I need to learn not to read serious books when I'm feeling crappy, because they just make me more depressed. But, I still haven't learned my lesson, so I read Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin, and now I'm reading Odd Girl Out: The hidden culture of aggression in girls, by Rachel Simmons. They are both valuable books to read, but they're a bit anger-inducing for someone in my *cough* delicate state.
I get angry easily, but I don't know how to deal with it, so I tend to stifle until I can't stand it, and then scare Bob when I explode in private. I've experienced a lot to be angry about over the years (as have most people), but, like most women, I was taught that anger is a "bad" emotion, one that I shouldn't be feeling if I wanted to be a "good" girl. Anger scares people. Angry women make everyone uncomfortable, and the cry goes up that everyone should "just get along", so nothing ever gets resolved - at least in my experience.
Odd Girl Out explores this dichotomy between being a "good girl" and the perfectly normal emotion of anger, and how girls will hide their aggression under sweet smiles and non-physical bullying that they won't get called on. Punch someone, and you're a "bad girl". Shun them and start evil rumours, on the other hand, and you can preserve the facade of being a "good girl". In a society that deeply disapproves of aggression in girls, Simmons argues (I think rightly), that though it's incredibly destructive, this is the "approved" way, and is even considered normal, so nothing is done about it. She also argues (also rightly) that this is wrong.
(I find it evil and misogynistic to think of girls as being naturally twisted and cruel, but considering all the negative traits that have been laid at women's feet over the millennia, I am not particularly surprised.)
But reading the stories of girls who are still sufering as adults from the trauma of their school years, I feel great anger for them. I know how they feel.
In the SCA (you knew we'd get here; admit it), we have built up a public facade of "niceness" (we call it "courtesy", but what we mean is niceness), which publicly disapproves of anger, but refuses to ever deal with it. If someone reacts to the constant undermining and petty high school politics that seem to permeate every group, they are told they're the bad guy for making waves, while the real bully goes unpunished. It seems a shame to allow this juvenile behaviour to continue to traumatize people into adulthood, but until we actually call people on the carpet as a consequence of their undermining, we will continue to punish the victims, and allow the perpetrators to walk off, scot-free.
But I'm just mentioning that; it's not actually the focus of what I was thinking about. Too often, as victims of smear campaigns and gossip mongering, the victim begins to wonder if they really did do something wrong. In my case, I spent a long time in self-examination, and came up with nothing that would remotely warrant the kind of attacks I received. Next, I spent several years making speeches in my head, imagining what I would say to the people involved. Then, I realized that speaking would change nothing; the people involved would refuse to hear me, even if I was yelling it in their ears. I came to the point where I stopped blaming myself, and mostly stopped brooding over their behaviour, but I kept wondering what would have happened if I had stood up to them, instead of simply removing myself from their presence.
And it's only this last weekend thanks to reading these books, that I've made what I hope is my final step to putting aside a long and painful five years of my life; I am finally close to the point where I can forgive myself for not acting with perfect hindsight. I didn't react the way I would have liked; I didn't say what I "should" have said to shut people down from their bullying, and I wasted far too much time trying to make them see that I am a perfectly nice and reasonable person. There are a lot of things I should have done (in every situation that has been bad for me, I can see exactly what I sould have done in hindsight, but at the time, I was usually too stunned to react), but in the end, what I did wasn't bad, it just wasn't perfect.
I think there's a lot of pressure on women today to be absolutely perfect at everything. Failure is seen as complete; not a little bump in the road, but a derailment. The person in the mirror must be brilliant and beautiful and talented; anything less is nothing. And we internalize this pressure, and bring it to bear on ourselves when others attack. The first thing that goes through my mind is "what did I do wrong?", not "Lord help me, those fuckers are childish". I think I need to balance that out more. The same goes for anyone in the SCA who has received this kind of hate; "taking the high road" is all well and good so far as it goes, but it leaves half the equation unsolved. I am going to go out against the common wisdom here, and say this: You don't have to forgive the people that pulled that crap, but you also don't need to punish them; they will take care of that all by themselves (be patient; I've seen it happen). You need to forgive yourself for not managing the situation perfectly. When you forgive yourself, you can finally move on.
And never again trust those assholes as far as you can throw them.
I'm sorry; this entry would be a lot more coherent, but I've run out of energy to type.