"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, September 17, 2015

the man species

Now Playing: From Eden by Hozier (Idealism sits in prison, chivalry fell on its sword, innocence died screaming, honey ask me I should know)

It has not escaped my attention that the few truly 'fearless' moments that I've had after developing anxiety have been really, incredibly drunk moments.

Which might be a sign that I'm finally becoming dinky-di Aussie after a lifetime of eschewing the footy, until I start waxing lyrical about the first time I got drunk.

The first time I got drunk I was sixteen and not yet struggling with anxiety, although I was getting caught up in some pretty toxic shit (that was totally irrelevant and on a different continent than the drunk episode). I was studying abroad in Songdo, Korea, and after class all of us - Uzbeks, rich Arab guys, Americans, a French Korean, a Brazilian Korean, a British dude with a Master's degree from LSE - went downtown. Songdo in the winter of my seventeenth year was actually a very bizarre place for a rowdy night on the town with your global classmates - we were in Korea, a place I'd always associated with suffocating authoritarianism, Songdo is a really cultivated and multicultural place, full of tourists and ex-pats and students and celebrities and professionals, but it is really, uncomfortably close to the DMZ, which is the border between North and South Korea. It was also one of the coldest Korean winters on record and Songdo is one of the coldest places in Korea.

But off we went, to Korean barbeque and a bar called 'beer is cool' and noribang and, on one of those occasions, little lightweight me got dead gone on Korean booze.

The 'lowering of inhibitions', as inebriation is sometimes delicately put, was absolutely euphoric. I became more of a child than at any point during my childhood, because I had always been quite an anxious child. They were big, brave, exciting days with wonderful people.

And now, alcohol is an escape; an escape from the endless swirl of fear and doubt, the knawing insecurities that sometimes get just a tad debilitating. I'm not an alcoholic. I'm just a fan.

A couple of years later, after some very awesome drunk experiences and some very, very terrible drunk experiences, I found myself in hook up culture in a way that I hadn't been before - an independent, free thinking, active, consensual player in a thrilling game. It was the first time I had any kind of interaction that wasn't strictly platonic and I met lots of people and some of us saw each other at our most vulnerable and I can't tell you how glad I am of that.

I remember, at about twelve or thirteen, wandering aimlessly around the house in my ratty pyjamas, wondering what it would be like to be married. My instant thought was that I couldn't do this - I would have to wear nice pyjamas. I would have to look pretty. I definitely couldn't fart. From what I saw of men they were impossibly judgemental, difficult to please people who seemed totally incapable of understanding the human failings of women and I was monumentally angry that I wasn't, as I used to put it, 'more gay'.

Your teenage years are full of bad advice from well meaning Grown Ups who have plainly never experienced adolescence before in their lives (I've often wondered this; has the world changed so much? Or is there some kind of amnesia that kicks in after age 25 that makes the horrible past a #notbigdeal?). Most of that advice for me, as I grew older and more blatantly boyfriend-less and increasingly bitter about it, was about how terrible and disgusting boys are; juxtaposed, quite humourously, with advice about How to Not Annoy Boys With Your Opinions and How To Be Appropriate Girlfriend Material and How to Soothe Malformed Ayn Rand-esque Egos of High School-Aged Males. But seriously, I remember my adolescence being full of shit like 'boys don't respect girls they have sex with', 'boys will inevitably cheat', 'boys don't see monogamy/children/human decency the way girls do', or 'boys think all downstairs should look like a pornstar's downstairs' and all sorts of truly terrible stuff that made me seriously question a) how the human race has survived and b) why anyone ever gets married.

Given that I didn't have many male friends and the closest I had come to a boyfriend was living vicariously through Twilight, I viewed men with increasing suspicion, contempt, and begrudging admiration. In trying to make sense of the convoluted Aunty-advice swirling around my head I came to the conclusion that I would never attract anyone remotely attractive, because I was hideous, he'd probably laugh at everything I say, I'd really have to up my grooming game, and he'd pester me for all the sex I obviously didn't want, and then he'd leave me alone in a puddle of tears and I was supposed to want this. At no point did anyone give me the impression that men were capable of empathy, or of not dropping dead at the sight of a female face sans mascara, or any kind of human decency. In some ways a lot of the Aunty-advice was true, in that we live in a society that lets men get away with a lot of shit they probably shouldn't be doing, but at any rate the talk was aimed at the wrong gender. It wasn't my problem that teenage men just needed a good kick in the face; only it was, because my entire purpose in life was to be a Girlfriend. But the picture being painted for me was still hilariously one-sided and stereotypical and one-dimensional; nobody ever said that yes, there are lots of guys my age who like to screw around (not that there's anything wrong with that, you can totally be a single slut in a safe, consensual way), but a lot of them do eventually want marriage and babies and a relatively normal life, and female body hair isn't a biohazard that makes penises drop off.

The times when I felt the most insecure and vulnerable was when I was in hospital - sick, in pain, unwashed, bloodstained, bloated and just not my best self. You'd probably think that boys and looks are the last things on your mind when you're in hospital, and that's true, in an emergency. But a lot of hospital time is spent immobilized in dreadful-but-not-quite-debilitating pain, staring at the ceiling, contemplating the meaninglessness of life and the fleeting nature of existence, and you do start to worry about it. I had been raised to think of men as so cold, so shallow, that I really started to worry that, aside from my family, I had no chance of ever having someone I loved to look after me.

And in this culture where women are told that men are the WORST THINGS EVER but also NECESSARY FOR YOUR SURVIVAL, women sadly let a lot of shit slide; many people still labour under the deluded belief that men aren't wired to do laundry or change nappies. But more sinister than that is the extent to which women are encouraged to turn a blind eye to blatantly abusive behaviour - like I did. Because, compared to all the Aunty advice, he didn't seem out of the ordinary.

Feminists are under this constant pressure to be all I DON'T NEED A MAN, and you don't, because a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. But we do need people, and some of us need sex, and men are vastly interesting creatures that have really been undersold by the Aunty advice and really let down by the patriarchy. In my frustrating years as an involuntarily celibate high schooler, many people were quick to say that a girl like me shouldn't *need* a man, and at any rate it didn't really look like I was trying hard enough. We should always be wary, when we teach girls independence and emancipation, to not alienate them from their sexuality; and given where I am on the Kinsey scale, men factor into that a lot, and it was important for me to recognise that my sexuality wasn't some latent misogynist in my feminist self. And even if you don't need a man to look after you 24/7 or tell you what to do, it's important for all people of all genders to be able to imagine everyone else complexly, and for a long time, I simply couldn't do that for men. They seemed to operate, at least in my mind, on a vastly different level, and follow a code where vast amounts of heartbreak and careless disregard for other human beings was okay.

Hook up culture is a funny thing; it's a fascinating juxtaposition between relative physical intimacy and relative emotional privacy, but somehow in between that a lot of humanity somehow becomes a real, visceral thing. Learning to connect with the humanity of people is one of the most important things I've learned so far, and a lot of that was drunk pillow talk or shy disrobing and silent, mutual acknowledgement that nobody looks like a pornstar and that's okay.

At uni I'm now known as a pretty empathetic person; during a social media spat a person that I don't actually know very well defended me by saying 'if you know who she is, you'd know that judgement is not her thing'. It's a strange reputation to have, because I really struggle with empathy because of the many social and cultural difference between me and most other people and because I have social anxiety and I'm generally a pretty awkward person which translates, sometimes, into coldness - some people claim I have a vindictive streak, but I think that's more people disliking the fact that I have feelings. But whatever empathy I've had is in this long struggle to be recognised for what I am instead of every other thing people think I should be or claim that I am, and in realizing that other people often face this endless struggle too and that sometimes it's nice, when that sort of short, very drunk girl you met at a club smiles at you and says that you're doing okay. Which, at the end of the day, is all we want, as millennial good for nothings with eternal existential crises.

People continue to do a lot of brutally cruel shit that I can't fathom; and whilst it is something of a gendered phenomenon, women are not exempt. But I am also learning, slowly, that men are not what society tells them and tells us that they are, or that they have to be, and that the only way to truly respect men is to refuse to put up with shit.  

No comments: