26 February, 2007

The Next Time Someone Asks Me Why I "Make a Big Deal" Out of Things, I Now Have an Answer

Shakespeare's Sister has a fantastic post up about those "little" traces of sexism and misogyny that still plague us, and why well-directed anger about it is still important. I urge you to read the piece in its entirety, but here is a particular passage that really struck me (bold emphasis mine):

"The thing is, the real cost of sexism to women is not in our paying a single emotional penny here for this insult and a single emotional penny there for that disgrace, but in the cumulative negative balance it leaves inside each of us. Even if we let this thing or that thing roll off of the thickened skins of our backs, we pay another penny each time; letting it roll off your back is just another way of saying keep your complaints to yourself, but it doesn't change the reality that sexism takes its toll, whether one has the ill manners of mentioning the offense or not. . .I don't carry these memories with me because I want to. I carry them with me because they have left indelible prints upon me, affected my understanding of who I am to other people. I don't want to be bothered when I notice things like the treatment of women in "Odd News" features. But it doesn't matter what I want. To protect myself against this reaction is to deny my experience, to deny part of myself.

I sometimes hear people say things like, "Why are you complaining about x or y?," especially as a Women & Gender Studies major. I enjoy pointing out cultural "stuff" that I disagree or have issues with, often in the hopes of getting someone else to think, "Hey, maybe she's right!" There is a difference between complaining (being bitter just for the sake of being bitter) and trying to dicuss something, out in the open, in order to bring it to the attention of others. Of course, you have to pick your battles, but that's a whole other post. I am sure that if I wanted to bring various anti-feminist discursive forms to the attention of those around me, I could do it all day. Hell, I could turn such a thing into a full-time job (which would be sweet, especially if there was a paycheck involved). However, there are some things that, I feel, are so ingrained in our culture and our various behaviors that we do not question them, or our roles in perpetuating these things--many of which are, for a myriad of reasons, damaging to many people.

Let me give you an example. One thing that consistently bothers me is the idea that single people--in particular single women--have something "wrong" with them if they are not with a partner, and that being single is an error that MUST be corrected. [I'm sure that single men go through similar issues, but since I was born with x chromosomes and a vagina, I am probably not the best person to comment on male singlehood.]

Anyway, I have been single for my entire life. Guys my own age have, with little exception, never "gotten" me, or, as far as I know, found me very attractive. If my life were a film, I would probably be the Sidekick--the witty best friend (possibly played by Lauren Ambrose or Amy Sedaris) who helps the protagonist get the guy, but never gets the guy herself. (Plus, she's got the other best friend, Flamboyant Gay Man, to hang out with.) She is witty, not "classically" pretty and very, very asexual. (Yes, I am aware of the irony in this being my life in film form, and yet, I am the Sidekick.)

When people hear that I have never dated, they are (rather understandably) confused. "Are you a Jesus freak who's, like, abstinent?" No. "Circumstantially Celibate" is more like it. "Are you gay?" No, but would it matter if I were? Maybe to these people, but not to anyone who has a modicum of intelligence.

This mentality even seems to exist in people that I am close to--my younger brother, for example, told me about two years ago that, until very recently, he thought I was a lesbian, due to the fact that I never dated in high school. My response: "Do I need to show you my Wall of Colbert?" (Which is, I regret to say, not quite a wall yet. It's a large collection of photographs of Stephen Colbert on one of the walls over at HamShack--the Wall pretty much needs no explanation.)

Overall, however, I often get the feeling that I am being judged for being a person who's been single for their entire life, by circumstance only. Most people my age are perhaps going on dates, hooking up, or otherwise not being single. One response that I've gotten, from well-meaning dipshits whom I do not know very well, is the old "You just need to get out there and start dating!" chestnut. Is it so strange that I have made the decision to meet someone special (oh, here comes the cliche van!) instead of just dating anything with a penis that meanders into my field of vision? I would much rather wait for someone who is truly an upstanding, intelligent human being than suffer dating a bunch of neanderthals whose main hobbies include drinking, polishing off an entire bucket of chicken wings with a six-pack of Pabst in one sitting, and figuring out ways that they can pass all of their classes without actually going to class and learning the material.

So, yes, I carry a certain "history" with me--the history of a woman who does not know what actual romantic "love" is, who cannot recognize the signs of flirting (even the obvious ones), who cannot even believe, in some sense, that anyone would want to be with her in a romantic manner. The history of a person who has tried, due to various health issues for her entire life, get beyond what others see by writing, doing well in school (most of the time), and generally trying to bring the focus away from the exterior, an exterior which doesn't look like those of all the other girls. I carry a history of someone who has tried her damndest to "fit in," and has failed, time and time again. These disappointments, these expectations, these experiences--they add up. And, like Barney Gumble's bar tab, they are difficult to get beyond. Barney may never be able to pay his $2,000 bar tab at Moe's, just as AnnaHam may never be able to recognize the signs of flirting.

As for concluding remarks, I notice and point out these "little" things that bother me because not doing so would directly influence the quality of my life, whether I realize it now or not. "Little things," often times, are a big fucking deal.


Anonymous said...

The personal IS political. Period. People who don't get that astound me. And, sadly, LOTS of people don't get that.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only person like that. Thanks for posting this, from one Sidekick to another.

Ignatius J. Reilly said...


I think you're again spot on with this one. There is a bias against the single, an implicit assumption that something is wrong with you unless you're "with someone."

But the truth is you are never "with" someone else. You are always alone. John Donne had it completely backwards. We are all on our isolated islands. Even in the moments of passionate embrace, of looking into the eyes of a loved one, imagining it is going to last, that it means something, is just a fantasy. A pleasant fantasy, such as one has on drugs, but a fiction nonetheless.

I wouldn't sweat the not-dating thing, Annaham. Having had many a love, I have to say that on balance, the choice between being alone and being in love is a push. Sure, there are positives in love, but they are so outweighed by negatives as to make it an even call.

And if, like me, you value academics and learning, then the choice for loneliness is simple, because nothing is such a worthless time vacuum as "being with someone."

There's no "magical thing" about dating. Mostly, it's an embarassing waste of time and money. The postmodern phenomenon of "hooking up"--having semi-random sex with strangers, with no expectations of committment or love--gets to the core of what people need. People just want to fuck. Not make love, certainly not fall in love. Just rub their pee-pees together like animals.

So here's my thesis: Those who are _not_ in love are the only ones who appreciate just how special and rare love really is. Many of those who are "with someone" really should not be with that person. They've compromised. They've sold themselves short, making an easy trade to avoid being the dreaded Old Maid. But it doesn't work, and it's the wrong choice.

Steve the Bitter