“You’re going to be a terrible wife.”
I was 20 years old and I took my grandmother’s response to my refusal to make my male friend a sandwich since he was capable of doing it himself as a huge compliment. She’d been what amounted to my grandfather’s servant throughout their marriage and I had no interest in anything of that sort. What I didn’t shake off was the expectation of emotional servitude until another 20 years had passed.
One of the toughest things I ever do is expressing my needs and believing I deserve to have them met. The more secure I am in a relationship, the better I am at doing so, since I don’t have the same fear that I can say one wrong thing and they’ll decide I’m not worth the hassle. With less-secure relationships, I tend to attempt to do all the need-fulfillment to prove my worth, and it often leaves me feeling unfulfilled and undervalued.
It’s challenging as someone raised female to feel entitled to have a voice. We’ve been trained and told by women and men our entire lives to defer to boys and men. We were told not to speak our mind much or guys wouldn’t like us, not to be too smart or we’d intimidate and be undesirable, not to demand our due or we’d be bitches, not to ask too much of our partners or we’d be nags.
It was beyond inspiring to see millions of women (and gender-non-conforming and intersex and men) around the world using their voices and taking up space at the Women’s Marches this past weekend after the Inauguration–including in freaking Antarctica! I sucked up my crowd aversion with the help of a group of friends and participated in Vancouver, carrying a Black Lives Matter sign and feeling good about loudly expressing our discontent. I was humbled and acknowledge that as a white woman, I have a LOT of listening I need to do to those far more oppressed than my cis, middle class, privileged, Canadian ass. I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions but I henceforth resolve to listen more to vulnerable voices and do my part without getting defensive, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
In my personal world, I’ve been finding my voice more and more thanks to the confidence that being in my 40s gives me. I’m surprised how often I find myself incapable of expressing myself, how that old programming to be polite, to be silent kicks in, when someone crosses my boundaries–especially if I’ve expressed them clearly at least once–and how I doubt myself, then blame myself for having been in a position to have them crossed. Internal victim blaming For The Win!
The common wisdom has been that when threatened, the body’s response is Fight or Flight, but a third response of Freeze is extremely common, especially for those most physically vulnerable. For those physically powerful, kicking ass or getting the fuck out of a dangerous situation is a viable option, but for many, being as still as you can to prevent being more hurt than is absolutely unavoidable is the only option. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where the person I was with intended to hurt me in that way, but knowing that they could if they chose to, has shut me down into freeze mode on more than one occasion when someone has pushed beyond what I’d said was acceptable.
As I’ve written about previously, I’m not into anal sex, and in one circumstance, a guy I’d been seeing for a while decided to pay way more attention to my asshole than my pussy, to the point he’d pressed the tip against the bud and was jerking himself off. I was so angry. I’d made myself exceptionally clear that I wasn’t going to do anal and the wife he had waiting at home to hear about his date with me loved anal, preferred anal, so if that’s what he wanted, he could have stayed home and fucked her. Not to mention the thoughtless disregard of potential hygiene issue of ass to pussy contamination if/when he did eventually fuck me the way I’d consented to be fucked.
Did I throw him off me, yell at him, and kick him out? Nope. My doubts and fears–Had I not been clear enough? What had I done wrong to get myself in that situation?–left me frozen and I lay on my stomach on the bed absolutely rigid until he eventually noticed something was wrong and stopped. His explanation when I finally found my words to express my distress: he was teasing me.
I’d also been clear previously that I hate being teased.
There have been several other circumstances where crossed boundaries have led me to a similar shutdown, or sometimes just getting tired of expressing myself and going with some discomfort to get it over with sooner. In chatting with other women, nearly every one of them has had an experience with the freeze response, and the flood of shame and self-recrimination that comes along with it. Understanding that it’s part of the Sympathetic Nervous System’s automatic response–think deer in the headlights–is helping me to let go of some of the self-blame and put it where it belongs, on the person who crossed the boundary.
I’m almost never able to find my words in the Freeze moment, but I am getting much better at expressing myself clearly when the ‘crisis’ has ended, as well as deciding who isn’t deserving of a second chance and who is. ‘I told you that was not okay. Do not EVER do that again or this is off.’
My hope is to continue to throw off the programming I’ve internalized over the past four decades regarding how women are meant to behave. I’ve come a long way from where I was only a couple years ago in many areas. It’s been much easier to toss out monogamy and slut shame than it has deprogram the ‘defer to men’ setting when it comes to emotional labour, getting needs met, and demanding respect for my set boundaries.
Terrible wife? I’m going to be a terrible woman!