Pain

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

One day in springtime, as I was sitting in the urban train heading to Praterstern, I overheard a brief conversation between an Austrian mother and her child. She said something like “don’t do that, or you might get hurt” and he promptly replied “Männer haben keinen Schmerz, nur Frauen”, which means “men feel no pain, only women do”. The readiness of that answer caught my attention and I  wrote it down on my smartphone, right before getting out of the train.

We are not here to put on trial the innocent words of that child, are we? Right, but the message that child has given is the one he has been educated with, namely that men feel no pain, whereas women do. Taken literally, this statement is clearly wrong, independently of that child’s imaginary about men and women. But sometimes, messages aren’t to be taken as statements about the world. Sometimes, messages have an active part in shaping the world.

An education based on messages such as “men feel no pain”, will induce in children the idea that, in case they do feel pain, something is wrong with them. Afterwards, they either start doubting the truth of the statement, or they adapt to it, either hiding the pain, or repressing it. Children, however, usually lack the ability to critically question the teachings they receive, and many adults too. As a consequence, it is by far more probable that they will “stop feeling pain”.

Think about it. How many of such messages do children receive on a daily base? “Men do not cry”, “men do not complain”, “men do not show weakness”, “men do not talk much”, “men protect”, “men own”, “men are powerful”, “men ought to make the first move”, “men are easy going”, “men are uncomplicated”, “it is acceptable that men be slapped by their girlfriends”, “men have uncontrollable drives”, “men are rational”, “men are violent”, “men obtain what they want”, “men ought not to be feminine”, “men drink beer, not cocktails”, “men ought to pay for their partners”, etc.  Now, change the word “men” with “women”, negate every sentence, and you will obtain a whole set of “teachings” about women.

Many find such talks outdated, and not reflecting the contemporary reality. Still, the episode I reported took place few months ago. I still see wolfpacks of loud men, shouting at girls, hiding their lack of individual identity in the strength of the group. I see the effects of the hashtag-campaign “me too”, launched by Alyssa Milano after the Weinstein’s scandal, to spread awareness on the extension of the phenomenon of sexual abuses on women. Two simple words, no long feminist talks. But when I see them on the social profiles of friends of mine, my heart cracks.

I have heard people criticizing feminism for being the movement of prevarication of women over men. Those people call themselves “egalitarians”, for they do believe in equality of men and women. And forget about the actual status of the societies we live in.

When talking about racism in a previous letter, I said that it was impossible to claim that you are not racist, if you have been raised in a racist society. Racism shapes your mental asset to the point that even your perception of reality becomes racialized. You don’t see people “equally”, you very often see races. The only thing you can do is to be anti-racist.

From this point of view, “feminism” is similar to “anti-racism”. If you have been raised in a society where sexual harassment is often called “compliment”, where men don’t feel pain, where wolfpacks shout at girls and “men drink beer, not cocktails”, there is no way for you to be an egalitarian. That’s a lie. You MUST be feminist, and fight the oppressive system women AND men are still caged by. Otherwise you are an accessory of that system.

Many modern feminist campaigns invite men to take part in the endeavor of dismantling the oppressive gendered structures our lives are still constrained by. “HeForShe” is one of such campaigns that gained great visibility thanks to Emma Watson, among others. I praise the merits of these proposals, but I also think that a new wave of feminism should specifically focus on men. Target them. Help them. Make them find the strength they are constantly deprived by their gender role, which is at the same time their privilege and prison. We need a whole society “ForHim”, because “Männer haben Schmerz, genauso wie Frauen”. But who is stronger between those who hide their pain and inadequacy and those who have the courage to write „me too“?

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

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Possession

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Back to when we were used to go clubbing together, to lay down on the grass side by side in early summer, and to find mutual comfort in the arms of one another, I was also used to consider you mine.  You were my friend when I was alone, my happiness when I felt lost, my confessor when no one seemed to understand me.

The possessive adjective “my” acquires a special meaning when it refers to people we particularly care about or relationships of mutual affection. Indeed, we don’t use it only to designate material possession, like when we say “my t-shirt”, “my bank account”,  etc. It can express an almost infinite number of relations, in which the possessor is not necessarily owning the possessed thing, like when we say “my hometown” or “my university”. It is interesting to note, that the relation of “belonging to” implied by the possession is not unidirectional, because a t-shirt belongs to me, whereas I belong to the university and not the other way around.

My professor”, “my parents” and “my volleyball team” are all examples of social relationships. At a first glance, it could seem that “my friend” falls neatly in this category. And for most of the cases it does.

But when I say that I considered you mine, I don’t talk about a social relationship among others. I want to characterize myself as a possessive person. You were mine because I was jealous of our friendship and I kept it as something inestimable, a deep and complicated feeling locked inside my heart. But most probably I was also jealous of you as a person.

Jealousy can be the natural side effect of affection, but it has devastating outcomes if brought to its extreme consequences. It is because of jealousy that most “crimes of passion” are committed. Jealousy is a constitutive part of the patriarchal power of men over women and it is strictly linked to greed of specific intersubjective relationships. It’s not surprising that Christianity, taken as the religious phenomenon which has legitimated historically countless forms of hierarchies and conservativisms, forgot to put jealousy among the seven deadly sins, but not to fight the subversive (even if perverse) potential of envy.

What about being possessive? Is it necessarily a bad thing? It obviously is if the sort of possession is of the same kind of “my t-shirt”. But, as we have already seen, the adjective “my” can govern both directions of “belonging to”. So, when I say you were mine, I mean not only that you were belonging to me but also that I was belonging to you. This very peculiar kind of friendship is based at the same time on possessing and being possessed. What is possessed is not an external individual, but the reciprocity and the feelings it gives rise to. And among these feelings, jealousy is certainly one of the most recognizable.

Thus, when I say that you were mine, I say more about my status than about yours. I don’t say anything about you being “owned”, but rather about my being jealous, attached, needy and, on top of all, vulnerable. Was our friendship worth the costs?

I think that, sometimes, our lives are too a great responsibility to be lived on our own. Sometimes, it is just too hard to live as isles, communicating with each other only through naval expeditions. Sometimes we need to build bridges to enable a pacific invasion of ourselves, and to deploy part of the burden of living on other special people. This is the strongest remedy against loneliness, but it exposes ourselves to the threat of emotional dependence.

Yes, I think it was definitely worth it. And it is also now, as I begin to understand what it means to pay those costs for another friendship of mine. Still, I can’t wait for the time of being yours again.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha