I’ve had several conversations lately, which, in the way that they do, have merged with other seemingly random thoughts. These mutations are a raucous bunch of thought-gremlins (and yes, I totally feed them after midnight just before Bath Time.)But while these little monsters are unruly, somewhat destructive, and difficult to manage, I think that they show me valuable things about my life, my Self, and how I interact with the human landscape around me.
A fellow writer who creates delectable, intellectually-stimulating (ahem) erotica shared a call for submissions to The Dangerous Woman Project. The question asked is: “What does it mean to be a Dangerous Woman?”. While I’m sure the answers for this will be varied, my own response is tangled with those conversations I mentioned. So, below, I’ll sketch a bit of context for you.
A Woman Who Knows How to Use Her Words Is Scary, Apparently
Recently, I had cause to clearly and explicitly outline my basic needs when it comes to human interaction. This, oddly enough (not really) was done in a tizzy after some upsetting conversations with someone to whom I’d been considering growing closer. I’m a writer and a bit of a flibberty-gibbet when it comes to human interaction. I wander off and forget to answer texts. My phone is more often than not set to Do Not Disturb, because I work all the time and I don’t like to break my rhythm to answer a call. If it’s important, leave a message. That’s why I have voicemail. This is not my way of passively-aggressively punishing anyone. I just don’t feel I owe anyone an immediate response if they aren’t actively waiting for me to respond based on prior agreement.
I also have a bit of a problem with physical intimacy. My experience with the opposite sex is that they don’t understand the words “no” or “wait.” To most of them, “I need time” means five minutes before they resume trying to put their hands under my clothing or stick their tongues down my throat in public. Why can I not effectively communicate that I need time to adjust to the idea of allowing another human being to touch or invade me? Why is this such a problem? And perhaps most importantly, why am I seen as flawed or bitchy when I insist that only I am allowed to define what will or will not happen to my own body?
So, after some rather tense and unpleasant exchanges, I decided that I should just make it clear to everyone everywhere in my life what I need. I would use the simplest possible language and be painfully specific, at cost only to myself. No naming of names, here. I posted the following to one of my social media platforms:
Many people would classify me as a “Dog Person.” I certainly won’t disagree with that, since I’ve never met a dog I didn’t love. Unlike many others classified as “dog people,” I don’t seek physical affection as a means of personal validation, and unless you’re actually a dog, I don’t express affection this way. But the long years I’ve been alone have allowed me to figure some other stuff out about myself.
1) I soak up the personalities of those around me, so it’s even more important for me to select my friends and companions wisely. Toxic, lazy people make me toxic and lazy. Good people bring out the best I have to offer. So, if I choose to spend time with you, even if I don’t say it out loud, it’s because I admire and respect you.
2) To hell with chasing the attention of anyone. If you make time for me, I will certainly do the same for you. However, if you don’t, I won’t. It’s not because I’m angry or trying to punish you. The world doesn’t revolve around me and what I want. I know that. As adults, life gets crowded with projects and meetings. There are many demands on the precious resource of our time.
If you’re one of the aforementioned people I respect, I’ll greet you gladly when you return, but I too have things to do. If you want my attention, give me yours. If you have other, pressing business, tend to it. But please don’t expect me to continue to focus on you while you’re away.
3) Too much physical affection and attention I don’t specifically entreat make me horribly uncomfortable. It occurred to me in the last year that I’ve been trying to fit the mold of what I’m supposed to be as a woman in a partnership (whenever that’s been the case.) But as I’m the common denominator in all my failed relationships (and most of them end because I don’t toe the line of verbal affirmation and physical affection) I’ve realized that what I will need in any future relationship is someone who engages me first and foremost on the intellectual level. Physicality simply isn’t that vital to me. It isn’t the way I express love.
Alright, so, that’s clear, right? It shouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, right? It can’t possibly be misconstrued, right? Oh, oh, but wait. It can.
“It’s just not ‘Us'” and Other Disappointing Phrases
Shortly after I posted this mini manifesto, I had another interaction with a writer. Again, no naming of names. I will own that I find him incredibly attractive on a number of levels, and would entertain intimacy with him, if it had ever presented itself. At least, I would have. During this aforementioned interaction, he plied me with all manner of intellectual goodies–candy I cannot resist, and something I’ve made clear I interpret as a gift of intention. Because I didn’t want there to be any confusion, I asked him point blank whether he was wooing me with nerdporn.
He proceeded to tell me that he was not, all appearances to the contrary. Then he continued, explaining that he’d seen my social media post and thought, “Oh, she’d kill me.” You may imagine that I was rather embarrassed, mostly because I hadn’t meant to render things awkward between us. He’s a talented writer, and I have a great deal of respect for him. But the things he said made it very clear that we would be a poor match. How could I be angry about that?
While this might be a rejection of sorts from him, it was also a red flag that I would find him disappointing in ways that matter to me. I agree wholeheartedly that it would be a mistake to invest time and energy into such a pursuit. So, I was just going to have to handle my embarrassment and try to communicate that there were no hard feelings. I’m pretty sure I messed that up, because he hasn’t spoken to me in two days, and things were left on an awkward, unresolved note.
Why Does Self-Esteem and Self-Knowledge Make a Woman Dangerous?
Perhaps I should further refine that question. How does it make her dangerous to men and more specifically, to a certain type of man? I have found that, since I began building my own definition of Self, as unpolluted by the repressive and demeaning definitions of certain cultural structures as I could possibly make it, I am even less popular with most people. This cannot be because I am unpleasant. I was unpleasant before this, my humor harsh and cutting. It must be due to the fact that I am now far more comfortable with saying No. As well, I have no compunction about dismantling misogyny on the spot. So, I suppose I’m unpleasant in an all new and different way.
“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”
― Bette Davis
I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live their lives, unless that living has a direct and detrimental impact on the life of another. Then I am totally doing that. But for me, this concept of the Dangerous Woman as it applies to me is a bit startling. I’m simply standing up for myself. How is that scary? How does that tell you, “Oh, she’s terrifying. She’s a Dangerous Woman.” How is self-respect and self-definition in any way a problem for other people? Here’s where things get interesting.
These qualities are associated with men. When women assert their own personal needs as they pertain to their bodies, this threatens an entire structure built around the submission of women, who are raised, trained, and expected to subsume their own needs and desires beneath those of the men in their lives–family, employers, lovers and husbands. Women, it appears, are simply expected to cater to the needs and wants of men, however they appear in their lives. This is so entrenched that it is seen as natural. But there is nothing natural about it.
For them to say, “I don’t like that, and I won’t put up with it.” is shocking to some, but it’s not wrong or against nature. And while we’re on the subject of women exercising agency and valuing themselves, we should pause to consider how buried stereotypes hamstring the expression of self-worth. People like to discount the statements of women that they feel are harsh or rude or, in other words, masculine. There is never a wrong way to talk about your own needs or your body if it doesn’t hinge upon the harm of another.
When people cite these features of tone, vocabulary, or even body language as a reason for disregarding a woman’s statements, what’s actually happening is their internal structure built on misogyny is being challenged. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not hurting them and therefor is an invalid reaction. Because it’s not their reaction, but the rote litany of the social environment in which they were raised. A woman should be docile, graceful, meek. If she’s not–if she violates the cultural code and “behaves like a man”–she will surely be punished by whatever weapons the social institutions of misogyny can muster.
While I’ve long since grown numb to the nasty barbs that violating a cultural gender norm has to offer, I’ve found that it does preclude a great many privileges enjoyed by those who go along to get along. Like more established partnerships. I used to think I was alone because I was ugly. While I’m still pretty sure that my face and body are nothing like the illusory cultural standard, I’m alright with that. I’ve learned to see beyond my own blinders, and quite frankly, I’m not terrible to behold. Just bolder and more assertively limned. So, if my perceived ugliness is not the reason for my solitary status, what is?
It might be my talent for saying “No.” While I like the idea of being more open to life and adventure, saying “Yes” more often, there’s absolutely no reason I should feel pressed to say “yes” to anything I don’t want. Moreover, the fact that I know precisely what I want, have self-determined my own personal worth, and place it above the ego of any other human being is something I’m not going to regret or retract. (oooooh, super-scary!) It does mean I’m probably going to be single forever, though, because I have no interest in a doormat partner. I want someone who matches me, an equal. And while that will probably entail a rather tempestuous relationship, equality is worth that risk to me. Tranquility all the time is fucking boring.
So, at the end of this Sunday musing, I’m still not sure what it means to be Une Femme Dangereuse.
Perhaps it’s being a woman who thinks, who places value in herself, her opinions, and the workings of her mind. The French, whose language is solidly gendered, have no word for a female philosopher or professor. Both words are automatically given the masculine gender, even when the person to which they’re attached is a woman. The French term for a female philosopher is la femme qui pense, or the woman who thinks. Perhaps this is the closest I will come to understanding. To be one is to be the other.