One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

September 10, 2010


I don’t like tropes. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m so bad at small-talk. Maybe it comes with having a facetious sense of humour. As soon as I’ve heard something a couple of times, my humour sensor trips, recognizing that here is something that people say on automatic and those things are ripe for facetious mockery. I  find myself thinking, “reeeeeally? I bet if I examine this thing, I will find it full of things that, when considered literally, are hilarious.”

Then sometimes, so far from finding things that are hilarious, I find things that are just obnoxious because the majority of things that are said on automatic enough to become tropes, are said because they provide a satisfying platitude to a privileged speaker and not because it is actually true.

For example, when someone with a lot of privilege makes sweeping statements about the horror of domestic violence. Not that domestic violence isn’t horrible – but it is many other complicated things too and it becomes so easy to call it “shocking” or “horrifying” that most people do so without any deeper thought and certainly without ever actually being shocked or horrified, but with a great deal of satisfaction with themselves for the depths of their compassion (as evidenced by their extreme choice of compassionate words).

It’s easy to sneer at the fake compassion tropes, but one of the ones I’ve been struggling with is the real compassion that still turns into, “but that’s what happens to other people.” My aunt used to tell a story about a woman who, I don’t recall her exact circumstances, but she worked in some capacity with battered women. She was also, herself, in an abusive relationship. But she was able to be dismissive of her own situation because she and her husband knew better, knew it wasn’t the right way to relate, they were well-educated, probably pretty liberal, a certain class, she had all this pertinent education so obviously they would be able to work through it. She wasn’t like a real battered wife.

Last month I was looking at information on a book about teens and abusive relationships. What really struck me was review after review from people saying, “I really never thought my daughter could fall for this and end up in an abusive relationship. Please don’t assume that just because your family life is normal that your daughter is immune.”

I spent a long time thinking about that, weighing the degree to which I believed those “our family life was normal and it still happened to our daughter” claims – I mean, surely something made those teenage girls susceptible to being controlled. But then, if it was paternalistic parenting, how much paternalism is just the authority children need and how much is a toxic environment sabotaging their ability to stand up for themselves? As if you could sweepingly say that all good parents would know the difference. And if these parents cared enough to look for books that would help them help their daughters, surely they were caring enough to be considered “normal” (enough).

Eventually I realized I was writing off the parents of girls in abusive relationships as “those people”. The kind of people who wouldn’t do a better job of raising strong daughters and I concluded I needed to be a lot more open-minded about what my own children might be vulnerable to.

Since then I’ve been thinking more about this magical, “but we’re not those people,” thinking. That came together with a recent week where I was having problems with my eating again. This is the part that I was finding difficult to write yesterday – because I feel like it looks like I’m going to confess to having an eating disorder, but I’m not. Because I don’t. I’ll just establish that up-front.

What I am saying is that recently I’ve realized how much of my life I have been saying, “I don’t have an eating disorder. My eating is fine, obviously” but my only evidence has been the simple, “but I’m not those people,logic. I don’t have an eating disorder – I’m sticking with that, but I’m sure not as immune as I thought.

I’ve never been a dieter. And I’m totally an indulger – like, I could eat a giant bag of chips for breakfast nearly any day. But when I’m upset, I don’t eat.

Definitely there are foods that I love and times when I love food in general. There are sometimes when some foods can be comfort foods for me. But for the most part food isn’t comfort. If I’m upset, the sight or thought of food exacerbates the misery.

It was really bad when I was a teenager and in my early twenties. At the beginning of my first marriage, when I was first pregnant with Ethan, I worked really hard to get over it. I was alone in the house most nights – a situation which is most likely to make me not eat. But I made myself supper every night and I would sit down in front of the plate of food and coach myself, one mouthful at a time, through the plate of food: “Just get through the next bite. You can’t tell yourself that you’re too depressed to eat. How are you ever going to be not depressed if you don’t take care of yourself?” And eventually, I figured I had mostly broken the association. I had kids to take care of and regular supper-making was becoming a part of my lifestyle and so I would just eat with the kids, whether I was going through a rough time or not.

I didn’t really realize how much there are still times when I dodge meals – put food in front of the kids and go do something else, work through lunch, or whatever.

It’s not something I ever had to think about much before Ian moved in. Until then, I’d always lived in situations where I could avoid food and no one would notice. So I didn’t even notice. I was never intentionally starving myself, I was just avoiding something with unpleasant associations – staying busy with other things.

Now I live with someone who notices and comments when I skip meals. Makes worried faces at me. Consequently, I have to notice when I skip meals. I have, therefore, given the whole thing more thought.

In my late teens, I went to see a Doctor who told me I was six pounds underweight and asked if I had an eating disorder. I snorted derisively, “what? no!” Because, I’m like, immune to eating disorders cause I was raised in a feminist family.

And I talked snidely about this doctor for a long time afterwards (which she deserved because she also told me that she doesn’t believe in Fibromyalgia because she comes from a country where people are dying from real diseases), but also, when I told people about this doctor I would sneer, “fussing over six pounds? Seriously!” And I realized recently that what I meant was, “six pounds underweight is clearly not even underweight because – look at me. Still pudgy.”

Ah yeah. So weird. I mean, I clearly remember how pudgy I knew myself to be. Just this year, I realized that was probably not true.

Yeah, so, object lessons: I got none. Just, next time you catch yourself thinking the same old drama-sympathy about an issue, check whether you are applying your sympathy to a narrowly imagined class of people and whether your sympathy is open to nuances. Maybe spend a moment imagining it in a more immediate sense. I read an article once that suggested you can gauge a person’s racial tolerance not by asking them how they feel about blacks but by saying, “It looks like you might have some black heritage,” or “I read that [famous person they admire] may have had some black ancestry.” I mean like that. I mean are you thinking, “domestic abuse is horrific (and fine for other people, but it would never happen to someone like me because I would never stand for it).”

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2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Alison

     /  2010-09-10

    This is such a great post in so many ways that I can’t enumerate right now. And I want that window, so, so much.

  2. gish

     /  2010-09-11

    I’ve been wanting to write a post about domestic violence/abuse for a while but haven’t had time to do it properly. The sort of assumptions people tend to make about it are… interesting. To oversimplify, I think family dysfunction has a bit to do with it, but a lot more of it has to do with the abuser being a charming bastard (at first) and the victim not having the best self esteem. It happens to the best of us…


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