“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Today’s random word is know and comes from Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. I’ve been pondering gender identity lately. There’s been a lot coming out about toxic masculinity and the harm it causes. I’ve been noticing where this lives in my own heart and trying to make sense of my own feelings about being a woman in today’s world trying to love fully and raise daughters. Trying to make sense of how to be more trusting but also discerning with men.
I have tinkered with this piece for days. I’ve been really struggling with some issues related to gender identity, intimacy, anger about the senseless violence and pain, and the serious injustice that is going on in my country right now. It can drag a girl down, you know? When I told my daughter about my contempt for humanity the other day (it was fleeting but strong), she wisely put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Have you written about it yet?” In truth, I hadn’t because I knew that all that would come out was bile at that moment so I kept pouring my frustrations into this piece. I moved all the elements around many times. Left it on my desk. Came back to it. Used the tweezers on my eyebrows then put them back in the frame. Tinkering with identity. Thinking about how we’re all in drag in some way. So much pretending and posturing. So many walls built around ourselves to protect our most vulnerable, precious selves.
Then I talked with him for a long time. He wanted to understand. He asked a lot questions and did a lot listening. I felt much more peaceful. More raw and more real. It was like being cleansed in some glacial river. I felt clean and clear and so very human. Much less anxious.
This morning, I saw this poignant video with Junot Diaz this morning talking about the culture of silence that exists within the Patriarchal construct. Watch it, then keep reading below…
This idea that if we don’t talk about it, it’s not hurting us is so absurd and frankly I’m very weary of it. I’ve been the one to broach uncomfortable topics many times. This can make a person unpopular. I once had a lover say I was “toxic” because I spoke my truth. I didn’t speak it in a mean way, not shaming or blaming, just saying what was true for me and asking for what I needed. That hurt me deeply and shut my heart down for quite some time. I have since begun to realize that male fragility comes from this toxic masculine environment in which we’ve all been raised and, while I have compassion for that, I am also a strong advocate for personal responsibility. What we’re not imagining is that men are killing women because they won’t say yes and countless other people are being verbally and emotionally abused by this toxicity. That shit is real. David J. Schwartz does a great job of articulating what this is like for men in this article titled Masculinity is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box. He unpacks how the way our culture creates heirarchy by labeling what it means to “be a man” that ultimately hurts everyone. He owns his own part in this in a most glorious way that other men can follow:
But surely the Box, that construct built by others as much as by ourselves, that little prison we started building to protect ourselves from things we didn’t even understand yet, the invisible walls that keep us from being vulnerable enough to make connections and train us to see every approach as an assault—surely that can go. Surely we can recognize that as the source of so much of our tension and anxiety.
Because I’m open about my own process and fears, a woman recently asked me about navigating the world of online dating and asked what to do if she’s not interested in someone. She was worried about hurting their feelings. I said, “Ignore them. Their feelings are not your responsibility.” She told me how liberating that was. That it was a revolutionary idea to her.
Think about that. It’s revolutionary to realize that, as a woman, we don’t have to care for every, living thing. We can care for ourselves. Stake a claim for our own happiness. Think about our own interests and take action on our own behalf. We’re often afraid to do this because of the tremendous push back we get for doing so not just by men but by other women. I found when I saying yes when I meant no so many times, I ended up feeling shattered and resentful. By walking through the fire of learning how to say no or just not saying anything and dealing with the heat of that, I’ve learned to honor my own needs.
One thing I know for sure: I did not come here to live inside someone else’s construction of reality. I’ve learned to curate my life, to invite in what I wish for and what my heart most needs. Instead of accepting the bad behavior of pouty, petulant boys, I am inviting in the bold and vulnerable hearts of men who are doing their work and willing to walk alongside me while I do mine. That’s what discernment brings. That’s what love really is. It’s not a game of power. It’s a process of opening.
As Diaz says in the video, “Who doesn’t want intimacy? Who doesn’t want to connect with a partner profoundly?” I so agree with that and in order to do this, I’m realizing that I have to take responsibility for my own happiness so I can. That starts with not engaging in conversation where someone is arguing with my feelings while I’m listening deeply to theirs. I’ve had a lifetime of that. Somehow working on this Bricolage Project is helping me understand these things. Surrendering to the process and paying attention is showing me how much I have been operating from my wounded animal self and is helping me imagine something different and wow, am I liking it!
Today he said to me, “I don’t want to turn you away for any reason. Everything you offer is something I want.”