Just before the pandemic began, I read ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. In the lockdown, I have been pacing myself through the brutal but valuable ‘See What You Made Me Do’ by Jess Hill. I’ve been asked why I insist on reading or watching things that could be triggering. Some of these questions are neither pleasant nor objective. They are screaming rants and threats (of the “Don’t you dare talk to me again if you read this now” variety) which sounds to me like people terrified that I’d discover the truth. And the truth is what I’m looking for. I want to know why men treat women badly. I want to understand what was going on in the minds of the men who violated, hit, gaslit, shamed or attacked me. I am aware that these will not erase what was done. But by understanding what was going on, I am better placed to see the signs early (no, “all men are like that” is not a valid sign).
The sexes need each other and define each other. Patriarchy rejects this by deeming any form of need or interconnectedness as weak/feminine. But all society and relationships are built on the joint and collaborative strengths of human beings needing and fulfilling each other’s needs in balance.
I realised something else. By knowing what about my behavior makes a man behave in a violent/abusive way, makes it possible for me to alter that behaviour or express myself in a way that will make him behave better. This is not demeaning to me. I speak in this language, use this medium because it is the best way for me to get what I want from you – your listening and your thoughts with minimal resistance and hate. That doesn’t diminish me, it makes me more. Adaptability and collaboration are strengths, not weaknesses.
Here’s proof. Reading, talking and thinking about patriarchy & feminism doesn’t make me hate my perpetrators. It actually makes me empathise with them. It makes me want to reject the anger-is-good school of thought that a lot of feminists & other activists follow. It even makes me feel strong enough to walk a path alone without the backing of these more vocal groups right now. I don’t feel stifled, I don’t feel vindictive, I don’t feel deprived, I don’t feel angry, I don’t feel hateful. I feel hopeful & inspired. How is that anything but strength? It’s because the truth really does set me free. All forms of other people’s anger and glorifying it, keep from the truth and walking away from it is a small price to pay for the sheer power of knowing.
I know myself beyond the traumas I’ve experienced. I know myself beyond my mistakes. I even know myself beyond what I have to do to keep other people from wreaking my balance. This knowledge is worth all the tears, all the backlash from the groups demanding total compliance.