Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feminism & Me
I'm still reading East of Eden and I just came across the part that I believe was the genesis of my recent exploration into feminism. It's a conversation between Abra, the sweetheart of Aron Trask who represents Abel in the Biblical metaphor of the book, and Lee who is the Trask's servant and one of my favorite literary characters ever.These lines spoke to me back when I first read them the summer after my senior year of high school and they've been incubating ever since:

"'I'm not being funny. He doesn't think about me. He's made someone up, and it's like he put my skin on her. I'm not like that--not like the made-up one.'

'What's she like?'

'Pure!' said Abra. 'Just absolutely pure. Nothing but pure--never a bad thing. I'm not like that.'

'Nobody is,' said Lee.

'He doesn't know me. He doesn't even want to know me. He wants that--white--ghost.'

Lee rubbled a piece of cracker. 'Don't you like him? You're pretty young, but I don't think that makes any difference.'

'Course I like him. I'm going to be his wife. But I want him to like me too. And how can he, if he doesn't know anything about me?'"

This has been a common theme in many (not all) of my relationships with people who consider themselves to be close to me. These relationships aren't confined to just the romantic ones, but friendly and familial as well. I've always been interested in people. Anyone willing to show me pieces of their humanness is endeared to me forever. It's  never been enough for me just to talk to people, I want to know them. I'm not a perfect listener, in fact, I'm not very good at small talk, but when I see a little piece of a person's soul I'm pretty good at finding the right follow-up questions to get them to share the more closely guarded parts of themselves with me. That, combined with a love of human imperfection has provided me with a few very close friends and many interesting conversations with strangers.

I'm proud of this talent. It's one of the few things I feel I'm really naturally good at and sometimes when I think about how my brain works and how I am I think it must be what I was designed to do. However, it becomes problematic when people (often boys interested in me) discover and like this one quality of mine and invent the rest of my personality in their own heads. I become a caregiver, a sounding board in their minds and not much else. Soon after, they start talking "at" me instead of "to" me. I've actually observed it happening mid-conversation and it kills my soul a little every time. It has been a long, largely unrealized dream of mine that someone will want to know me as much and in the same way as I want to know them. Which is to say, all the way through.
After some recent, back-to-back experiences with some of these (unintentionally) careless  people, I've started learning about feminism. Reading about the feminist ideal that women should be portrayed in the media and treated in real life like they are full, complete, complex human beings and not just objects and caricatures whose sole purpose is to interact with men or be a plot device was like coming home. I can relate. There's a common trope in popular media called the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl." She's the character you see in movies where a brooding, sensitive boy finds a pretty girl who's quirky in just the right way to pull him out of his rut and teach him how to enjoy life. Little time is spent developing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl's character by focusing on her motivations or aspirations which , sadly, turns her into just a plot device, or the means by which the male protagonist achieves a higher state of being. This isn't to say that  some movies whose demographic is geared toward women don't objectify men in a similar way. That happens too--I'm looking at you, Twilight series--but I'm talking about me right now and my personal experience dealing with boys who idolize Manic Pixie Dream Girl types.

I'm not saying I've been mistaken for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl myself much (definitely not since I hit 24) but I have been mistaken for being a person I'm not by no dishonesty of my own, just incomplete information. Some questions are hard to answer with just a simple phrase and when people know you'll really listen to them, they're impatient to talk about themselves again. Everyone likes to talk about themselves and I'm no different. Interest in me wanes after they get bored of me just being the wall they talk at or when I turn out not to be the person they invented.

So, I'm working on this speaking up more thing. And I'm taking a break from boys. I've always had an obligatory 6 month between guys rule so I have time to rediscover myself, and issues that went unresolved in the previous relationship don't bleed into the next one. It's good to be single and I enjoy it. It usually takes a little bit of time to remember that though. In the mean time I'm good at keeping myself busy.

P.S.- I started with the John Steinbeck quote because he's a man and could acknowledge that it was an issue. If one man can see it than others could too. There's hope for us ladies yet.

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