Forgiveness vs. Being a Doormat (Part 2)

Part 1, here.

tanaudel, in comments to my post on the “doormat” side of this equation, summarizes nicely a lot of what the difference really is:

It seems to be far less about being a doormat and far more about being strong and gracious.

She describes this as something that can only happen once the wrong has been acknowledged by the erroneous party, once forgiveness has been requested. I disagree with that for the principle reason that I think that granting forgiveness is about the opposite of being a doormat: being forgiving is about me. It’s about healing myself.

One close friend of mine talks about the concept of “resentment” as being “unresolved emotion” that keeps being “re-sent” around your body and mind. It circles, grows, festers, continues to hurt or damage you over and over and over again. Whether it’s been requested or not, I need to escape those feelings if I’m ever going to move forward. That’s where the strength and the grace come in–I can’t have peace from the feelings until I do it. And I can’t let my ability to find peace depend on having the request come from the people who have harmed me, especially knowing that some of the people who have done the most harm will never be capable of acknowledging it.

I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness in having to ask others for it, for pretty big reasons. When I did that, I had to remind myself over and over that regardless of how it was received, I was doing it so that I could be freed from the sense of guilt and shame that was entrapping me at the time. And regardless of how it was received, I was. Which sort of drove the point home for me that the forgiveness wasn’t really coming from my actions or from the actions of those from whom I needed forgiveness. The strength and grace came from elsewhere. In the same way, my forgiving others–especially if they haven’t asked for it or if they’re people I haven’t seen in years and will never see again–has absolutely no impact on them. I feel like it would be arrogant to pretend I had any power to grant them forgiveness or grace, as if I have access to some special spiritual source of energy that I can transfer onto them. I don’t believe that when it comes from clergy and I’m not going to believe it when it comes from me. But forgiving others–letting go, accepting, refusing to stay trapped in and defined by the past or by actions that were out of my control, deciding to be different–saves me. And that didn’t come from me, either.

I have real pain and legitimate reasons for anger in my life. I’ve been seriously hurt and seriously damaged. I say that not because it earns me anything, but because I struggle to write things like this without coming off like I’m moralizing or telling someone else how to deal with their very legitimate anger. I find that some who are inclined to preach forgiveness are not very understanding about the magnitude of some of these injuries, nor of the fact that above all else, forgiveness just takes time. I was certainly angry for a damn long time, and went through a long period of being destructive because of it. What I need in my life now is knowledge that there is a way out of that, and for that way out to exist and remain accessible independent of the actions or feelings of any other human being. To re-adopt bloggy lingo for a second, YMMV.

Another friend I have gets really upset, because she thinks I’m letting people continue to hurt me out of a sense that I need to forgive. I’ve had a couple of people recently who have said or done pretty hurtful things, but I can see exactly where the damage is coming from based on whatever baggage they have, and I want to let it go because of that. It’s not about me. If I’m going to be capable of having loving relationships of any kind (and there is a very heavy post on that topic that’s been building itself in my head for several weeks now), I can’t let those things re-send. Her point is essentially that sometimes, by thinking that way, I’m letting these actions and these people continue to hurt me, and I’m not forcing them to take ownership of their behaviour. I’m certainly not saying that being damaged makes it okay to do hurtful things to others or, on a much larger scale, to perpetuate abuse cycles, nor do I want to put myself in a position to have the same hurts happening to me over and over again, because that would be very much the doormat mentality. But for the sake of my own strength and grace, I have to forgive. I just do.

Not ignore the wrong, not forget the wrong, but also not wait for and depend upon the other to acknowledge it–acknowledge it myself, put it in perspective, decide how to stop the re-sending, and move forward. I’m absolutely terrible at certain aspects of this process most of the time. But if I couldn’t do any of it, I think I would lock myself in my apartment and never come out, literally or virtually.

Question: What Do We Stand To Gain?

Jill at Feministe links to yet another article talking about how rape statistics are exaggerated and proceeds to painstakingly take apart its logical flaws and rape apologetics. There are so damn many of these articles, however, and many of them include the notion that feminists are constantly inflating the proportion of women who have been raped. And as Jill points out, these kinds of arguments require all forms of mental gymnastics and contortions of reason in order to fit the statistics into the theory.

But beyond that, I really want to know what these people think are feminists’ motivations for inflating these statistics. This article is more straightforward about it than most, in that it explicitly spells out the claim that feminists are inventing rape where none happened. Feminists, apparently, are so desperate to believe that a crisis of violence against women exists, that rape is altogether too common, and that we need to work and work hard to stop it, that they will search for any means possible of making people believe that. When someone gets all anti-feminist about equal pay, or men’s rights activists start spouting off about how divorce/child support issues always benefit women, or anti-choice crusaders try to push through bills like the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act”, and they include statements about how the selfish, selfish feminists just want everything their way all the time, at least I can make sense of their arguments. They think women are asking for more money or unfair amounts of freedom or an unequal redistribution of wealth. They’re wrong, but I can see why they could imagine this cabal of feminists sitting in their ivory towers drumming their fingers and developing ways to strengthen the matriarchal stronghold on society, and I can respect that this feminist conspiracy at least appears to be made up of humans with standard human desires for power and money.

But those of us who apparently spend all our time inventing rape statistics and surveying women in order to convince them that they’ve been raped stand to gain…what exactly? I realize that people who write articles like this have never spoken to a flesh-and-blood feminist in their lives, but I’m beginning to wonder if they’ve ever even had a real conversation with a human being.

Betacandy was writing an article a while ago that included a reference to rape statistics and chose to use a conservative 1 in 8 estimate, rather than the oft-cited 1 in 4, which is a number that was reached independently by several reputable agencies, feminist and non-feminist alike (including Statistics Canada). Her strategy was to avoid getting sidetracked onto an argument about the statistical accuracy of the numbers when regardless of which is closer to the truth, those numbers are absolutely unacceptable. I’ve heard far too many women tell me their stories of rape and sexual abuse, not to mention the stories I have myself, and I never want to hear another one. Ever. I never want to have to. It does me absolutely no good to drum up statistics that only make the problem seem bigger and more hopeless and more universal and less worth fighting against.

Do they think feminists get paid on commission for the number of women we can get to disclose rape to us? What the hell kind of sense does any of this make?

If any one can provide an actual answer for what it is we are supposed to gain with this strategy, I’m all ears.

Forgiveness vs. Being a Doormat (Part 1)

Forgiveness is one of the most important concepts in Christianity, and to my mind, one of the most misunderstood. I’ve mentioned before that my church service features a number of “lay” preachers (ie. non-clergy), which means that we get a somewhat different perspective on a lot of things. A few months ago, a close friend of mine preached on social justice and included the statement that Jesus does, in fact, want us to be doormats.

I was bothered at the time and I’m bothered now by that terminology. My friend used the point that Christ allowed himself to be humiliated, beaten and crucified as evidence to support this statement, which he wanted to issue as counterpoint to Christians who justify their resentment or anger at others by saying that “God doesn’t want me to be a doormat”. I told him at the time that the statement he used is one that I frequently hear from women who are in the process of extricating themselves from abusive relationships, and that it’s an extremely important phase of asserting oneself, requiring constant strength in the face of a lot of people questioning and doubting and pushing you back. The church has too frequently been a source of that pushback, and while I know this friend and this church well enough to know that they would never say anything like that, I feel like some people in the progressive church community feel that we’ve done enough to counter those messages, that everyone understands that we don’t really feel that way. Which is essentially wishful thinking on our part, partially a genuine wish to get beyond that hateful stuff onto something far more positive, partially a tendency to bury our heads in the sand and forget the truly hateful things that are still said and done in the name of our faith. It’s preaching to the in-group that already understands that, pushing us higher, but as I told my friend at the time, he has no idea when the day might come that a new woman in the process of getting the strength to leave might walk in to our church, and he has no idea when someone we’ve known a long time might start finding the strength to speak about ongoing abuse using cryptic terms designed to test the water of how she’ll be received.

We are called to forgive. Forgiveness, for me, has been a process of being raised beyond the hurt and anger that was trapping me. One of my friends has a good description of the word ‘resentment’ as ‘unresolved emotion’, emotion that gets ‘sent’ through you over and over, cycling and festering and growing and continuing to make you feel it. Forgiveness breaks that.

My friend (the preaching one) was, to some extent, referring to the theory of non-violent resistance and “turning the other cheek”, which involves, in part, allowing your oppressors to abuse you while you refuse to respond in kind. It represents a radical misunderstanding of the concept to refer to this as “being a doormat”, because contrary to popular perception, non-violent resistance is not a passive act. It is resistance. The point is not just that you and your God and your conscience know that you’re the “better” party, the point is to draw attention to the dynamics of oppression and control, to gain the support of previously neutral parties. You have to counter the message that your oppressed group has earned violent treatment, that the dominant power needs to use violence in order to keep them under control for their own sake or in retaliation for violence that they started. It is a public demonstration of how power and control work, especially since refusing to react makes the oppressor realize he is losing control, he can no longer break you, you will no longer lay down and submit quietly, and he raises the level of violence accordingly.

It is a declaration of the fact that, while you may not be able to stop him from abusing you, you can choose not to be reduced by it. It’s a refusal to be a doormat. A “doormat” is stomped on, damaged and dirtied by being used. Christ was the opposite. Christ was raised by it, created something larger out of it, took the damage that was being done to him and used it to repair. There’s more to it than that, and the concept of martyrdom needs to be evaluated itself, but the semantics of doormatting vs. resistance are pretty significant to me.

Forgiveness brings another layer into the question, which is why there exists a Part 2 to come, on some day in the near future when it feels like emerging from my brain.

When Women Get Involved, Even Global Warming Becomes Quaint

Apparently, the NY Times had an article recently about “Eco-Moms”–women and/or housewives who devote time, energy and resources to environmentally friendly household management strategies. I hate registration, so I didn’t read the actual article, but Pandagon has one angle on why it’s pretty ridiculous on its face. The point that women become moral guardians and that it becomes a way to keep us from strategizing collectively or thinking about anything at all as a community issue is a very good one, but I’m more frustrated by another aspect of the article.

Whatever issue is being discussed, no matter how important, how serious, how deep and intellectual, how politically relevant…if women are discussing it, it’s a cute hobby, a lark, a trifle. The specifics of the environmental topics that are mentioned–anti-bacterial soap, locally grown food, laundry methods–fall right within the realm of those things that only women worry about and that therefore don’t really matter anyway, so we’re already on shaky ground, here. But more than that, because we’re talking about women, apparently it’s inevitable that what we’re really talking about is not having a political role, not making a genuine difference in the world around us, but rather..making ourselves feel better. The group is referred to as:

Part “Hints from Heloise” and part political self-help group

and a whole section of the article points out that

“Activism can help counteract depression,”

…as if the point to politics for women is inherently selfish and self-interested, not to mention shallow, just a salve for one’s personal dissatisfaction. When people talk about feminism being navel-gazing or self-centered politics, I feel like this is the kind of image that they have. And don’t get me wrong, feminism as a movement and as a mindset has done wonders for my personal happiness, self-esteem and serenity, most particularly in the area of rape recovery.Which is great, and is a huge part of the point of feminism in general. But it’s not why I’m a feminist. And my political beliefs as a whole are not formed on the basis of what gives me something to do, something to talk about, something that I can be proud of.

Basically, the rule is that if women are interested in it, it can’t be important. And if it is important, the women who are interested in it must be interested in it for unimportant reasons. Isn’t it cute when they try to get all educated and environmental?

I really need to make time to write something less sarcastic and hostile in the near future. Perhaps even spiritual. I feel like this stuff is draining my soul.

Lessons from Search Terms: The Radical Notion that Women are People

Of all the ways blogging teaches you about human nature, I think the strangest is suddenly having access to a few random moments in the mind of a few random strangers whose google search terms randomly lead them to your blog. Having the word “women” repeated all over my blog means the ones I get seem to show me these snapshots of young men (hopefully very young) in the midst of existential relationship crises. Good times.

So I learn some lessons, today’s being, from the individual who asks: “why ethics are used for women at work”, the reminder that apparently, it is a radical notion, because the question would seem to imply that these creatures called “women” should for some reason be handled by methodology other than “ethics”, often summarized in my mind as…not being an asshole.

Which segues nicely into the desire to provide a response to the gentleman who asked “Does being an asshole work on girls?” though I know the chances are slim that he bookmarked my blog and will be returning. The lesson I would like to provide in return is: only if you think of women as a goal, a destination, an accomplishment. Not as, you know, people with whom you might like to interact, entities that you might engage in a relationship of ongoing mutual growth and support. I’m trying to describe this in a way that gets at a layer underneath the typical “Nice Guy” crap, in that defining interactions, especially flirtatious/romantic/sexual interactions, in terms of what “works” has pre-established that interaction as a transaction, defined what you want out of the deal and reduced your conversations to a series of steps that you can check off on the way to “success”. And that makes me kind of sad for the random search term people, because they’re missing out on a whole world of real conversation and community and camaraderie, and because inevitably, it makes the vast majority of their conversations with women either irrelevant or failures.

Now, the lessons that our random search term friends will take from the other hits they get from their google searches lead us into another realm of study entirely. Much more advanced issues at work there. Definitely not a topic for the introductory class.

Stupid Racist Headline of the Day

Oh, Hamilton Spectator. When my expectations drop, you never fail to get worse in order to lower yourself to meet them.

This is the headline at the top of the front page of today’s issue:

Six Nations reaps bonanza in fees

Even before reading the article, this says to me: look at those greedy Indians, at it again. By now, they’re all just rolling in money, and they’re never going to stop asking for more of your hard-earned tax dollars. Residents of Ancaster–are you listening?

And even before reading the article, I know that whatever amount of money we’re talking about, it’s far from a windfall given the economic conditions at Six Nations, and even further given all of the ongoing and historical abuses we could be discussing. But when you read it, you learn that the amount of money we’re talking about is actually $70,000 total. Which, if it were being given to one individual, would maybe constitute a “bonanza”, but even then it’s debatable if we were talking about someone that was being repaid money that had been stolen from them and kept for decades previously. Since we’re talking about a community of thousands of individuals who not only have to support themselves but also maintain and develop infrastructure…

Yeah. “Bonanza”. Might as well have won the damn lottery. And that part is the only thing most people are going to read, especially walking by a newstand.

What is wrong with these people?

When the Way You Feel is Not a Valid Point

The feminist movement (not exclusively) has done a lot to legitimize speaking about one’s personal experiences. One of the most positive elements of feminism and feminist community, for me, has been the creation of space in which I can talk about what has happened to me, how I’ve felt about it and how I’ve recovered from it, the ways those experiences are connected to being a woman and the way they influence my inextricably female life. Not to mention the multitude of stories I’ve heard of other women’s lives that make me feel so much less alone, that give me a sense of hope about change and recovery and community and strength, and that help me find words to offer support to others going through experiences I’ve never had or having reactions to them that are different from mine.

The validation of personal experiences and reactions is an extremely powerful tool of feminism. This is one of the basic principles of “the personal is political”.

It does not, however, give carte blanche to make anyone’s “feelings” equally valid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen/heard someone in a comment thread or conversation defend an indefensible opinion by saying “This is just the way I feel. I can’t help it and you can’t challenge it. Isn’t feminism about validating my feelings??”

In a word, no. Not when those “feelings” consist of statements like “I feel drawn to having children, therefore it is a female biological instinct” or “I feel uncomfortable around black people, but it’s not really racist for me to say that” or “I don’t feel like what you’re describing is really rape. If it happened to me, I wouldn’t feel like you do, so you shouldn’t, either”.  See, because those aren’t feelings. They’re beliefs, opinions, thoughts, rationalizations, generalizations. They’re statements about the way the world works and the way other people think.

Consider this Purtek’s PSA: Just because you use the polysemous term “feel” to talk about your political opinions doesn’t mean they’re actually just your personal feelings. There are plenty of experiences and feelings that you can talk about and with which I would never argue, because there is no rightness or wrongness to them. They just are. They’re yours and what you see in them is all about you. But when you’re adding interpretation and projection and, yes, politics to your statement of “feeling”, then defensively noting “so you can’t question it/argue with it on any front”…you’re out of bounds.