed me asking for some advice. She’s having her feminist “click” moment, and now finds that she is incompatible with almost everybody around her. Suddenly, the presence of rape apologism, racist jokes, sexist sneering, and other such Socialization Aids is inescapably fucking gross instead of invisibly malforming. She finds she can’t talk to anybody without finding out they believe something that is offensive, oppressive, and/or horrifyingly inhumane. She asked me, to briefly summarize: What the fuck do I do now?
I’m guessing this isn’t an unfamiliar situation to most of you. It’s a deeply complicated, personal situation, because it involves negotiations, compromises, and sometimes a lot of guts. It also involves terrible, terrible mistakes that embarrass you for a lifetime, as in, “Oh, yeah, back when I thought that guy was cool.” I don’t have great experience to offer here, because I am, as referenced in my most recent meltdown, psychologically friendless (that is, I do have friends, really, I do, but that doesn’t make me feel like I have friends because I have some sort of goddamn neurosis). But it’s still something I’ve had to navigate, so I thought I’d offer what I have done, what’s worked for me. If some of you want to offer advice or your own experience, I’m sure she’d appreciate it.
I became friendless specifically because I was attempting to isolate myself from an abuser and his many, many arms – not necessarily because feminism made me ANGRY – but in truth, avoiding abuse and being a feminist were inextricably linked. That is, if I didn’t live in a rape culture, I wouldn’t have had so many friends who minimized, rationalized, denied, or were apathetic toward my rape and/or my rapist. And if I didn’t find that unacceptable, unsafe, and just fucking disgusting, I would have stayed friends with those people.
Now, when considering making new friends, I’m unwilling to go back to that place where abuse was okay. Combining that with a more vocal and applied feminism (because I wasn’t applying it when I was getting abused, believe me), I find I now have standards and needs that seem to weed out the majority of the population. Oh, you there, you seemed so cool, until you sent me that email forward that was obviously racist, or a joke about prison rape. I’m sure that most people who make these offensive gaffes consider them harmless or benign. Because I have seen these behaviors escalate into direct, active, and conscious denials of my right to humanity, I tend not to differentiate between the benign misstep of correctable ignorance and the seed of future horrors. It all adds up to shit I don’t feel like dealing with today. And that makes me less likely to engage people in the chitchat that sometimes leads to friendly conversation that sometimes leads to coffee and fun and hanging out and friends. If I can’t tolerate a few minutes of you, what’s an hour going to do to me? It’s sure as fuck not going to make me somebody you want to be around.
There’s a larger social/political/cultural structure at work when you try to live your feminist ideals, something bigger than you and your relationship with another individual. Sometimes the structure and your daily life can’t be separated viably. But other times, it’s just you and another person, and you want to know how to get along with them without considering your Feminist Value Points, or ethical consistency, or a life philosophy. The desire for positive human contact can easily outweigh all cerebral considerations, and that’s a good thing; without it, I don’t think any of us would even be able to get out of bed long enough to give a shit about feminism. I, personally, am invested in feminism and anti-oppressive ideas because I see these ideas as ways to create a world where more people are willing to connect with each other, because there are less artificial, constructed, hierarchical fault lines keeping them apart. So it’s not good enough for me to decide that my feminism just means I have to be lonely from now on. If I don’t connect with and care about people — real individual people — what the hell is feminism for?
I have to start with myself, because you clean your own backyard first. I have to learn my limits, and respect them. Later, this is how I learn to respect other people’s limits, but first, it has to be about me. I generally know the days when I feel too tired to speak up or speak out. I’ve learned to trust my gut when it’s telling me a situation is actively dangerous instead of just awkward or difficult. I’ve learned to congratulate myself on little steps, and stop being internally abusive (“Jesus Christ, you fucking coward, wah wah wah, get over your shit”) after my failures or perceived failures. I know that I need to practice everything. I set aside time and energy for practice, and I don’t give myself shit for being so imperfect as to need practice. I make an active effort to educate myself by myself first, choosing to ask another person for help only after I have exhausted my own reserves. Basically, I know myself. I follow my own personal cues, I respect my limits, and I communicate with myself actively, consciously, and as positively as possible.
So, for example, I have a very strict limit when it comes to rape. If I don’t feel comfortable telling a person I have been raped, I don’t let them in my life (as much as possible). If somebody believes Polanski did not commit rape, or that it wasn’t a real rape, or that he shouldn’t be charged for it because he makes movies, I don’t let that person in my life (or watch their movies). If somebody refuses to stop making rape jokes, I don’t let that person in my life. Rape is a sensitive issue for me. I have learned to accept that without (usually) letting the “thin skin whiny baby oh my god get over it” critic go off in my head. I’ve learned to respect that I have a reasonable fire alarm that goes off in my brain and body, and that I need to listen to it, because it’s not telling me to panic/fear/rage for no reason. In my mind, I am unable to separate a person’s beliefs about rape from their ability or willingness to rape me. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or unwarranted — I mean, people who don’t accept rape ever aren’t likely to rape me, leaving one big segment of the population left as potential rapists. Anybody who does think that’s unreasonable isn’t going to like me, and I am not going to like them. This all works out nicely, because they go off in a huff elsewhere, and I don’t have to be on red alert that a potential rapist is hanging out with me while being hostile at my uppity opinions.
I have less of a strict limit with abuse. If somebody voices out loud that some woman or another probably likes/deserves/wants abuse, that’s a warning sign, but not necessarily a “dead to me” sign. That’s because I know where they’re coming from. I used to believe that, too. I believed it about myself. I know how easy it is for ordinary, decent people to have their heads full of horrible, evil thoughts they didn’t ask for, actively seek out, or ever want. I find I am capable of swimming around in the grey area with people who don’t understand abuse, because I spend so much time swimming there myself – I sincerely, truly enjoy thinking about and dissecting and analyzing abuse and our attitudes toward it, so it’s not incompatible to me to find a friend who is willing to do this with me. But that’s the rub: they’ve got to be willing. If somebody says something ignorant about abuse, and then indicates a complete unwillingness to have a conversation about their statement, that’s a “dead to me” sign. Not because of their opinion on abuse, but because of their inflexibility and rigidity when it comes to considering the humanity of women.
Granted, you could say the same stuff about abuse as I did above about rape: somebody willing to excuse abuse is potentially somebody who is willing to abuse me. I feel I can withstand one instance of abuse with somebody – and end the relationship quickly thereafter – without necessarily incurring lifelong damage. I feel this because I know myself and what I can handle, and because I took the time to practice cutting people off, telling them off, or various safety plans for bad vibes getting out of hand. Also, I know a lot about abusive behavior, which rarely deviates. Abuse is an escalating behavior. It starts small, and as boundaries and borders get destroyed, it gets bigger and bigger. If I experience one instance of abuse from a person, it is less likely to be immediately dangerous. The same isn’t true of rape. I can’t withstand one instance of rape with somebody, ever, full stop. There is nothing in the world worth that to me. If the magic rape fairy of evil came down tomorrow and said, “You either have to get raped occasionally by acquaintances, or even just once, or you have to go your life never having human contact again,” I would choose the latter. I respect that about myself, and I don’t push it. I’m willing to accept a lifetime of loneliness if it means I never get raped again, so that tells me I take this seriously enough to just disengage from fuckwits who engage in dim-witted apologism.
I also have a less strict limit with casual sexism, the things that “everybody” engages in and are completely invisible to most people. The word “bitch,” for example. I don’t like it. I don’t use it. But I don’t shut down everybody who does. Though the problematic nature of “bitch” seems apparent to me now, I know that it took me a long time to get there. I know that I considered myself a feminist long before I stopped using the word “bitch.” I know that it’s become a very acceptable word, culturally, to the point where people don’t believe it has any kind of impact at all. So I know that people who have no ill intent will use it. That’s a sign to me that they haven’t done a certain degree of homework, but it’s not a sign to me that they’re unwilling or unable to do that homework. Only if I asked them not to say “bitch” around me and they refused would I start to consider ending my relationship with them, not because of the word, but because of their unwillingness to respect my boundaries. The word “bitch” doesn’t necessarily signify a misogynist, but the continued use of it when a woman has told you she finds it sexist, obnoxious, and offensive (or the mansplaining away of her offense) is plainly hostile, and that definitely signifies misogyny.
It takes practice to identify my limits. And that practice necessitates getting hurt a lot. The most important thing for myself here is to stop treating myself like shit every time I get hurt. It’s not wrong or bad or weak that I feel pain, and it’s not always something to be “gotten over.” I have to start from the premise that I am acceptable as I am, at this exact moment in time, that limits are not bad things, that selfishness is a good thing, that what I want or need is okay to want or need for no reason other than I want or need it. Only when I’m able to do this for myself do I feel comfortable moving into relationships with other people. If I know myself, and treat myself well, I’m the best role model for how I need to be treated ever. People only respect me as much as I respect myself. I can tell a person how to treat me, but they will treat me as well as I treat myself, so my words barely matter here. If I can’t identify the importance of my limits, my boundaries, my needs, I find I also tend to dismiss other people’s stated preferences. As in, “Well, I don’t have the luxury of giving up, so I don’t see why you do.” My expectations are my own, and they apply to nobody but me.
This gets into something my bear and I were talking about the other day: expectations. My bear is very Daoist. He believes in letting go (though he also believes that at some point, you need to let go of letting go, which is a whole different blog post for a maybe day). When you release, let go, let things flow, there isn’t room for expectations. Everything happens as it happens; the universe does not need your iron fist of control to move about on its axis properly. It will move in the way that is “right” to it, and your version of right is just so much weird little dust annoying its path. When you eliminate expectations, you eliminate disappointment. Every time I find myself hurt or disappointed, I look within myself first. Something I have done has failed. I need to find what that thing is, and decide if that failure is something that needs to be fixed or changed (not every failure does).
I compare this to good management in the workplace. If you are a manager, and you expect 90% productivity every day, and you consistently only achieve 70%, that is not the fault of your workers. If you set yourself up as a leader, whatever goes wrong in your sphere of influence is due to your mismanagement. Perhaps all your workers are lazy – that’s your fault for hiring and later not firing them. Perhaps the equipment is shoddy. That’s your fault for not maintaining or replacing it. Perhaps everybody is always out sick. That’s your fault for not providing enough sick time, thus creating presenteeism, thus making all employees far sicker for far longer. Perhaps there is one department that is always slow, or one troublemaker who always gums up the works. That’s your fault for not managing personnel according to their strengths. Workers don’t organize or run themselves. The only person responsible for a system failure is the person who put the cogs together, not the cogs.
So, for myself, when I find myself in a lot of pain, I consider this my responsibility. I failed to manage my resources appropriately. I created expectations that obviously cannot be fulfilled the way I currently run things. I have two options here: change my expectations and avoid those consequences, or decide the expectations are acceptable and thus the failure is acceptable. I do not get a third option. I do not get to keep my expectations and then blame others for not meeting them, for continually disappointing me. I don’t get to treat other people like disappointments if I am the one who consistently sets them up for failure. Others are responsible for their own behavior – this doesn’t excuse them from fucking up, perhaps egregiously – but I am responsible for continually choosing to expose myself AND for choosing to continually be disappointed by what I know is going to happen. You know, that whole definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, waiting for a different result. This is how your life becomes unmanageable.
I apply this to my feminist expectations of behavior. If I am disappointed, if I am hurt, I reinvestigate my expectations. This is one of the places in my life where I find failure acceptable. I am willing to be hurt and disappointed, because feminism is a crucial part of my identity and something I am unwilling to part with. So that means I have to accept the consequences without continually being an asshole to people who failed to meet expectations I knew they likely would not meet. I have to stop being surprised. I have to stop thinking that being publicly feminist, day after day, is going to have a different result. I will be hurt. I will be disappointed. Part of my feminism is a constant fight to accept this, to accept that the world I live in is not the one I want. If it was, I wouldn’t have to be a feminist anymore. This isn’t to say that the hurt and disappointment of rejecting or being rejected by people you wish to connect with is appropriate, normal, okay, or excusable. I find it terribly wrong, at a bone-level. I am not saying that I have to accept this wrongness. I am saying that I have to accept that it is and will be a part of my life for as long as I choose to identify as a feminist, and there is no other way to be a feminist and live in this world. That is one of the consequences of feminism, and that’s a choice I made and continue to make. Accepting it doesn’t make connecting with other people easier – mostly – but it makes it easier for me to have compassion, empathy, and be generally filled with less pain and hate. If somebody disappoints me, I deal with the disappointment, but I no longer deal with betrayal or shattered illusions or a broken view of the world. This is how it is. It’s wrong, and I want it to be another way, and I will actively work to make it another way. But until then, I will stop being surprised that this is the way it is. I will stop taking it personally, as something another person has done specifically to hurt me. This is something that happens between people who live in a patriarchy, whether or not they like or love each other, whether or not they want to hurt one another. The patriarchy causes me disappointment and hurt from the people I love or would like to love. On their end, it causes them to lose a potential friend. We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all suffering. My choice to expect this hurt and disappointment is a choice to be conscious of the boat, conscious of my suffering, conscious of other people’s suffering, despite the load this adds to my daily life.
That’s a lot of blather. Here’s what this means in my actual day-to-day life. If somebody I like says something sexist, I do not necessarily decide that they are a Bad Person Forever based on that. I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve been there. I still unearth that badness in my head. If I’m not discovering new caches of ugly hatred in buried in my brain, I’m Doing Feminism Wrong. So it’s hypocritical and arrogant for me to apply a higher standard to those around me. Other People Are Sexist. Other People Are Racist. I go through my day expecting this, and I no longer feel a personal pang when somebody proves me right. You, I think. You are in my boat. I know where you are, what you’re thinking. You have not done something so unreasonable that I cannot tolerate you further. You have done something I can reasonably expect from a racist, sexist culture, because my expectations are in line with the world I live in. I am now able to create reasonable expectations for my interactions with you. I know that if we talk about these certain topics, I will find you impossible to tolerate. I know if we talk about these other topics, I will be able to interact with you. I can now decide if those other topics are important enough to me to outweigh any potential benefit of our relationship. I can now decide if I can expect the shit that comes out of your mouth and still be around when it hits the ground with a splat. Maybe I can, maybe I can’t, but I know I have a choice and I know I have control. Friends, coworkers, relationships aren’t being stripped from me against my will. I choose what to expect from others, and choose to accept those consequences.
For example, at my last job, my boss was sexist. He was sexist in a very chauvinistic sort of way – the kind of guy who makes the word “lady” sound like a blessed infirmity – and that was generally tolerable. It was tolerable because he didn’t make rape apologies, he didn’t actively bar women in the office from certain activities, and he didn’t bring it up every day. It was also tolerable because I was in a workplace that brooked little to no dissension, and I was at the target age for Doom Unemployment during a recession. I adjusted my expectations. I did not expect a workplace free of sexism. I did not expect to not be patted on the head, or treated as dumb sometimes. I did not expect fairness or an AfterSchool Special Moment. I did not expect that I had the strength or courage or conviction to make myself unemployed during a recession. I did not expect these things, and I stopped being a seething, boiling volcano of disappointment and rage every day. I found my current circumstances tolerable. Now I am in a new job. The culture here is very different. I can complain without retaliation. So I find myself saying things, to my higher-ups, like “I don’t think that’s fair; somebody could apply the same standard to you,” when one of them starts talking about what one celebrity wife or another deserves from her plainly abusive husband. I find keeping my mouth shut intolerable, because I expect to be given the freedom to open it. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to change my expectations to be able to tolerate some degree of abusiveness in my day-to-day life. But we don’t live in that perfect world – that’s why feminism exists as a concept, and why I identify as one – so in the meantime, I change my expectations when I need to survive.
Another theme in my personal relationships is separating out small steps, and applying small solutions, rather than taking a small problem and hitting it with the solution to a BIG problem. A long while back, I wrote a post talking about something I’d read in an Al-Anon manual that really resonated with me. It was an anecdote from a wife who was trying to find a way to live with her alcoholic husband. She had tried making multiple ultimatums to get him to stop drinking, and none of them had worked. So she began to focus on other things, unrelated things, but these things were obviously emotional replacements. If she couldn’t get him to stop drinking, she would take all her anger and disappointment at that and make it about the dishes instead. She asked dishonest questions, and got dishonest responses. That is, if she asked her husband to vacuum, what she really meant was, “Submit to me in our eternal power struggle.” He would give an equally dishonest response. “I’m busy, maybe later,” when what he really meant was, “I will not submit to you because I resent your need to control me, even though the floor is really gross right now and I was actually just thinking about vacuuming.”
So, she issued a dishonest ultimatum. She told her husband that to fix their marriage, he would need to shoulder more domestic tasks. That’s a reasonable expectation, a reasonable boundary, provided you have a reasonable marriage. But they did not, so this was an unreasonable pile. She wasn’t saying, “Please do the dishes – I am sick of doing them and becoming resentful of you that you do not do them, and that is making it difficult to enjoy our marriage, which I would like to do because I love you.” What she was actually saying was, “Your performance with domestic tasks is a bargaining chip; if I can make you do this, I can control some part of you, and I need that to tolerate you as a human being, because I do not think you’re lovable as you are. If I can’t make you do this, you don’t really love me and you are a worthless, irredeemable monster.” That’s a lot of consequences to put on the fucking dishes, consequences that don’t really have any natural connection with the dishes, which negates the possibility of any real solution. If her husband did the dishes, would she really have control of him? Would it make things better? If her husband did not do the dishes, would he really not love her? Would it really make his alcoholism any less tolerable? The answer to all these questions is probably no. So why make dishes the solution to all these separate problems, if the dishes cannot actually solve any of them?
Anyway, back to the actual story. The first night after her ultimatum, her husband did the dishes. The next night, he just fucking left the house after dinner. So now she’s got a big pile of dishes. If she does them, her husband wins. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t have any clean dishes. This is what happens when you attach other consequences, feelings, needs, or desires onto items that have no connection: doing the dishes becomes about winning and losing, rather than about clean dishes and dirty dishes. She called her sponsor and explained the situation, telling her that if she did the dishes, her husband would think he didn’t have to do the dishes. “So don’t do them,” her sponsor said. But if she didn’t do them, the dishes wouldn’t get done! “So do them.”
This leads to a statement you might hear a lot, if you do 12-steppy things: you don’t have a problem, you have a solution you don’t like. This woman had a solution to her problem. She could do the dishes, or she could not do the dishes. The problem doesn’t really exist anymore; it has a solution. It can be solved. The problem can go away at any moment. If her issue was with the problem – if the problem was really the dishes – then she would solve it. Since she doesn’t, obviously, the dishes aren’t the problem. Something else needs to be solved for this problem to go away, since solving the dishes isn’t going to provide any relief. That’s because having clean dishes wasn’t ever going to solve the problems of needing to continually win power struggles, alcoholism, or an unsatisfying marriage. But she didn’t want to solve those problems, either. She wanted the problems to have never existed in the first place. There’s no future in that line of thinking, no way to accomplish that. To move forward, there needs to be a solution. To stay stuck in one place, there needs to be an obsessive wish for something that can never happen through longing alone.
And yes, her husband could effect the solution. He could do the dishes. But he has obviously come up with his solution already: he is not going to do the dishes. He could change his mind. He maybe should change his mind. But if you are not him, you have no control over that. If you want the dishes done, you have to do them. If you want him to do the dishes, you have set up an expectation. By necessity, an expectation can make you disappointed. So, you accept your potential for disappointment, or you change your expectations. If you expect your husband to do the dishes, you must be prepared to be disappointed when he doesn’t. If you can’t tolerate that disappointment, don’t create the expectation. If you can’t tolerate the dishes not getting done, do the goddamn dishes. Choose which thing you can tolerate more, and go with that.
I often try to break my conflicts down into those simple bites. You either do the dishes, or you don’t do the dishes. There is no third option. When I first posted that story, commenters left a lot of potential third options, which actually helped clarify why this anecdote resonated with me so much. The third options offered didn’t, in any way, avoid the dishes dilemma. Somebody said, “Leave your husband!” Well, yes, okay. Are you leaving right this minute? The dishes don’t get done: you have decided not to do the dishes. Are you leaving in a week? You still need to decide what to do with those dishes. Leaving your husband in a week doesn’t make the dishes get done, and it doesn’t make the problem of the dishes disappear. Another commenter said, “Break the dishes!” Yes, okay. You have decided not to do the dishes. Neither of those decisions actually circumvent the dishes dilemma. There are still only two options to the dishes: they either get done, or they don’t get done.
This, to me, is comparable to people making personal decisions by “not choosing sides.” What is perceived to be a third option is, in effect, only one of the two options; it’s just masked in a way that feels ethically, morally, or vindictively better. If I have told you that one of your friends raped me, and you tell me you are not taking sides, you have taken a side. Your decision was to support me or not support me. There was no third option. “Not taking sides” is “I don’t support you,” dressed up like morality and the higher ground. If “sides” was the problem, further discussion, introspective consideration, and information-seeking would effect a solution. I perhaps could have accepted a friend who said, “I believe you, and I believe Flint is a rapist. But condemning all rapists as people who should never have friends or family or happiness probably won’t stop them raping, or change what happened to you. I would like to continue trying to speak to him and support him because I still care about him, and I think he needs help to change. How will that affect my relationship with you? What do you need from me?” If “taking sides” was the problem, finding out if I was requiring sides-taking would have been the first step to finding a solution. But nobody asked this of me. Nobody asked this of me because “taking sides’ wasn’t the problem: “I don’t want to deal with your rape” was the problem. And defining a rape victim discussing her rape as “forcing sides” is the solution, because now you’ve made the rape victim never want to talk to you again. Congratulations! Sides have been forced, and you have chosen one, while successfully covering your tracks. Now you don’t have to deal with rape, which was the actual problem you were seeking to solve.
Likewise, “I am leaving you” is “I am not doing these dishes,” dressed up in a different solution to the actual problem. If dishes were the problem, doing or not doing the dishes was the solution. If the problem is, “I am sick of this fucking marriage and every aspect of it, down to the barest of domestic chores,” then “I am leaving you” is the solution. If “I need to win this power struggle no matter what” is the problem, “break the dishes” is the solution. But using “break the dishes” or “leave your husband” as the solution to “the dishes are dirty” is using the wrong solution on the wrong problem. It’s using a chainsaw where you need a screwdriver. It’s cutting the Gordian knot. In any given problem, there are two solutions: “I will deal with this” or “I won’t deal with this.” Burning a problem down to the ground isn’t a third solution; it’s choosing “I won’t deal.” And it’s choosing “I won’t deal” using a disingenuous, overbearing method. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it does have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are more than you might want to deal with.
So, let me get into real life here. Mickey. Mickey of the rape joke heard round the internet. Mickey, “guys are programmed to cheat” Mickey. I still hang with Mickey. I like Mickey. I like him a lot, actually. He’s got oodles of good qualities. But every now and again, Mickey opens his mouth and shits out something egregious. I am faced with multiple problems at once, every time this happens. Trying to cope with them all at once – trying to view them as one problem, with one solution – fucking sucks and doesn’t work for me. Turning all these issues into one looks like this:
ENORMOUS COMBINED PROBLEM: I am a feminist and feminism is good and Mickey is not a feminist so Mickey is bad and if I hang out with a bad not-feminist person I am not a feminist and that will also make me bad but then I will be lonely forever because I don’t know anybody else who is a feminist and I will never get to hang out with Mickey who I like but if I hang out with Mickey I am betraying THE CAUSE.
ENORMOUS COMBINED SOLUTION 1: FORCE MICKEY TO BE A FEMINIST. YELL AT HIM. CONFRONT ON EVERY POSSIBLE OCCASION. MAKE HIM EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE AT ALL TIMES. JUDGE HIM MERCILESSLY. MAKE HIM FEEL LIKE A BAD PERSON. LET HIM KNOW THAT I AM A GOOD PERSON, AND I AM THE SOLE JUDGE OF HIS GOODNESS. IF HE CAN’T TAKE THIS, IT’S BECAUSE HE’S BAD. I WILL STILL BE GOOD.
ENORMOUS COMBINED SOLUTION 2: TELL MICKEY OFF, FOR GOOD, BECAUSE MICKEY IS BAD. I AM GOOD AND I DON’T HANG OUT WITH BAD PEOPLE. I MUST NOW SNIDELY GOSSIP ABOUT THIS TO OTHERS TO ESTABLISH MY SUPERIORITY IN THIS SOCIAL CONFLICT THAT IS REALLY ABOUT SOMETHING BIGGER THAN HURT FEELINGS, REALLY.
Neither of these are very good, helpful solutions. They both require enormous sacrifices – either I lose a friend completely, or I put an endless amount of my time and resources and energy into forcing another person to be my ego-enforcing puppet, which both Mickey and I will obviously enjoy SO MUCH. In both solutions, I lose the thing I want to keep: my positive human interaction with another human being.
So I break the problems down, step by step, and find solutions for each individual problem.
Problem 1: I am hanging out with somebody who says misogynist things.
Solution 1a: Hang out with him anyway.
Solution 1b: Do not hang out with him.
I like Mickey 90% of the time, so I choose Solution 1a. Now I have a new problem.
Problem 2: He is still saying misogynist things.
Solution 2a: Put up with it.
Solution 2b: Do not put up with it.
This problem is now separate from whether or not I will stay friends with Mickey. I have already made that decision. That removes a lot of weight from this problem. The solution I find here does not necessarily have to be entangled with whether or not I will stay friends with Mickey. That makes the way I enact these solutions much more flexible.
I choose not to put up with it. One of my options for this solution is to drop Mickey as a friend entirely, but I’ve already decided not to do that. So I find other options to enact this solution, and I change them depending on the day and my personal limits. Sometimes I greet Mickey’s misogyny with stony cold silence. Sometimes I argue. Sometimes I end the day with him, right then and there. Sometimes I directly ask him why he said what he said, what he means by it. Sometimes I tell him, directly, “Do not say that around me.”
Mickey has chosen to react to this by not saying so many misogynist things around me. My bear, who hangs out with Mickey when I am not around, says that Mickey has not really reduced the amount of misogynist things he says in general, but he doesn’t do it around me. So, now I have another problem.
Problem 3: I am hanging out with somebody I know says misogynist things, and this makes me feel like a bad feminist.
Solution 3a: Change my expectation of good and bad feminism.
Solution 3b: Stop hanging out with Mickey.
I still want to hang out with Mickey. That decision hasn’t changed. So, I redefine what is good and bad about a feminist. In fact, I toss out the whole “good/bad” thing, because in the history of feminism, when have binaries ever been helpful? I replace “good/bad” with “what works for me” and “what doesn’t work for me.” Hanging out with somebody who says misogynist things doesn’t work for me. However, hanging out with somebody who says misogynist things but has illustrated an ability and desire to respect my need not to hear those things does work for me. It’s not perfect. In my perfect world, Mickey would never say misogynist things. He’d never believe them enough to say them, and/or he’d never feel social pressure to say them in order to fit in with others. I don’t live in that world. I work toward it, but I don’t live in it. And right now, I have somebody who I generally like, who I would like to spend time with, and who is able to respect me. I wish he could generalize that respect to a larger, more political framework, but the personal is where things start, and the personal is what I have determined I need – and expect – from others. If I can meet somebody who politically aligns, well, goddamn, aren’t I lucky. But I don’t expect perfection from friendship. I could – it’s in my right to expect whatever I want – but I don’t want to put up with the constant level of disappointment and hurt I would feel by having an expectation that high. Getting comfort and friendship from imperfect people outweighs the isolation I would feel by waiting for a perfect (or mostly) perfect blend.
So! That is how I navigate my feminist principles with a non or less feminist population of people:
- I know and respect my own abilities and limits
- I create reasonable expectations whose consequences I am able to endure (change as necessary)
- I try to honestly review whether or not my problem has a solution. If it does and I am able to take that solution, I do. If it does and I am unwilling to take that solution, I accept that I have chosen to maintain this problem and any lasting consequences.
- I break problems down into smaller, individual problems with two possible solutions.
- I apply the correct solution to the correct problem. As in, not being friends with Mickey isn’t a solution to the worldwide patriarchy, my ego, or my identity. Not being friends with Mickey is a solution to whether or not I like hanging out with Mickey – it does not solve anything else.
There is one more thing I do in my interpersonal relationships to help me navigate my feminism vs. their not-so-feminism. I take breaks. If I can’t deal with A Very Serious Conversation, if I don’t want to debate my right to my uterus, if I don’t want to hear it, I opt out. I say, “I don’t want to talk about this right now,” or “I don’t want to hang out right now.” The ability to opt-out is indicative of privilege; some people never get to opt out of certain conversations. The way I maintain my need to opt-out and negotiate that with my need to identify as a feminist is by relinquishing my right to opt-out around others. I may opt-out of a conversation about racism with white peers on a day when I just don’t fucking feel like it. If I see that same conversation happening within earshot of a PoC, or being directed at a PoC, I don’t get to opt-out today. I don’t get to opt-out because they don’t. I no longer get to opt-out of hearing rape jokes, like I no longer get to walk around without having rape be a part of my life, and that is bullshit enough that I don’t want to let anybody else have that privilege I no longer have. Because that is an expectation I have chosen to maintain, I need to apply it to myself, respect it in others, if I want to keep calling myself the kind of feminist I want to be.
That got all wordy. I wrote this over the entire day (ENTIRE DAY). It’s been a long one.
What I would like to know: How do you guys deal with it? Offer your advice to the newly clicked among us. How do you deal with the fact that jesus, suddenly everybody is a blazing asshole?
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