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Please Don’t Boil That Bunny: Some Thoughts on an Online Creeper

September 26, 2014 10 comments

So, something happened yesterday, and I need to talk about it. It was actually the last straw in a series of unacceptable behaviors, in which I ended up blocking someone from all forms of online contact. This person happens to be associated and responsible for a fairly well-known magazine. And while I have no intention of naming names, I feel like the experience might be more universal than I’d like.

This was someone I ‘met’ on Twitter. He had several friends of mine in common. He seemed nice and even sent me some merchandise for his magazine. We started talking on Gchat, which was fine at first. Except over a short period of time, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. If I was unavailable to DM on Twitter on the weekends, there were guilt trips (I’d declined giving him my cell number, thankfully). If I couldn’t Gchat throughout the entire day (because of work), there were guilt trips. The whole relationship started to exhibit hallmarks of a controlling boyfriend…except we weren’t dating. He is married, and I am not available. When it become clear that he was unhappy with my lack of time to chat, I explained myself multiple times (work taking priority). Each time, I came away from the conversation feeling as though nothing I said got through to him. I’d still, in his mind, let him down.

At one point, when we were still Gchatting, he mentioned a cat. I said that he should tweet a photo. Because, guys, I love animals. I’d happily coo over a photo of a hedgehog or whatever any day. Instead of doing that (safe and public, yes?), he emailed me a photo of the cat…and himself. Now, it wasn’t a dirty photo. But it still made me uncomfortable. Admittedly, toward the beginning of our correspondence, he repeatedly asked ME for a photo, and I did cave – I emailed one of me with my book. Because BOOK. The fact that he told me I looked ‘coy’ ensured that I would never send him another one again. Because I wasn’t coy. I was proud of my book.

Except, given that this IS the internet, he started replying to the photos I posted on Twitter. These were statements that made me feel increasingly uncomfortable, given the increasingly uncomfortable situation. Privately (multiple times) via Gchat, I explained that I was uncomfortable, especially in light of two instances where he tried to pressure me to attend writing conferences. (For the record, his response was basically the classic, “Oh, I don’t mean it that way.”) One instance, I flat out told him that I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate me blowing him off for a weekend to attend a conference. The attempts to get me to go to the conferences weren’t simply, “Hey! This is cool. I’m going. You should go.” His behavior was coercive and almost…bullying. Some of this took place on Twitter, but there was much more behind the scenes. Eventually, a godsend of a friend told me that you can block someone from chat on Gchat, which I did.

That helped for a while. Except, since he wasn’t getting the response he wanted from me (and he gave me crap about not being available to chat), his behavior only got worse. At one point, I stopped posting photos on Twitter. Even now, I post less of them. The photos I share are just me being goofy, but I felt so uncomfortable and creeped out. They weren’t fun anymore.

So, why didn’t I immediately cut all ties? First, I worried that I was overreacting. I know at least four people (who are all LOVELY human beings) who know him. Given that, I worried that maybe I was just being sensitive. Maybe I was misreading the situation. But all these events kept piling up, until one giant red flag. In response to me mentioning a mutual friend, who I didn’t realize he knew, he said something like: Well, I know EVERYONE in this business.

Okay, I know a threat (veiled or not) when I see/hear it. That is clear cut intimidation. I’m a writer. I’d submitted to his magazine. Would there be repercussions if I cut all ties? I wondered. I worried. I hemmed and I hawed. Then, after mentioning this situation to a wise friend, she advised me to flee. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Just block and run. So, I unfriended him on Facebook and unfollowed him on Twitter. I did not block him on Twitter until this week, because I thought that he’d realize I’d done those things and then…go away.

I was wrong. In response to a tweet of mine, he replied in a passive aggressive manner – letting me know that he was a) still reading my tweets and b) pissed that I’d broken ties. His tweet was full of venom, and I didn’t need it.

This morning, it occurred to me that, maybe, this has happened to other people. Specifically, it made me want to approach our common friends and ask if they’d had similar experiences. Because there’s something terribly isolating in not talking about it and keeping it to myself. There’s something this person said, in passing conversation, that made think that at least one other person may feel the way I do – and may have experienced something similar to me. And yet, I can’t quite seem to ask the question. Why?

Then, I realized: I’m afraid. I’m afraid to ask the question and not be believed. Isn’t that why we keep quiet about things we maybe shouldn’t? Fear is a funny thing. Not talking about something gives a situation too much power. And I’m not a fan of cowering to bullies. Which, I suppose, is why I’m writing this post.

Here’s the thing that needs to be said: if you tell someone he/she’s made you uncomfortable (once or habitually) and that person doesn’t immediately respond with an “I’m sorry” AND a change in behavior, run. Apologies are easy. They’re just words. But actions reveal things that words can keep hidden or, at least, shadowed. You don’t owe such a person ANYTHING – not even an explanation.

Between convention harassment and the whole Fake Geek Girls bullshit, being a female writer can be hard. So, I’ll make you an offer. If someone harasses you, or makes you feel uneasy, talk to me. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care how famous or in what position of authority that person resides. If you need someone to listen, I’ll listen. If you need help, I’ll help you. Because, after talking to another friend of mine this morning, I felt less alone. Moreover, I realized that I did the right thing.

I may not have much clout to do anything other than listen or make a little noise. I’m certainly not Neil Gaiman. But I can make sure that you are heard and do not feel alone. Because chances are, it’s not just you – and it’s not just me. Chances are this is a habit, not a fluke. It’s not a bad day; it’s a pattern.

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not a war easily won

September 8, 2014 2 comments

I try very hard not to be insecure. But life, and people, can be confusing. And let’s call a spade a spade: I’m sensitive. I think a lot. I feel even more. I’m basically a CareBear on emotional steroids, for better or worse.

There are some days where I totally fail to understand humanity, and in the absence of actual facts, my brain helpfully (not really) fills in the gaps with all the fears I’m too scared to say out loud. That’s what happens, I think, when we’re feeling weak or vulnerable. A seemingly small thing, left unattended, becomes a shadow. Then, that shadow becomes a monster. Before the cowering part of your rational self knows it, you’re five years old, again, hiding under the covers. Figuratively. (Or literally. Who hasn’t had the urge to cal out of work, build a blanket fort, eat candy, and hide for the day?)

The simple truth is that my brain is, often, a scary place of stupid. It can be a ridiculous graveyard of logical thinking. I am forever grateful that no one can ever read my mind, because (to paraphrase Anne Lamott), I often think such terrible thoughts that it would make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish.

Internally, I’m Angela Chase. And don’t even get me started on Jordan Catalano. Because #MySoCalledLife forever. Yes, I know this isn’t Twitter. It’s my blog, and I’ll hashtag if I want to. (Somewhere, Leslie Gore is glaring into her morning coffee. Sorry, lady. #NotSorry)

There are days where I am unsettled and insecure. I don’t let that bleed into the rest of my life. I don’t take it out on people. I refuse to do that, because I’m had that done to be – and that stuff is not fun. It’s actually the mark of a jerk and a coward, but that’s a rant of a different color. (Is bullshit a color?)

I keep making jokes, I know. That’s because I’m uncomfortable, as I’m writing this. The subject makes me feel like I should run, because it’s not easy to admit vulnerability and flaws. And I think I’m doing both. Or I’m trying to.

While I don’t let me insecurity affect my actions, that’s not to say that it doesn’t affect me. Recently, I had a friendship tank spectacularly. Like a final scream as one is unexpectedly pushed off a cliff, I’ve never heard a death knell quite like that. It was strange and alarming to, essentially, watch it disintegrate in spasms. When something like that catches a person off guard, it can lead to a lot of questions – and a lot of self-examination. (That should, eventually, end when you realize that it’s not your fault – and, really, not your circus, not your monkey. In fact, take a match to that damn monkey, if you must. It’s probably rabid.)

Where was I? Yes, death of a friendship. Since the demise, I’ve felt rather wretched. I’ve tried to laugh it off and ignore it. I’ve tried not to take it personally, but…um, it is rather personal. But if I’m being honest, it has made me realize that this can be the norm more than the exception. People let us down. People disappear. People do hurtful things. And if we don’t talk about them, we end up internalizing them. Which is bad. Very bad. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Dive straight on in to the rum. Or the vodka. Or the tequila. (Never the gin. I’m sorry. It’s vile.)

So, today, I am feeling insecure. I am feeling a bit underappreciated from several angles. I’m both curious and confused, and these are not necessarily pretty things. I’m neither angry nor upset. But I find myself dangerously close to so many things – and one of them is losing my patience. The thing is that life is tricky. It’s often unclear and uncertain. But I feel as long as you’re trying, reaching for your dreams, and not simply whining about what is and isn’t happening – that’s the trick to getting what you want/need/love.

For me, today might be a wash. I may be cranky. But tomorrow, darlings, is a fresh start and a new adventure. I’ve named the monster. Now, it’s less scary. Naming a thing is a powerful act. After all, we start our lives with naming. It is the beginning of identity. We name someone friend or lover. We call love, love. Saying things out loud means it’s more real. It means you can’t take it back. That’s why it’s a risk, sometimes. But naming is where everything starts. It’s the words that declare what the heart feels. And actions drive that arrow home. Remember that, when you’re scared. Name the fear. Name the confusion. Then, kick it in the ass.

Own it. Claim what’s yours, darlings. Say everything out loud. Because life is too short not to be absolutely, ridiculously bold. Don’t let your fears chase you away from what’s possible. Don’t let your doubt keep you where you don’t want to be. And, for coffee’s sake, remember: you never get what you don’t ask for. So, ask. It doesn’t matter if your hands are shaking. It doesn’t matter if you words come out in a rush or a heap.

Remember to fight for your life — for what you want and for who you are. Remember that, occasionally, means you’re fighting you. Nobody can save you but yourself — and you, love, are worth saving. (Sorry, Charles Bukowski, for paraphrasing you poorly.)

The Danger of Tools Over Solutions: On Nail Polish and Dirty Photos

September 2, 2014 1 comment

 

Lately, I’ve seen a disturbing trend – one that places blame on the victim and/or treats the symptoms of a problem, but not the problem itself. This, unfortunately, isn’t a new development. It’s commonplace. But that doesn’t make it right.

A group of college students invented a nail polish that changes color if there’s a date rape drug in a drink. Like parking under a streetlight at night to deter criminals, this is a good safety precaution. It’s another tool for someone to use in order to be safer. Not safe – safer. There are some folks that argue that this, again, places responsibility on the victim. A woman shouldn’t have to wear nail polish to deter rape from happening (deter, not prevent). There are also gender implication, here – because it presupposes that all women wear nail polish. It also overlooks the fact that men are raped, too. And, honestly, I never want to hear someone ask a rape victim, “Were you wearing your anti-rape nail polish?” Because NO. You don’t the victim how short her skirt is, how much she had to drink, or if her nail polish turned purple. It’s never the victim’s fault. Repeat after me: it’s never the victim’s fault.

 This brings me to my second example, which was that several celebrities had their phones hacked and naked photos of them were posted on the internet. They were all, to be knowledge, women. The most notable is Jennifer Lawrence. The uproar has been, “Well, she shouldn’t have taken naked photos in the first place.”

 This is blaming the victim, guys. A person (male or female) has the right to do with their body and property as he/she sees fit. Stealing from another person is a crime. In this case, the stolen item was naked photos. Would we still by blaming her if it was something different? If someone stole her car, would we ask why she owned a car in the first place? A crime is a crime.

 Here is an important takeaway from this article from the Forbes article on the subject:

 “It is not the responsibility of our female population to take “X” number of steps to lessen the chance that a member of our male population will engage in untoward conduct towards them, be it assault or street harassment.”

 It’s that simple. You don’t blame victim. You never blame the victim. So, why are we still trying to do just that? It’s a fundamental failure of our society. Several times, over the past few days, I’ve found myself arguing on Jennifer Lawrence’s behalf. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know. We’ve never had lunch. But she is a person who has been wronged, and society is saying that she is at fault. It would still be a crime if someone hacked her phone and stole her text messages. Her privacy has still been breached.

 This isn’t a case of revenge porn (which is a different kind of privacy breach altogether). An ex didn’t get pissed off and share the photos with the press. This is a total invasion of privacy. It’s not a scandal, as the Forbes article points out – it is a crime. Last time I checked, our legal system isn’t supposed to blame the victim. So, again: why are we blaming the victim?

 It’s never the victim’s fault.

 Anti-rape nail polish doesn’t solve the problem of rape – no more than a rape whistle does. Not taking naked photos doesn’t solve the phone hacking problem. We, as a society, have to stop treating symptoms and start treating the disease. Yes, a nail polish that detects date rape drugs is a potentially helpful tool – but it doesn’t keep someone from raping someone else. Yes, not taking nude photos means if your phone is hacked, they can’t be stolen – but that doesn’t make the breach of privacy (the hacking) go away. Someone can always steal something else.

 And, once more: it’s never the victim’s fault. Period.

Too Feminine, Fake Geek, Not Nerdy Enough Girl

August 29, 2014 1 comment

“You don’t look like you read comics.”

“You don’t look like you know how to fish.”

“You don’t look like you know how to change a tire.”

“You don’t look like you’d enjoy sci-fi.”

 

Not geeky enough, not tough enough, not savvy enough, and again, not geeky enough. It’s remarkable (not in a good way) how often these things get said to me. There are endless variations, each more nauseating than the last. Because, apparently, I’m too girly looking to like fishing – and too pretty to know how to change a tire. As if authenticity is somehow only found in outward appearance, and I seemingly do not warrant all the checkmarks on a predetermined checklist.

The other day, I was reminded about the assumptions people feel entitled to make based on appearance and gender. For years, people have assumed that I’m less capable or even incapable of certain things. Why? Well, I’m a woman. I take care of my appearance. I do wear makeup when I go out. Heels happen often. These are just things I like – they’re not the sum of who I am. You can argue that I’m performing my gender – and maybe I am. But my gender doesn’t prohibit me from wearing sweatpants and an old T-shirt on the weekends, when I’m being lazy. Does that mean I’m suddenly more capable of changing a tire, if I look less like a girl? Does my lipstick somehow mean I can’t bait a hook? Does wearing my glasses, instead of my contacts, means I’m more of a geek?

Because, if so, I missed the damn memo. Here’s the dangerous thing about me: I wasn’t raised to believe in limits based on the fact that I have breasts and a uterus. I don’t get the vapors. I don’t faint at the sight of blood. And if you try and steal my TARDIS apron, I will cut you.

 I find there’s a certain amount of entitlement when someone walks up to another person (sometimes literally) and says, “You don’t look like you [fill in the blank].” You don’t look like you bake. You don’t look like you read. You don’t look like a librarian. (Translation: You don’t fit into this box neatly, so break out the confusion, torches, and pitchforks.)

 There are people who simply refuse to learn that whole, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And it boggles my mind, while offending me greatly. I find that, as a woman, this kind of phenomenon happens to me a lot. So, if I’m not walking around performing all the aspects of my personality, somehow my likes are confusing to others.

The thing about identity is that you can’t see it, like you can hair color or eye color (and even then, my brown eyes don’t make me a certain way; they’re just an observable aspect of my genetics). There’s also no standard for identity. You are what you are. You like what you like.

I’m technology inclined, a wonderful cook, and an average seamstress. Meaning, I can most likely fix a setting on your cell phone, make you a delicious meal, and sew on a button that’s fallen off. But you can’t tell that by looking at me. You can’t discern skills by sight anymore than you can discern what a person enjoys.

 I’m not going to lie: I’ve been fairly pissed off about this for the past few days. It was assumed that I simply couldn’t like a certain thing, because I appear too feminine. And I just about blew a gasket. Total, full-on Hulk Ali SMASH. Because…no. Don’t you dare try to put me in some kind of box, because you feel like it. I don’t live in labels. I don’t live inside the lines pretty much ever. And making assumptions about people is really just insane. Nobody gets to define me expect me.

 

Don’t let anyone define you, either. 

 

Maybe I just don’t care if you imagine me naked.

September 5, 2013 4 comments

Here’s the thing. Yesterday, there was a blog post circulating around the interwebs. Usually, those things are a dime a dozen (which, given this economy, should tell you a hell of a lot). But this particular post stuck in my craw like bad sushi.

In case you’re interesting in raising your blood pressure, it’s here.

So, the tl; dr version is that a woman, with teenage sons, wrote a letter to teenage girls on the internet. Basically, it was a fire-and-brimstone bit of professed morality, wherein the responsibility for shielding the teenage male persuasion from bare shoulders and selfies rested on the shoulders of the female population. The thesis, generally speaking, is that it is a girl’s duty to protect the boys from themselves, by bundling up and being as unassuming as possible. Because, clearly, there’s something squicky about being proud of your femininity. Because, clearly, the male sex should have absolutely NO responsibility for themselves. Because temptation, thy name is woman. (And, you know, there’s a sexual orientation bias, here. No mention of gay or bisexuality. I suppose there’s also a ban on shellfish, then.)

Today, the internet opens up the world in a way that I only experienced in a limited manner, as a teen. It was before Facebook and Twitter, but after AOL and chat rooms. Yes, I’m old. And in other news, kids: get off my lawn. But, seriously, the internet and social media tends to pull down the communication fourth way, ripping away the limits of geography. Social media opens up new avenues. But it also opens the door to a lot of bullying, too. And that post? It feels like bullying, in a soft tone, so that maybe don’t smell the bullshit.

On that post, I call bullshit.

So, it’s been a while since I was a teenage girl. I always wore a tank top when it was hot out. And, when I was brave enough, I’d even wear a bikini on the beach or by the pool. There are family photos, somewhere, of me at a BBQ wearing a bikini with freakin’ tweetie bird on it, folks. I never considered any of these things offensive, because…they aren’t.

And yet, that post body-shames teenage girls for posting selfies of themselves in tank tops and bathing suits. Even, in one instance, in a bathing suit. LE GASP. Because, clearly, bikinis are the gateway clothing item to Satan. And, clearly, no boy will EVER see a girl on a bikini at, say, the beach or the pool. But, um, wait – the post happens to include family pictures at the beach, where they (boys) are wearing bathing suits. Um, hello pot. This is kettle. What up?

Now, I’m not a parent, but I don’t think you have to be a parent to know a double-standard (or shaming tactics) when you see it. The blogger isn’t telling her boys to put a t-shirt on at the beach, is she? Personally, I think hiding behind the idea of a moral compass and trumped up integrity is somewhat…limiting. For one thing, there’s nothing morally bankrupt about anyone who is proud of her body. And, last time I checked, every person is entitled to his/her sexuality – but unless a girl is wearing lingerie and stilettos, I’m pretty sure her selfie isn’t an outbreak monkey of moral corruption or some sort of sly trick to tempt unsuspecting men folk. To see it that way is to hypersexualize something that isn’t necessarily sexual at all. Sure, if a guy sees me in a towel, he probably won’t forget it. But that isn’t a gateway to moral questionability. (Side-note: morals, as much as folks don’t want to admit it, are relative to each person. Your mileage may vary.) Because, speaking as a woman, if someone has a problem with my selfies, or the cut of my shirt, or the fact that I wear a bikini – that’s not my problem. It belongs to the other person. But kids/teenagers cannot always make that distinct. They take things to heart and perhaps more so if that opinion is coming from an adult.

Why are we telling our daughters that they are responsible for the actions and thoughts of boys? Why are we shaming, instead of celebrating?

Entertaining the idea that it is a burden, for a moment, why is the responsibility not being shared equally? If this is such a horrifying thing (girls wearing two-piece bathing suits etc.) for the aforementioned blogger, it seem most logical that she parent her own children – not police and berate those of others. Especially considering that the overall tone of the post is one of condescension and condemnation, which isn’t really a tone/tactic an adult should employ with teenagers – again, especially other people’s.

I’m well-aware of the fact that a person’s religion shapes his/her worldview. If you’re Christian, you might be appalled by the fact that I often take the lord’s name in vain – or that I didn’t capitalize lord just then. You might find me to be a bit morally reprehensible, because I expect to dress and speak freely. I’m kind and a good person, but if you judge me by my stripper shoes or low-cut top, doesn’t that say more about your narrow view than it does about me?

Lastly, I just want to address a small bit of contradictory information. At one point, the blogger wrote, “If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.” Overlooking the hilarity of the word try (because if it’s even a thought that you were attempting to look sexy, you’re off the island, darling. The judge and jury are jumping to conclusions, and you’re out. Think about that statement. If you make ONE supposed mistake, you’re done. That’s it. One error, and that’s it. No second chances.

Except a paragraph later, there’s this: Girls, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made an on-line mistake (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your accounts and take down  anything that makes it easy for your male friends to imagine you naked in your bedroom.

So, wait. Which is it: mistakes are unforgivable OR quick, fix it, and all will be alright. Panic or don’t fret? Condemn or forgive?

Like I said, I’m not a parent. But I am a person. And I am a girl. I remember what it was like to be a teenager. I’ve grown since then, and I care less about what people think. I won’t be held back by the hobgoblin of a small mind (thanks for the phrasing, Emerson). I won’t let you dictate me.

And maybe I just don’t care if you imagine me naked.

…but it’s still not an invitation for you to harass me or do anything non-consensual. SO DON’T BE A FUCKING JERK. (line courtesy of C. Finlay)

Don’t run. Stop holding your tongue.

June 26, 2013 Leave a comment

 

I want to be brave. I am not always. There are moments, things that reach back from our past, that remind us of who we are – of who we’ve been – and how fear changes over time. Something odd occurred to me, today. There’s a parallel situation from over ten years ago, a little thing. Just a whisper of a shadow. Different time and place, but the same shade. Then: I was fearless. Then: I refused to allow myself to give in to the ghosts. Today: I caught myself wondering. Today: I caught myself talking myself out of an idea.

I was listing all the reasons why not. Except, they weren’t really reasons. They were excuses. They were that little idiot voice that lives in the back of a person’s head, rubbing salt in every wound that you forgot you even had. If, ten years ago, I was brave – what changed? What is it about growing up (okay, growing older) that erodes our fearlessness? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s that we fail to nurture that part of ourselves. Perhaps it’s the day-to-day grind that wears us down. Perhaps it is the endless list of responsibilities, instead of laughter. Perhaps it’s the have tos instead of the want tos. Whatever it is, whatever the root cause, it stops here. It ends now.

Sometimes, you have to do the exact thing that you are afraid of. Sometimes, you have to prove it to yourself. Sometimes, you need to be a little less You Now. And a little more of your past. The truth is that even the most spectacular disaster teaches us something. The truth is that there really aren’t mistakes. There’s what you do and what you don’t do. There’s how you feel or don’t feel. There’s love or there isn’t.

And there’s being brave. I can’t help but think of Sara Bareilles’ new song, Brave. There’s nothing worse than letting words fester underneath your skin. There’s nothing worse than letting fear – of anything – win. So, it might be crazy. It might be ridiculous. It might be the foolish idea born of a mad moment. But it also might be real. It also might be true. It also might be the best thing you almost didn’t do.

This, I suppose, is why I love the word yes. It opens doors. It breaks down walls. It punches a hole through a window. Yes begins everything. Yes teaches us. Yes reveals us. So, when faced with a choice? With a scary thing? Don’t let fear steal your yes. Don’t hold back, because life is wonky and difficult. Don’t hold back at all.

Be brave.

Was I Not Smiling Enough?

May 6, 2013 7 comments

 

Sometimes, people ask questions that make us uncomfortable. Inherently, the question isn’t good or bad. It’s not motivated by judgment or snark. It’s just a question. And yet, there are questions that imply things – things that may, or may not, be meant. Things that make you stop, take stock, and question yourself. There are instances where this is a good thing, a bit of introspection that snaps you awake, stirs you from yourself. Then there are those instances that seem to imply that you’re not walking in the lines, that you’re doing something less than you are supposed to.

Recently, someone asked me if I was okay – because I looked a little sad. I wasn’t sad. I was busy. I was feeling a little overwhelmed. But I wasn’t sad. You see, if you’ve spent three seconds in my presence, you’ll realize that I like to smile. I like to laugh. I will tease you if I like you. And I can be a bit of a goofball. I’m friendly. I always say hello, and I’m very rarely anything less than pleasant.

On this particular day, I wasn’t sad. But that question was enough to make me wonder some things. Why did that person think I was sad? Was it something I did or said? Was I not smiling enough?

Was I not smiling enough?

There is the problem. I, ridiculous, felt as if I wasn’t smiling enough – because surely, if I had been smiling more, no one would think I was sad. It was a bizarre halt that I came screeching to. (That sentence is grammatically wretched, but I’m leaving it.) I can’t help but ask: would a man question himself the same way? I cannot help but think the answer isn’t just no, but hell no. No one should ever wonder if she’s smiling ‘enough.’ There is no measure for that. It’s a thing that you do, not a quota you have to meet.

But this whole thing made me start to think. This is something we’re told, isn’t it? To be this, or that. Happiness is conveyed by smiling, yes — but unhappiness really isn’t shown by the absence of a smile. There are a million other emotions. There are a million other reasons for a lack of a smile. It can simply be an indication of concentrations. An insufficient coffee intake. A hunger pain. Whatever. Yet, the first assumption was unhappiness.

This made me curious. As a lit major, you have to take lit theory at least once. At some point, you read Judith Butler, who writes about gender theory. (Yes, Rachel – this reference is for you.) And Butler assert that gender is performative. Sex, of course, is biological. I’m not talking about the dance-with-no-pants. I’m talking male/female. Gender is boy/girl. It is expected that if you identify with a female gender, wearing makeup broadcasts your gender. It is, essentially, an act we put on. A show. To an extent, this is true. Personally, I don’t think of myself as less of a girl when I’m wearing sweatpants, a bandana in my hair, and absolutely no makeup. But to the rest of the world? I’m not performing.

Is happiness the same thing? Do we perform our happiness? Are you smiling just to meet expectations? Are we pressured to appear happier than we are – or even to exaggerate the happiness we do feel, lest our emotions be misconstrued or misread?

I don’t know that I have the answers, but I’m certainly entertaining the questions. Feelings shouldn’t be performative. A person can be demonstrative. If I’m happy to see you, I’ll smile. I’ll probably hug you. But that isn’t me performing my feelings. It’s not a show to indicate something to the world. It’s expressing a feeling. There is, I believe, a difference.