This is a story about two people I barely know, neither of whom have showed up on this blog by any other name, FWIW.
We will call these people "Boyfriend" and "Girlfriend."
I met "Boyfriend" at some point hanging out at the game store where theCSO spends a lot of his time. I am not much of a gamer, but I do play occaisionally, and the first thing I noticed about playing games with boyfriend is that he tended to take over. He was what gamers call a "rules lawyer," meaning that he was given to frequent and excessive arguments about the rules, and boyfriend was bossy to boot.
It was that self-fulfilling bossiness that makes itself necessary by annoying everyone else in the game enough that they stopped paying attention and thus needed to be prodded somewhat to continue playing.
I did not enjoy the time I spent with Boyfriend at all and was dismayed to see him at a party tonight with "Girlfriend," who was, of course, his Girlfriend. Girlfriend was attractive and lots of fun. She seemed like a really nice person as she and I were talking. She is interested in getting into Information Technology. (She came off so well that TheCSO mentioned later that he'd thought of helping her look for a job as that's his field, too.) She is an immigrant, though her English is perfect, and she speaks several languages, mostly dialects of Chinese. I mentioned that by best guy friend is a linguist and she said she found linguistics interesting.
Then Boyfriend came around and all of the sudden this lucid, rational person became Marilyn Monroe after a severe head injury. She held her cards limply in her hand, looking over at boyfriend with bovine eyes.
"I don't have any good cards at all..." she whined in the voice of a pouting little girl.
"Aww... Honey... You had good cards last round?" Boyfriend said in that tone of voice I can't stand it when men use, the one that says "It's not your fault you're inferior."
It was exactly like that for the entire party. Girlfriend pouted, giggled, whined and batted her eyelashes whenever she was within six feet of boyfriend. There was public baby talk. Occaisionally she parodied the accent of her country of origin, which boyfriend (and most of the rest of the party) seemed to find hilarious. I was deeply uncomfortable with it. I realize I'm not on the same bus with most UUs on anti-racism, but I'm not completely insensitive to such issues. I particularly despise it when someone of another race makes fun of their race for the amusement of white people. I don't laugh, mostly I am deeply embarassed that they feel they have to do that and that they think I am racist enough to laugh. (I devoted an entire post to an analysis of this a couple of months ago.)
Anyway, Girlfriend really seemed to be two different people. The few times she left boyfriend's side, Girlfriend could quickly take charge of situations and respond reasonably.
Have you seen A Doll's House? Remember the beginning, when Nora walks on stage like a woman doing serious business, then is reduced to submissive kittenhood the moment Torvald shows up and calls her his little squirrel? That was Girlfriend.
Failing that, if you've seen the X-Men movie you know that in it there is a mutant kid with a special de-mutanting power. Whenever the superheroes get within ten feet of him or so, they lose their powers until they walk away from him again. That kid drains the spiffiness out of everyone around him. That was Boyfriend.
I got a few moments alone with Girlfriend as we walked out to our cars. As we all know, I am congenitally unable to leave well-enough alone.
"You're really two different people," I said.
"I'm lots of different people," she said. Then after a pause, she added "It depends on the situation."
"Seems to me it depends more on the company." I said, keeping my tone as light as I could.
Right then, Girlfriend dropped some of the things she was carrying. I couldn't help but note that the helpless little girl had come out the moment the conversation got difficult. I helped her pick them up and let the issue drop, but I hope she thinks about it.
Thinking about them depresses me a bit. I can't help but imagine them married, with him being forced more and more into the dominant role by her affected helplessness. His resulting forcefullness will have her playing the needy little girl more and more. IMHO, those two are really poison for each other and they will make one another more and more pathological the longer they stay together.
TheCSO and I discussed this on the way home, citing examples of other women we knew who seemed to feel that they had to play dumb to attract a man, sometimes using their feigned stupidity to get things they wanted. I found myself feeling bad for both sides. Surely these behaviors must put the men in these women's lives under a lot of pressure. Self-fulfilling stereotypes.
I hate that. I don't even know these people all that well and I hate that. I hate it even more when I have close friends who have married badly. Two people who are both competitive about stupid stuff. Two people who are both passive agressive and afraid to communicate.
Tonight, TheCSO followed me into the bedroom where we talked some more. Somehow, we got to where were discussing where the line between human rights and religious self-determination should be and finished of the discussion with a quick exchange over whether capitalism was the ultimate end of all human economic endeavors or whether it was simply the first economic system that really seems to lead to most people having better lives and thus the example everyone followed. (And still, as far as I can tell, nobody has a better idea. I've known liberals to seriously romanticize communist countries, but I've never met one who actually wanted to live in one.) In retrospect, I recall it felt quite natural to slip into the intellectual discussions that are theCSO's and my marital tango. Like a dance, our discussions aren't competitions but feel like mutually-created works of art. We bring together what each of us knows about a subject and try to make something better out of it.
The argument petered out and theCSO and I headed off to our respective computers. But before he left the room, theCSO turned to me.
"You are so much fun to talk to and I love you so much!"
Will Girlfriend ever know the tenderness I feel tonight as I type this, will she ever get that being loved for being good at things is so much better than being tolerated because you're not threatening? I hope so. I wish it for her.
I wish it for everyone.
Yeah, this is pretty unfortunate and it's really common. The DH and I have conversations like yours and CSO every time we are together, and instead of me having to hide my personality around him, I can really be myself.
Do all those people who are trying to reinstate "a woman should be submissive to her husband" want us all to return to the type of relationship you described? Would they really like it?
I knew a man (an annoying male chauvinist as it happens) who, at brunch with a bunch of people was going on about how American women should be more like Japanese women, quiet and submissive and pleasing. I started to say it would bore him when someone told me the guy's ex-wife was Japanese and he divorced her because her submissiveness bored him. He still doesn't see it apparently.
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