(This is another repost, originally published in June 2013)
I feel like I’ve been transported back to the fifties. On Facebook.
At least three times in the last few months, I’ve seen some variant of this:
“If men aren’t doing xyz it’s because the women in the relationship aren’t ALLOWING them to.”
“If your man isn’t taking responsibility for his actions it’s because you’re emasculating him by not being fully feminine.”
(I’m about to get my rant on, so y’ll strap on your seatbelts and prepare: there’s sweariness ahead.)
Let’s paraphrose those arguments, shall we? I think it goes like this:
Got a problem? Blame the woman.
So. Can someone tell me when the FUCK it became acceptable for people – Life-coachy people, even! People who are supposed to be all enlightened and shit! – to insist that male bad behavior is the fault, not of the men acting badly, but of…wait for it…WOMEN?
That’s right, straight ladies: when “your man” (husband, boyfriend, whatever) has serious issues, is behaving badly or unacceptably, the source of the problem is you.
Like I said: Got a problem? Blame the woman.
(Mothers might already be acquainted with this old soldier, right?)
Hence the 1950s flashback. If he drinks too much, cheats, doesn’t pay the bills, doesn’t help with the kids, is unpleasant, irresponsible, lazy, or, or, or, you probably brought it on yourself. I mean, look at what were you wearing. Maybe a new kitchen appliance will help.
Aside from being philosophically problematic (read: sexist), this line of logic/bullshit might have even more concretely problematic consequences. Like, oh, say, someone in an abusive relationship – including the types of abuse that our society does not readily recognize as abuse like emotional/mental – might read or hear that AND BELIEVE IT, and stick around way longer than necessary.
So although these things are problematic in and of themselves, some people might suspect that my umm, “strong feelings” on the matter are because I’ve got issues. And yep, there IS some personal history here.
That doesn’t make my critique/rant less credible. It makes it MORE credible. Lived experience, yo.
A year or two ago, if I had read, or someone told me, that my husband’s deal-breaking flaws and failures were in fact my fault, I would have felt ashamed as fuck and like a terrible wife, AND it probably would have guilted me into staying in a relationship that was fundamentally broken for gods know how much longer.
And you know what?
His fundamental inability to behave like an adult had NOTHING to do with the way I acted.
Do you know how I know?
Because he is still continuing those patterns of behavior over a year after I’m out of the picture.
An example. After we split up, I moved into four hundred square foot studio apartment. A few months later, he randomly called me and asked if I could keep the cats for a few days, because they were doing apartment inspections at his place and he had never paid the pet deposit becausehe didn’t want to.
(Dude. I live in a postage stamp. With a dog. Who does not like the cats. No, I cannot “just watch them a few days.”)
There’s more. Of course. I saw his apartment a few days ago and it reminded me of why I am so damn happy we do not live together anymore. It smelled like cat pee, there was no food bowl for the cats (just a bag of cat food open on the floor), there were clothes all over the floor, no fitted sheet for the mattress (just a bunch of random bedding strewn all over it). A total mess.
My point being?
Something that you would think would be a total wake up call (divorce) didn’t change the way he walks through life. How then could I possibly have been expected to change him?
Let’s repeat: A major life trauma and upheaval did not make him change.
And if that didn’t shake things up, let’s please trust and believe that there was NOTHING I could have done.
A woman cannot change a man by being more feminine.
A man cannot change a woman by being more masculine.
No one can change anyone who doesn’t want to change.
This is important to know. This is important for me to know. This is important for women to know.
I suppose proponents of the got-a-problem-blame-the-woman train(wreck) of thought actually believe it’s empowering – you control EVERYTHING, little woman, what with your manifesting-mind and fluttering eyelashes – but in fact has exactly the opposite result.
Telling me – and all women – that problems that are clearly, indubitably HIS are in fact my fault because I’m not “doing my job” as a wife or a woman would not have accomplished anything productive or transformative…except to make me feel incredibly shitty about myself and – bonus! – allow him to continue acting egregiously.
That pernicious (read: sexist) logic would have kept me stuck there.
And it sucked. It sucks when nobody has your back because you’re so busy watching their’s,and it sucks when you have to be the adult in the relationship all the time and never get a damn break.
Revealing side note: I used to think I never wanted kids and staunchly maintained that attitude for the almost-five years we were together. About three months after we split up, I changed my mind. Turns out that some part of me just knew that if I had to take care of a child on top of taking care of him, I probably would have had a full-fledged meltdown and wound up on the 6 o’clock news for doing something entirely crazypants.
It’s exhausting, it’s not healthy, and the fact that that’s how things turned out was not my fault, or because of a failure on my part to be feminine and womanly and/or my failure to let him be a man. (Actually, all I wanted was him to be an ADULT.)
We can’t change other people, we can only help them with the process if they want to change, and if a dude doesn’t want to change there is no force on heaven or earth that will make him do so.
(Not even being a “real woman” in the relationship, whatever the hell that means).
Relationships are give and take. Yes, we have to consider our part in unhealthy dynamics and how we’re perpetuating them, but it is also the other person’s responsibility to own their shit and work on it. If they aren’t willing to own their shit and work on it, then it’s not a personal failure of the other person.
And let’s face it: saying these things about women in relationships and to ALL women reinforces a whole bunch of sexist bullshit.
It’s just another variation of “Got a problem? Blame the woman”.
But if a grown man isn’t acting like an adult, it is NOT my job – or any woman’s job – to coddle them and put up with bullshit and “lean into my feminine essence” (gag) until the dude decides to change his radically, rampantly bad behavior.
I’m sure someone will read this and say that I’m missing the point because my “issues” – as in, being divorced and willing to tell the truth, bad girl! – are preventing me from grasping or leaning into my feminine power. To that I say sure, if safe-guarding your health and well-being, behaving responsibly, and refusing to accept crappy treatment because you have ovaries is NOT what feminine power is, well then you can keep it. Far away. And off my Facebook page.
(originally published in June 2013 here)