Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Fear

I was seventeen when we first had the talk. The subject matter was our bodies, but it wasn't about how we were to change from children to adults. It was far more terrifying.

We were on year eleven snow trip. I remember the muted cold that followed us, even in the tiny cabin that the handful of us had occupied. I remember the tension, the revelation. I remember it suddenly making sense why one of my teachers and friends had taught us how to hold your keys between your fingers, and how to use different improv weapons.

One of the girls had been groped by a stranger on the ski lifts. So the female teacher who'd come with us sat us down and explained to us how we needed to be on our guard, all the time. It covered picking your seats on trains, watching your drinks, dealing with creeps, and where you should park your car at night.

In retrospect, the only reason why we had this talk at sixteen and seventeen was because we were from a conservative town, and a conservative school. They didn't know that I'd been catcalled from passing cars at thirteen. They didn't know I already had felt and known that fear. But there it was. We sat in that cabin, in the quiet, until it was time to go, and we left to have pizza. The fear stayed, though. It's still there.

I've been meaning to write about this for a while. A few months back, I had a conversation with a bunch of people about the rise of the 'strong female character'. The topic was concern, that the rise of such an unrealistic character would set women up for failure, frustration, and an inability to conform to a certain standard of womanhood. My addition to the noise was a need for such female characters, because of this fear.

What is this fear? It's probably important to define that now, after all.

As a woman, I am aware of my smallness. I am aware that in a fight against a man, unless there was a significant factor to tip the scales, I would lose. I am aware that I live in a world that is not safe. I am aware that I could be attacked, could be overpowered, could be raped. I am aware of my vulnerability, and I am aware of how in a lot of assault cases, the blame is placed on the victim for the incident.

This is not an irrational fear, that you could dissect. This is not an irrelevant fear, that you could dismiss. This is a very real fear, that follows you. I feel it resting on my shoulders, tickling the back of my neck, as I walk back to my car in the dark by myself, after work. Can I run in these shoes? Should I throw my first punch with my right or left? Would I be able to start my car if I've just used my car key to stab an attacker? Do I wear my hood up and hope that my over-sized coat disguises my gender, or do I wear my hood down so I can use my peripherals to track any incoming movement? Where can I put my hair so they can't grab it?

I once shared this with a guy. The look on his face and his response were genuine, unscripted. He'd never even considered that women had to think like this. He apologised that I had to feel like this. He held my hand tightly when we walked through a night-shrouded shortcut that I wouldn't have gone near with a six-foot barge pole. But it was a naive outlook at best, and a myopic one at worst. Because it doesn't solve the problem.

I'm not always going to have a bodyguard. I can't rely on there always being some dude around to fix my problems and save the day. Because there's not. That's not even a post-breakup cynical stereotype thing - it's a reality. Sometimes, you might have someone nearby. Sometimes it'll be another girl, sometimes it'll be a guy, sometimes you'll be hanging out in a pack of people. But that fear doesn't go away. It lingers in the back of your mind, like a rank aftertaste, reminding you that you are small in a bad way, and that you have to stay on your guard, all the time.


What is there to be done?

I don't think the fear will ever go away. There are times when it is safer, but for the most part, my brain will always check exit routes, the blown street lamps, and where I'll be when the sun goes down. When I'm on the train, I'll scan for the solo seat, because there's no room for someone dangerous to sit nearby. Despite how I'd love to go walking at night outside by myself, I know that it'll nearly never be safe to do so in the city, so I won't. And I won't wear shoes I can't run in. I'll blend, as much as possible. Then, if they can't see me, I might be safer. It's a lie we tell ourselves. But it makes things easier.

When we were in school, the girls had restrictions placed on our attire. Rash shirts or one-pieces on swimming excursions. Board shorts, if you got 'em. No thin-strap singlet shirts, low-cut tops, or short shorts on mufti days or camps. They told us it was for sun safety (a valid thing in Australia), but in retrospect, the choice was rooted in the same decisions that controlled our skirt length. I understand that the decision might have been made for our safety, but I don't think they protected us from danger all that much.

So what can be done?

I'll never stop being guarded. But making the in-between spaces safer for the vulnerable can be met from both sides.

I'm sharing this, so that the folk who've never had to consider what it might be like to feel the fear, to understand that it's there. That it doesn't go away, ever.

I'm sharing this because I want to teach the kids growing up now that people are to be respected and valued. That we're not just a collection of body parts for the amusement and use of each other. I want for us to raise a generation of protectors. And for them to raise a generation of protectors. But I'll teach kids how to be safe, too. Because I know that even if I taught every kid I met to look after other people, I know that I'd miss plenty who've grown up with the mindset that it's okay to use people. And I know that sin depraves the best of us to the lowest level.

In the meantime, I think it's okay for us to have well-rounded, female characters in our fiction - in case you were wondering about that still. I might have worked out where to park my car for my new job that isn't halfway down some nothing road with no lights, but there will be other car parks to navigate. There will be other train carriages to assess. There will be more creeps. And this will be true for others for a long time. So I think it's important for women to feel like they're allowed to be brave and powerful too. Because feeling vulnerable and powerless in a situation where you're so aware of it sucks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Legend of Angry Brooke

Story time. If you'd met teenage Brooke, you'd have met a very different person. I mean, all the nerdness was there, but there was a lot of other stuff too. Stuff which I'm glad I don't really have any more. Most of the time.

There's not really a greater purpose to this post. It's more or less just telling you about the years I spent as a Super Saiyan and how I try not to be like that now.

The Beginning: Granny Weatherwax and Nynaeve

I've always been a fairly rambunctious person. My darling mother mused out loud last year about how I 'used to be such a confident kid', before asking what happened, because that's not who I am now. (Which is a whole other topic, but we'll leave that for later.) But yes. You put me in my field, and I'll be a happy camper.

When I transitioned from homeschooled year 6 to mainstream school in year 7, there were a lot of things to work out. How to do schoolwork in a group environment. How to deal with the incredibly slow pace everything happened at. How to mesh with other people who understood the rules of social interaction better than I. And since I always was super serious, how to deal with the teasing. I was a tall poppy in my early years of high school, and didn't understand the 'teasing as standard action' thing. I had a fairly short fuse too. So, it didn't take much to get me riled up or upset. That and my general naivety were some pretty good reasons why I got bullied.

So, a short fuse, and a lot of fear, because there was all this stuff I didn't understand.

About 2005, I found two very interesting outlooks from different fictional characters. Since books were how I learned anything, I found the concept of anger interesting when it was presented in The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett.

In it, the wise and cantankerous Granny Weatherwax teaches Tiffany Aching, the protagonist, how to use anger to combat threats. When something threatens you, you can get scared, or you can get angry. If you get angry, you're more likely to do something about the threat. At least, that was the logic, as I'd perceived it.

The other outlook I'd encountered was that of Nynaeve from the Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan. Nynaeve is a mage, capable of mighty things. Only issue is, the only way she can use her power right at the beginning is if she gets mad. She's kind of like the hulk, but with waaaay more irritated braid tugging.

I learned anger as a way of coping with and responding to issues, especially when, in the same year, I learned that my friend group had invited me into their circle so they could 'adopt a nerd'.

The Heyday: Little Dog Syndrome

During my middle and senior high school years, I established myself as she of the short stature and short temper. I hung out with a bunch of guys in the year above, and since I was head and shoulders shorter than everyone else, it just meant that I made a lot of noise in order to be heard.

It was my niche, my slot, and I dug it. If you irritated me (which wasn't hard), it'd be easy for me to yell at you. I talked a lot of smack. I'd also kicked people who insulted me and slapped someone who'd called me just about the worst thing you could call someone. In retrospect, I was scared of being forgotten, of having people not take me seriously. I never wanted to be the butt of the joke, for people to laugh at me for being a maladjusted, naive little girl again. I just hid that fear under aggression.

In what was one of my more questionable moves, I remember challenging the biggest guy in my year to a sparring match, so certain I could win because I 'knew how to handle myself', despite the fact that this fellow was about 6ft and weighed twice what I did. My ambition and aggression went for it. Fortunately, this guy was wiser and more chill than I, and what would have been the smackdown of the year never came to fruition. Honestly, even looking back at that one, I'm not sure what my goal was. Some kind of 'beat the largest one, become the alpha' logic. 17 year old Brooke wasn't incredibly sensible.

The Decline: 2010

Getting out of school was a good thing. I went from the school environment to a TAFE course that was 100% women. Sure, there was still drama, but it was different. I couldn't solve my issues by yelling at them. I still solidly enjoyed sparring with a few close friends - these were titled 'poke fights' and were exactly what they sounded like. They were less frequent, since all of us were getting older and we were less on an even playing field. Plus, the one I versed the most had the same limb-to-body ratio of a daddy long legs. Or thereabouts.

But I'd started looking back on how I'd tried to use my anger to be treated like an equal during high school, and had realised that it wasn't that effective. The guy I'd challenged to a match? We never spoke. To this day, I've got no idea how he's doing, and that's either because we weren't all that close as buds by the end, or because I've felt too embarrassed and awkward about hunting him down on Facebook since. It's probably a little column A, a little column B.

2010 came to an end, and while I could still be counted on to hulk out in a pinch, I'd mellowed out significantly from what I was.

At Present: The Girl With Something To Prove

If you know me know, you'd probably know that I'm still fairly driven. I've got a few friends who enjoy antagonising me as well as any sibling. I've at least managed to learn how to take some of it with a pinch of salt.

I mean, I still have a lot to prove, but that's because I set insanely high expectations for myself (something which I am - with help - currently taking steps to disassemble, because it's about as healthy and sustainable as throwing a brick into a washing machine.) At least now, I don't flare up like touch paper. Comparatively.

The only issue I have with this now, is that it feels like in dissipating my anger, I've lost something. Angry Brooke didn't take crap from anyone, and wouldn't let herself be walked over. She had the resolve to get things done, and took risks that needed to be taken.

In disassembling that, it feels like when things arise, I just let them happen. I avoid conflict instead of seeking it out or headbutting it into submission. I miss that, to a degree. Angry Brooke got stuff done. 

At least, that's what it felt like. 

Angry Brooke was respected. 

Except, I don't think she really was. You know a kid with a short fuse in your class as a teen, you're going to find it funny to throw things and keep your distance. You stay away from her.

Thing is, in looking back on Angry Brooke, she was a person I wouldn't want to be friends with either. In the middle of my anger, I did things I wish I hadn't. (See: Challenging my 6ft classmate to a wrestling match and losing his friendship.)

I Also Said A Lot Of Stupid Things. (Which, when you capitalise all the words, sounds like a song by Fall Out Boy.)

So, hulking out meant that I got things done, but in the process, I messed a lot of things up. Because I wanted to stop burning bridges and having all the stupidity coming out of my mouth, I stopped. Or at least, I've mostly stopped.

There are times when I still feel the fire, still feel the urge to raise my voice properly - let the world be wreathed in flames and fear of the legendary Super Saiyan Brooke. But, those are the times I usually cope by sitting somewhere and listening to aggressive music really loudly. It's hard for me to make friends. I don't want to lose any more of them. Plus, I don't think that wanton fury is incredibly God-honouring. And I want to be doing that better. Honouring God with my whole life, that is. I can't lose control over something so small. So I won't.

Perhaps there will be a time and a place for this fire sometime in the future, when I've learned to refine it down to the white-hot flame of righteous fury. That way, the drive and the expression could work in harmony to achieve the goal, rather than skewing each other into a sixteen year old girl's aggression.

I want to get stuff done. I just...have to work out when is the time to fight to the last and when is the time to kneel. (That's another blog post in the waiting, really. Another conundrum that is a question I don't have the answer to - I just think it's a good argument to work out. Anyway. Spoilers.)

That's about it for this post. I can't think of a conclusion. I should be blogging more regularly soon. We'll see how that goes.

Brooke out.