Existential Lifehack #4
“What did you do?” my mother asked. I could barely make out her words through my own pounding heart and hot tears.
“What…” I couldn’t have been hearing her correctly.
“These girls are always terrorizing you. It must be for a reason.” She was indignant, as if I couldn’t “pull one over” on her anymore.
And I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t a mean girl. Unless you counted that “voice of reason” every woman-“nice” or not-has in their heads to remind them they aren’t Angelina Jolie or anything. Or at the time, Lizzie Mcguire. God, I wanted to be Lizzie Mcguire. Or at least her best friend. Or at least have her on my shoulder to tell me which bedazzled denim jacket Ethan would like best and that Gordo was the better choice all along.
Anyway, it was middle school, and I was three-wayed without consent. Okay, that’s not the right term, and this isn’t that kind of an International Women’s Day blog (though I certainly have more serious stories up my sleeve). I was three-way CALLED and coerced into sharing some vulnerable feelings about a boy that effected another girl in “the group”. My delicate honesty was rewarded in the form of said girl secretly being on the other line and tearing me a new one when her voice emerged from the ether. These girls were basically social life terrorists, and I was a victim of some kind of girly guerrilla warfare.
And this was just PART of a long war that I had no artillery for. I was merely on the receiving end of attacks- just sparse and sneaky enough not to leave the group or be sure who was doing it, and just frequent enough to make me believe my mom when she said I might deserve it. Pages of my purple velvet Harry Potter diary were ripped out and brought to school. Pictures of me sleeping-mouth agape and ears full of shaving cream-were taken on disposable camera, actually developed (because apparently, kids don’t mind spending their meager allowance on another person’s embarrassment), and shown to boys who liked me to change their minds. My passes to the local water park would mysteriously go missing while my dad yelled at me for being irresponsible as my “best friend” watched, and I found their remnants scattered between old notebooks and hidden in drawers-my face hole-punched out and the thin, plastic blue holes thrown about like confetti celebrating my demise. And the perpetrators continued to sleepover. Continued to invite me everywhere. And I continued to be…well, nice. With an occasional sprinkle of sarcasm.
“I didn’t do anything! That’s probably the problem!” I wanted to yell this, but I never did. Holding in anger and turning inward/blaming myself is something I would practice for a long time to come, and it would keep my dorky smirk at the bottom of a “popular girl” totem pole until I decided to be “one of the boys”.
At the time, though, I was the Gretchen Weiners to their Regina and Karen-but too smart to be in the group in the first place. You know, when you’re in middle school, I’m not sure how much choice you actually get about that. Someone just sees your hot Limited Too outfit and kind of says “you’re mine” and the next thing you know, you’re not allowed to wear hoop earrings.
Needless to say, my mom didn’t really believe me…and the whole wrong place, wrong time, wrong people thing would be a theme that played out over and over again against the backdrop of women just NOT liking me-from counselors and professors to sorority sisters. I’ve been reassured that it was jealousy in some instances, and I know it was not believing me about my illness in others-but outside of that, sometimes my personality was just not their thing. In hindsight, I think if you have a prominent one, that’s sort of inevitable. It’s a sign that you’re really putting yourself out there. You talk, you walk your walk, you have skills, you have hobbies, you dabble in new things and explore new places where you might not be a perfect fit. You’re willing to play in different shaped sandboxes, and some kids won’t think there’s enough room for the both of you-spinning hopefully plastic shovels around their index fingers like pistols and seeing if you pee your pant first.
Or, you’re just a shitty person.
I played this in my mind over and over again. I explored the question of my own middle school morality like a maze in the Triwizard tournament-tentatively but thoroughly, hoping there wasn’t a free pass to a dark world where I might sort of belong at the end. I scoured my memories for blood…for spots where I’d drawn it from others without realizing, for how I’d rubbed anyone wrong enough. I had to have been evil. I examined myself for a rotten bone in my body. I just couldn’t see myself as the innocent nerd trapped in a locker, even though I was reading Harry Potter before it was cool and skipping grades. I mean…I wore Limited Too and always kept the rubberband colors on my braces “in season”-so what the hell?
I did go on to spend my eighth grade year almost solely in the company of boys…playing basketball, doing crazy tricks into pools, and a bunch of other stuff that was more dangerous but also less complicated than being in “the popular girls” group. Plus, I skipped a grade and was called a traitor by my former group as well as disliked by the girls in my new grade for taking attention away from them like some very weird intermediate readers realistic fiction novel.
The most confusing part of it all was that I rarely had such notions about other girls (and then women) who didn’t explicitly do something to hurt me. Sure, there were people whose personalities I found mildly annoying here and there, but I generally gave them a chance. Heck, I’m pretty great friends with people who dated my exes shortly after me. Because of the industry I’m in, I’m also inundated with images and contacts who are abundantly conventionally beautiful-and I support them to the best of my ability.
But we’ve all lamented to someone who told us “women just suck” or “men suck” while we cried on their should. It’s no secret that there’s a stereotype of women constantly being in competition with each other, of an exorbitant amount of them claiming to be “guy’s gals” and to prefer the company of men, and a lot of other forms of “girl on girl” (crimes, you guys) that I’ve grown to find harmful.
So when I finally-FINALLY felt my first real, deep dislike of another woman…it was unfamiliar territory. Someone crossed my path who rubbed me the wrong way nearly instantaneously-a porcupine prick through a Facebook screen that would become like a skunk spray to my face in the future…and, though I’m not sure it was intentional, in this case, she actually was kind of shady in a way that ended up having a detrimental effect on my life.
Still, that all too familiar imploding-the falling apart instead of getting angry thing- consumed me again. Just like middle school, I went inward. I blamed myself. Falling into the realization that every woman who’d ever even vaguely disliked me must have been “right”. Jumping to the conclusion that I was “wrong” to feel this way. Guilt about the inclination to compare myself to her. Can you still be a feminist-can you still claim to love and lift up women when you really, really don’t like one-especially when the personal affront to you morphs into how she carries herself or how she lives her life? I mean, she wasn’t trying to ruin my life. Was I allowed to feel this way?
What I discovered at the end of the maze this time was that grappling with the notion that you are a fraudulent “nice girl” only breeds more of the same self-doubt that caused the issue in the first place…because as important as supporting other females is, respecting your own sense of self, your own natural emotions, and your healing process is always, ALWAYS number one. Ultimately, you have to be the “nice girl” to you, no matter what that means. There’s no occasion where not being on your own team makes sense. If that means processing your negative emotions about another woman-and even telling someone close to you about it-that’s totally okay. Just know when you’re getting too stuck there and get tools for shifting it back to you. Minimize contact. Pay attention to the relationships you actually want to cultivate. Put your face at the top of your own totem pole!
It’s okay not to like another woman. It’s just not cool to not really like WOMEN. Even if you don’t consider yourself a woman, you are denying yourself the opportunity to make memorable, meaningful connections with an entire gender by projecting your negativity about a few. By the same token, you can’t project your positive notions about all of the boundlessly in-and-out beautiful women you do meet onto every single one of them -like staying in “the mean girl group” to “be nice” (which actually doesn’t make any damn sense). Don’t be the “nice girl” fighting to like and befriend the “bad girl” if that’s really your perspective on her. If you do…you’re not being the nice girl to yourself anymore. You don’t have to associate with women you don’t think are bright or kind or motivated if you don’t want to, and the first step is recognizing them. Don’t be a Gretchen Weiners.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to associate with women you don’t like. That movie and show theme of socialites tolerating and fake-friending women whose lives they prefer to watch burn to the ground just doesn’t hold up in a world with so many possibilities for interaction and time spent together.
It just means you should respect their journey-even if you don’t want it to intersect with yours. It means that if they were ever truly in trouble and there was something you could do, you still would. It means that they don’t actually need to hear your “constructive criticism” about who they are, no matter what it “did” to you. And if they ever ask, you can hand over your side of the story as gently as humanly possible.
I’m totally the type to ask if people have a problem with me, and I’m totally the type that has gotten answers I don’t want to hear. Unless you want to continue a relationship with them and want to give them the opportunity to change with that in mind or they are truly continuing to cause you harm, there’s no reason to make them question who they are as a person like I did. There’s no form of retaliation, sabotage, or “telling them like it is” that’s going to accomplish anything positive if they aren’t directly doing something that hurts you or people you care about.
Until then, acknowledge the negative thoughts and let them pass. Vent to your sister. Stay away from people you couldn’t have an authentically positive interaction with unless she’s your boss and you literally can’t (also, consider a new job-that sounds really, really stressful). And unless she’s continuing to directly harm you in a way that can be stopped, don’t let her know you think she kinda sucks.
Just as what other people think of me isn’t necessarily my business, what I think of her doesn’t have to be hers.
The world of women will still be in orbit. Millennial girls will keep telling each other to “slay” and it will still be a good thing. Women will still be getting more tolerant of each other. Women will still be calling out misogyny in Hollywood and beyond. And you’ll keep drifting away from people who bring you down-even if they don’t totally know they are doing it. The bigger picture is still intact. All women will be beautiful to someone-even if, on occasion, it isn’t you. I promise.
Now, don’t get paranoid friends. If I talk to you and keep you around, it’s definitely not you.
And even if you are, it’s still not you. It’s me. You know, because you have been her before. And maybe, just maybe, it was more about them than you…right? And feeling despised but not understanding why never did you much good, did it?
So embrace all of the femmes until you get to one you can’t. Embrace all of the most beautiful parts of feminine energy until you have to let them slide a little-be emotionally available. Be open. Be honest. Be communicative. Be kind.
Especially to yourself. Forgive yourself for feeling a little ugly sometimes.
And in this case…break stereotypes of gossip girls and mean girls everywhere, and keep a little secret.
Photo by: Lance Reise with Kickass Designs