Driving through the sunlit, endearingly gritty streets of Tacoma yesterday evening, I chat with my friend Ben after what felt like a very long, very sad day. We were both hurting for different reasons. Me because of one of the many little deaths out of which life always returns, and he because of the ugliness he had encountered that day with his students.
Ben is brilliant. Both in the intellectual sense and in the wily, imaginative way that finance types probably try to fashion themselves after when planning impromptu trips to Bali. He was feeling particularly broken from the day’s interactions after hearing stories from some of the girls he teaches.
Stories of ninth grade boys calling their female peers bitches. Telling them not to dress a certain way. Physically mansplaining how or how not to do things in shop class….because apparently girls can’t figure out how to use a power drill. This was a shock to Ben, that this type of behaviour was happening right under his nose, that these innocent kids could be so insidious and cruel in their bullying and budding misogyny.
I’d like to say I was surprised, but being a woman and alive- I know this is the norm. This is what my friends and I grew up evading and learned to cope with and fight against. And we did. And so are the students who brought their harassment to someone they trust. Instead of staying quiet and allowing the abuse to continue unnoticed, they stood up and said, ‘Hey this isn’t right. We need help. We need action.’ Their efforts in working together in “a grass roots fashion for justice” makes me feel like things might be changing, if even just slightly. The pride I feel for these young warriors is big. I don’t know them and I probably never will, but I have known them. I have known them in the faces and stories of my friends, my sister, my nieces.
We were once told in history- but still not that long ago- that we’re hysterical. Now we’re called insane or crazy or irrational. These pains and anxieties that we experience and then try to bury, the instability and doubt caused by the actions of others, the burdens we bear that only a woman can understand: they can turn us angry. They can make us fearful. They can make us jealous. They can make us distrustful. They can strip us of our innate strength and confidence. They can create a brittle bitterness that sits sour in the back of our throats.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve been conditioned to build a chassis around myself. Conditioned to think that I can cry during the latest saccharine rom-com and about piles of marshmallow kittens and the starving people of Somalia, but not when I’m hurt. This impact has been so quiet, so cunning that it can difficult to begin to sort between emotions and peel back to what’s I am truly feeling. Hurt dressed up as hate. Sadness wearing an angry mask. Disappointment in a cloak of lividity.
I have felt stabs of feeling alone for the past few months. And not because of lack of friendship or support or love. I am saturated with these things, absolutely draped in them…but I look back and realize I had clammed up for reasons that are likely cyclical. I wasn’t sharing all the things that made my skin hurt, that make me feel weak and want to cry. It wasn’t until after spending hours talking with some of my closest friends and Mom after it felt like something began breaking inside of me these past few days that I felt how much I missed, needed the healing of true sharing. They listened so well, through my ramblings and my tears and incoherence, and they gave back. They let me know I wasn’t abandoned in my thoughts.
The Know Collective’s recent Instagram post only shook this in my face more: “We tend to hold our emotions in simply because we don’t feel like talking to others or because we don’t want to bother others with our problems.” Maybe true, or maybe we’re embarrassed or uncomfortable or worried or maybe in plain denial, but we hold back. I know: as I write this I think about the things that I don’t want to talk about. The things that hurt me. The things that I’m scared to bring up, because I’m afraid I’ll be denied or rebuked or thought irrational. It can be terrifying doing something that seems so simple. Quoting Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, “when people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” The symptoms could be so slight that you don’t catch them until you’re en route to your emotional and mental grave.
This isn’t just for my lady friends, although I do think we keep our mouths shut more often than our (many times wonderful, charming, incredible, handsome, fun, solid, interesting) male counterparts. So please, everyone: keep talking. Take my little words of advice and share, even though it might feel awkward. Even if you’re afraid that the person you’re speaking to will rebuff you or tell you that you’re wrong, that you’re hysterical, that you’re insane, that you’re irrational. Even though it can be so scary peeling away your shell to reveal your soft insides. Because your friends, the people who truly love you and encourage you and support you- they’ll listen. They’ll hear you. And the most beautiful thing? You open up opportunity to let them talk, too.
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life