Today, I was out doing errands when someone was quite rude. I was in a fairly good mood–happy, looking for yoghurt for my mum. Unfortunately, this person either did not hear me and reacted outrageously rudely or they are just outrageously rude. Of course, it escalated because I decided to stand up for myself and then her husband got involved. Now, in a situation like this, where does the blame lay? I think it would be a vast waste of time to try and figure that out. Her husband kept trying to assert his sense of righteous rightness, and that is where it went wrong. Misapprehensions happen, but trying to intimidate someone who is vastly younger than you is a losing battle–you are always a bully. Always.
I used to not really stand up for myself in public or to a lot of my friends. I always had this weird sense of it not being ladylike or proper. Of course, I argue(d) with my sister or with people I knew, historically, that were downright wrong. Yet, when you argue with someone outside of your family, where gender doesn’t seem so important in defining you–because there are so many other characteristics to call upon, one’s gender becomes one’s defining feature.
When a woman or girl stands up for themselves, it is extremely courageous because it means breaking many social codes. It is not demure to stand up to someone because it is as if you have to be angry and show that anger. I was going to edit that sentence to make it less passive, but it demonstrates my point: “as if you have to be angry*. Best not to break those social codes. In more direct words, you’re ANGRY that someone decided they were entitled to behave in an aggressive fashion towards you. I was in a REALLY good mood before the encounter; afterwards, adrenaline was pumping through my body so much so that I felt like I was filled with buzzing bees. My legs felt like jelly. I was surprised I had control over my limbs at all.
There was once a time when I wouldn’t even say excuse me; I would just wait for people to do their thing. I look back on this and I don’t think it’s very healthy to be so silent about how you move through the world. It hinders your life. A bit of it had to do with the fact that I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and general stress, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t feel my voice was loud enough to break the silence.
Hear me out: I hate yelling for things. Why? Because I don’t think my voice sounds nice when I have to yell. It doesn’t have it’s same rich tones –forgive me for the self-indulgence. When one yells, one’s voice often goes higher and slightly scratchier. That’s natural. Yet, I don’t like that sound. Thus, raising my voice was a rare occurrence; particularly, when I lived alone. Sometimes, I hear my voice back (after filming) and I notice where my pitch went up, and, although more feminine sounding, I don’t really like it.
I’m sure a lot of it has to do with defying the feminine aura of femininity. I want to stress that all of these codes are taught to children, who mimic them into perfection. Let’s examine that claim. Homi Bhabha writes on mimicry by colonized peoples in his text The Location of Culture. To explain this, let me lay some of the historiographical and theoretical framework that Bhabha discusses. In Edward Said’s famous text Orientalism, Said claims that colonialism created an exotic East that was discussed and debated by the West. The East was an antipode to the West. What was East was not West. Orient to Occident. Largely, Said argues that the East was created discursively (or through language) in novels, pamphlets, and government documents. Following Michel Foucault’s logic of power as discussion in Discipline and Punish, the western creation of the east ensured a “panoptical (or all-seeing) vision of domination” (Bhabha 86).
But Bhabha doesn’t accept that the West actually ever held such a clear image of what the East or the Other was. Where Said sees a western domination of eastern creation, Bhabha recasts the scene to show the slippage of western discourse that points its finger back at the colonizer rather than revealing any truth about the colonized. Bhabha reminds us that the panopticon does not work in just one direction–the colonized subject is created as other mocked up with crude, very racist stereotypes, but, here, the colonizer’s own fragility of identity is revealed. Bhabha explains that authors, such as Joseph Conrad and V.S Naipaul have parodied the racism of the colonizers, but then, so too have Charles Grant and Thomas Babington Macaulay, who, in all seriousness, perpetuated meaningless stereotypes to debase other cultures. Bhabha’s point is not to delegitimize the harm that these men’s words have done and continue to do, but he seeks to unravel their power. He wants to us to take a good look and say, “but that’s simply not true” and re-evaluate how history has cast what the west called the other into a passive sourcebook.
Now, to return to my point about children mimicking adult behaviour. There is something uncanny about young girls mimicking the behaviour of women that doesn’t occur when boys mimic the behaviour of men because men are not sexualized on the same level, day to day, that women, historically, have been and are. Young children cue in really quickly about tone of voice. This tone means this person is angry. This other tone means this person is sad. I make this tone when, quite frankly, I’ve had enough of all the fuss over my little sibling and it’s now ME TIME. Our behaviour is not essential to our gender, but it is taught. We consume it daily. In addition to how we speak and dress, how and when we talk is also taught to us through film, books, commercials, advertisements, and even those political peoples who talk down to all of us, whilst abusing democracy.
So, in Said’s interpretation, we could claim that men have created how women behave and what they do. In many ways, this is true. Oppression has very really consequences. Yet, Bhabha would have us take a closer look at how this source material has actually parodied women’s experiences. Yes, whilst many women, in the home, were treated as inferior or less than, and with many novels, government documents, church or religious doctrines, and advertisements dictating the stereotype of womanhood–women lived according to or against those rules. Like the racist stereotypes that prevail, ideas of femininity and essentialized-gender persist–bleeding into each other as intersectionality plays out.
When I stood up for myself I was confronted with this immediate sense of dread. A lot of it was annoyance that people could be so shitty, but a lot of it was… “I’m nice, but I had to say unpleasant things to stand my ground.” What occurred is a doubling. Because one’s outward appearance indicates who they are in a societally-defined coded language. As a woman, I am meant to be quiet, polite, kind, maternal, and passive. Yet, as a person who was taught that it is right to stand up for oneself, I am loud, assertive, certain, clear. Because my identity is built up by society as adhering to one set of rules, my sense of self is shaken when I fail to live by them. My own sense of who I am becomes trapped between the socially prescribed one and who I feel and think I am. What happens next is an existential crisis. Who am I? Am I my actions? How do I define myself?
As a rule, I don’t like getting angry. Annoyed, sure, we all get annoyed. But angry, no. I don’t like having to stand my ground because someone else wants to be shitty. I kind of sit on the wall of peaceful, happygolucky. Of course, that’s an ideal–life maintains its own stresses.
I’m not saying it’s easier for men to stand their ground, but in media it’s glorified. For example, in the film Endless Love, the lead male character David Elliot has to stand his ground to show he deserves the rich, female lead, Jade. Because he is poor, he is provoked into violence by Jade’s father, as some sort of delusional truth that poor people are inherently more violent and disobey the rules of polite society. Pure poppycock, but the film plays on those tropes. Indeed, Jade stands her ground, too, at the risk of losing her innocence to her parents and the audience. This line is tread quite carefully. Her blond hair and soft nature offset the fact that she’s definitely having sex with David. On it’s surface, the story seems like a gooey, doe-eyed, start-crossed love story, but it is filled with carefully outlined tropes. The male lead must prove he is not marred by his less-than status; he stands his chivalric ground and gains access to polite society. Their relationship and its intimacies are thus validated. His heroic task is glorified. What does this really mean though?
I chose to use the Darkest Timeline image to articulate how ourselves and our personalities always sit in a fragile shell, called forth by different chance moments. They make us consider who we are and how we react. I guess, Community writers would say it isn’t a doubling but rather a sixling.
Heaps of Love,