Sometimes I wonder if having a “day” or a “month” to celebrate certain groups is more insulting than it is celebratory. I can’t really say for sure. But on this Women’s Day I listened to one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs from long ago (the namesake of my blog actually…) and saw this photo,
(I tried the search on my laptop and though truncated I got …shut up, …be wanted, …know their place, …grow up), and sat through one of the most hideous professional evaluation meetings that I have ever endured – and yes, my evaluator is a man, for what it’s worth.
I faced this day with a sort of fatigue that only teachers can know: the night before I had been out late at a school event interacting with parents and kids and colleagues and that experience had been bookended with full days of teaching, meetings, supporting kids dealing with crazy shit, an intense Stop the Violence assembly, imparting an urgency to my sophomores that yes in fact writing essays IS part of history class, and hosting a former student as a guest speaker. I was exhausted.
And the day ended by sharing an experience with someone who broke my tired heart. I listened to my friend tell me about her experience. She had had a fight (another fight) with her boyfriend. She seems to have a lot of friction in her relationship and feels very self-conscious about sharing this with anyone, because she is embarrassed and she knows people are like: Girl, GTFO. But she shared every detail with me.
She and her partner have not had the easiest of times of late, but she really believes that it will get better. Though in truth she feels that she spends an awful lot of time with the “just a little longer and everything will be better mentality.” She has been working really hard to keep everything – and them – together. She wants to believe. She wants to be supportive. And she feels like his anger is just a side effect of some frustration that he has been enduring and so she tries to take it all in stride. But she is stressed too – trying to keep it all together. He knows this she says, but she thinks that acknowledging it just makes him feel worse.
Last night when we talked she was telling me about how his frustration at her being tired and unreceptive to him, or maybe just not having matching energy levels, had disappointed him. They ended up both sleeping early, but were awoken by things outside of their control. There was little she could do about the situation, but she did try to think what she might do to make it better. But before she could do anything he got up enraged at her indifference. You see, he seems to think that if she is not railing about something or listing complaints that somehow that equates to her liking the situation. She assured me that she too was frustrated, but she just couldn’t bring herself to be angry about it – she did not want to be angry because she was too tired and she had hoped to have a nice conflict free weekend. She said that one of the reasons that she has been so tired is that she spends so much of her weekend time in conflict.
So the next thing she knew, he was up and yelling and his yelling has the tendency of going directly from frustration at the situation at hand to personal ad hom attacks. Suddenly the situation was representative of her, her lifestyle and choices and personality. Suddenly it was actually her fault that this was happening. Suddenly she was facing threats of being left – as soon as it was possible he would leave her, that this was ridiculous and no person should have to put up with this sort of shit.
I asked her if he meant that no one should have to put up with being supported and taken care of at every turn, and she said that wasn’t really how it was. I asked her what she was getting out of the relationship and she could not answer me.
She said that the fight had soon turned to him telling her to go fuck some one else. When she tried to say that she never wanted to be with someone else, but he always went there his answer was, I didn’t say you wanted to fuck someone, I told you to go get fucked. Wow. He said that, really? I asked. Yes, she said. What did you say? I asked. She said she asked him if that was how he talked to his ex-girlfriend. Oh. What did he say then? He told her to stop fat-mouthing him before he really lost it and yelled louder than she could ever imagine. Like me she lives in an apartment and so she felt that she had to do anything she could to make sure that did not happen. So what did she do, I asked her. I just laid there, she said.
You didn’t do anything? I asked.
No, she said. Well, I thought about things, she said. Like what, I asked. Well, like how bad this makes me feel and how I wonder if I need anxiety medicine because I am so nervous about making him mad all the time, she said. And I also had to acknowledge that he had a right to be frustrated.
I asked if there was anything I could do. She said no, and that really she should not even be talking about it because he would get even more mad, because he is always telling her that this stuff is between them and she doesn’t need to run her fat mouth telling people about their business.
I shook my head silently. I resisted saying what I know everyone else is telling her: YOU NEED TO END THIS INSANITY.
I looked at a webpage about emotional abuse. It said this:
Impact of Verbal and Emotional Abuse
People often minimize the impact that a verbal abuse has on a person’s overall well being and happiness. A woman who is experiencing verbal and emotional abuse might feel the following emotions:
• A distrust of her spontaneity • A loss of enthusiasm • An uncertainty about how she is coming across • A concern that something is wrong with her • An inclination to reviewing incidents with the hopes of determining what went wrong • A loss of self-confidence • A growing self doubt • An internalized “critical voice” • A concern that she isn’t happier and ought to be • An anxiety or fear of being crazy • A sense that time is passing and she’s missing something • A desire not to be the way she is- “too sensitive,” etc • A hesitancy to accept her perceptions • A reluctance to come to conclusions • A desire to escape or run away • A tendency to live in the future, e.g. “everything will be great when/after…” • A distrust of future relationships
I felt really sad when I looked at that list. And then I looked at another list. It said this:
Has your current or former spouse, lover or dating partner
…withheld approval, appreciation, or affection to punish you?
…continually criticized you, called you names, shouted at you?
…ignored your feelings?
…ridiculed or insulted your most valued beliefs, your religion, race, class, or sexual preference?
…been very jealous or harassed you about imagined affairs?
…manipulated you with lies and contradictions?
… humiliated or insulted you in private or public?
… isolated you from your friends or family?
… forced you to have sex?
I sat with all of this information and thought about this more and more. There was no way to make this better. No way to explain the circumstances in a way that would alter the reality of what she is dealing with. I should tell her what anyone that she has taken the time to be honest with has told her: You need to end this.
Instead I started to think about a little piece of writing that I was asked to do some time back about what empowerment means to me. I couldn’t even say. Is it empowering to be able to yell back, or is it empowering to be strong enough to weather the storm and try to remain the person you know you are inside? Is it empowering to dress a certain way, or to do a certain job? What really is it to be empowered? To resist having your power taken? I could not say. It was all too painful to think about.
And that was not very empowering.
I went to bed wondering why people cannot just be nice and why people cannot figure out that harming others or disempowering others is not at all empowering. It is unnecessary and pathetic and weak.
And most of all it is just sad.