Friday, 3 January 2014

The Courage of Shutting-Up

Props to anyone who gets the Sylvia Plath reference.

I had high hopes for this blog. I had envisioned myself reading reams of feminist literature, engaging critically, and then writing insightful posts which facilitated discussion. I had envisioned myself learning a lot. But I haven't, really. What I've mainly done is what half of all feminists seem to always be doing: bitching and moaning about how it sucks to be a woman in our society, about how men don't understand and are just going about raping and 'mansplaining' and patronising and... yeah. There is some truth to all that. Sexism is real and don't I know it. We all experience that, subtly or otherwise, every day. But at the same time 50% of my most beloved friends and family are men and I don't think it helps to demonise them.

The truth is that I don't have the time, energy or headspace to be a well-read, politically-aware, insightful-post-writing, discussion-facilitating feminist at the moment. I really don't like the rantiness but, gosh, do I feel ranty. I am six weeks from giving birth and I am exhausted and uncomfortable and often in pain and I want to tell everybody about it in a very loud voice. My poor friends and husband have been listening to nothing else for weeks. And it's wicked, really: so many women would give anything to be in my position. But I am running on all hormones and no sleep and everything bothers me so much more than it did. I can't seem to help ranting and that extends to my feminism. Sorry.

It has been particularly bothering me that once a woman is visibly pregnant, her body seems to become public property and half the world (bizarrely, men in particular) want to come over and rub, stroke, pat, fondle or otherwise grope her belly without permission. In what possible alternate dimension is this even conceivably okay? Right, so it's not okay, but it happens, along with all sorts of things, so how should I be reacting? As friends have quite rightly pointed out, I should be politely but firmly pointing out that I don't like it and would you please stop. Is that what I have done, ever? No, because I'm a mess. My usual reaction is to freeze and stand there, baffled, and, once it is over, to work out what has happened and how annoyed I am, and then to complain loudly to anyone who will listen. Sometimes I also post on Facebook and get my friends to rally round me and agree that aren't people bastards. Recently my noisiness has spectacularly backfired and now I don't feel good about my behaviour at all. I am led to contemplate the virtues of keeping one's grievances to oneself. Of course, unacceptable behaviour should be challenged, but it should be challenged compassionately and wisely and in the proper way. Moaning about people to other people is clearly not the way to go. I know that, but I still do it.

This issue, particularly the bit about keeping quiet vs. speaking out and how to speak out well without causing further damage, is a particularly pertinent one for me at the moment. Some years ago, some things happened to me which were traumatic and, as most of us do when traumatic things happen, I muddled through without saying much about it to anyone. Fine. Only not really. Because they continue to bother me, at some times more than others, and now I have reached the point where I am ready to speak out. Sort of. I am ready to speak out to someone (or to several people) whom I would like to carefully select, someone who cares enough to listen but does not care enough to be distressed. I don't want the whole world to know and I don't want to discuss it with those who would be upset, but I do want to discuss it. It would make me feel better. I am sick of lugging these things around as secrets. So theoretically that's fine. I have friends. I could talk to them about it. They could say, "Gosh, I'm sorry that happened to you," and maybe that would help.

Only not, and, believe it or not, this is relevant to feminism. It's the society we live in. We cannot tolerate anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. We shame and shut down anything that makes us squirm. So there's no forum for these kind of discussions. There's no way in, no way to raise the topic, even if I could get the words out of my mouth. I cannot abide the thought of taking any of my friends aside and saying, "Look, this happened to me and I need to talk about it," because initially they might be fine with it but as soon as I started it would be oh God, no, why are you telling me about that? I'm not saying my friends are heartless, far from it, but they wouldn't know how to react because we don't teach people how to face this stuff. Some of them might suck it up and do their best but the whole thing would be so horribly awkward. And I would feel incredibly selfish, exposing people I care about to excruciating conversations purely because I need human contact to help me heal this. And, I think, deep down, I'm afraid that I would tell someone and they just wouldn't care at all, which would be as bad as telling someone who would care too much and be devastated. Both are intolerable. So what do I do? I have spent most of my life cultivating a whole series of unhealthy coping mechanisms for occasions just like this, but I am trying to be a mother and a better person. Can I manage without, whilst still embracing the safety of silence? I guess I'll have to try.

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