Friday, August 27, 2010

All Apologies

I want to pick up where Laura left off. I want to begin by saying that I relate to the air of apology that permeates that final paragraph. The question that lingers: do I have the right to talk about this? I’m worrying about that too, even as I write this. I worry because in the writing of this I might have to speak some hard truths about myself and the people I love. But that’s the commitment here. We promised to get naked, and I’m going to try to overcome my guilt and shame and get down to it.

It’s hard for me because I seem to have a built-in drive to coddle men. I think about the men I love and I immediately shy away from using the word objectification. How could I possibly accuse them of this?

Which brings me to therapy. I hated therapy this week. My therapist wanted me to talk about how hard it was growing up with a largely absent father and a severely depressed mother. Now, I think my parents were really good parents. Kind and loving. But it’s actually just true that for much of my childhood they couldn’t care for me as much as they wanted to. That’s life, no blame necessary. But I can’t quite seem to get past the idea that talking about that hard period in my childhood would be blaming my parents for the things that have been hard in my life. As if my talking about this thing that happened to me would somehow be to betray them. Where do I get this idea?

More to the point, why do I have this idea about men? I don’t have this issue with most men—just the ones I care for. I’m more than willing to critique the behavior of the man on the street, the one who catcalls or harasses or follows me home. Guys like this are chauvinist assholes, and there’s not much more to say about them. There’s plenty to say about the social circumstances that make them feel like it’s acceptable to treat women this way, but that’s a topic for another post. I’m thinking, rather, of the good guys—the guys who try hard to treat women with dignity and respect, but struggle a bit in the execution.

I will admit that, as a woman, I’m not always sensitive to the difficulties of the male position. There seems to be something, probably partially testosterone (but almost certainly not just that), which drives even conscious, considerate men to approach women because, in complex part, of sexual attraction. I know that human motivations are not simple. We’re looking for an awful lot of things from one another, when we seek each other out seriously in friendship and in love.

I wonder if the problem comes in not because we are too conscious of the fact we are men and women, but because we are not conscious enough. We either over-sexualize women or we under-sexualize them. We likely do the same thing to men, but with different consequences.

What I want to talk about now is the woman’s side of the coin, the one I know best. I have a friend and former lover—let’s call him B—who seems to see me not just as fully woman, but The Woman. He has made of me a muse. I can’t bring myself to fully explain to him, though I have tried, how difficult this is for me. I don’t want to have to see myself that way, as somebody else’s inspiration. More than that, it would be dangerous for me to do so. I’d lose all sense of myself—and I’ve worked hard to gain what little I have.

B both fully sees and fails to see me as a woman. He sees me as a woman in an idealized sense, as the kind of woman who doesn’t exist. But this keeps him from seeing that I have my own desires, that my desires matter. And, the hardest part is, I can’t bring myself to tell him this directly, because I care about him. Or, rather, I tell him, but then I back off, retreating into this relationship of turmoil and tenderness, a relationship that seems to be harming us both.

I really do wonder if the problem is that we’re failing to see each other as man and woman. We’re failing to see what the other suffers, what unique struggles accompany these strange positions which we occupy. If I’m feeling particularly bold, I might even ask the question: can we occupy them differently? Can we occupy them at will?

B positions me as an object—if not a sex object, then an object of a different kind. The muse on the mantelpiece. He doesn’t mean to harm me by this—I don’t believe that of him at all. But harm me he does, somewhere so deeply inherent to my sense of self that something of me is lost in his love. Lost for both of us.

To be a woman in this world is to battle against a particular set of social conditions. Objectification happens. This much we know. I think what matters most is that we begin to recognize the firmly entrenched conventions that keep women in a state of objectification even via those we love.