The moment I say it I want to take it back.
“Damsel in distress.”
Fucking fuck, no no no. NO.
In any case, the door has jammed and I need assistance. Two men have materialised. Game on.
The feisty feminist deals out rope to hang herself. “I’m a damsel in distress,” I say without thinking.
Yes, I am in distress. I am complicit. I don’t have the answers. It’s easier to just go along as I’ve gone before. Challenge and change are so fucking exhausting for everyone involved. I’m getting tired.
My head is still buzzing from the earlier part of the day. My dad is in my head again, sitting at the head of the table, talking at me, telling me what he thinks, expecting me to listen and to agree. He holds his nightly bowl of ice cream and waves the spoon around in the air for emphasis. My mom is up on her feet, clearing the dishes from the table and running hot water into the sink for the washing up.
Mom and I did the food shopping earlier, she had picked me up at the house en route from her day at work. We stayed for a few minutes in the car park after loading the groceries into the boot, sat together in the front seat and shared a secret bag of popcorn. “Don’t tell your dad, okay? He doesn’t like me to eat popcorn. He thinks it’s not good for my weight.”
Popcorn? Seriously?? Enjoy that ice cream, Dad.
With the exception of my mother, on her feet clearing the dishes, we are all trapped at the table listening to Dad tell us about what he thinks. It goes on too long and there’s no room for anyone else.
At Dad’s funeral, my brother delivered the eulogy. He too remembers those interminable monologues.
My father liked to lecture us. We all knew the agony of hearing him go on and on about some article he had read; we all learned to listen for his train of thought slowing down as it pulled into the station so we could de-board without hurting his feelings. Because if you weren’t quick on your feet, he’d get on another topic and you’d have to ride to the next town with him.
When I was young and angry I’d stalk off, or I’d nod my head and ignore him. But as I grew older I learned that if you had the intellectual energy to meet him head on, you could turn the lecture into a discussion, and even if you didn’t, you could filter out the rhetorical excess and come away with some remarkable insights. If you believe, as I do, that a man’s only true legacy on earth is what others learn from him, then my father left behind a great deal.
I’m not young anymore but unlike my brother, I’m still angry. I had the intellectual energy all along but I wasn’t supposed to use it. Whenever I tried to meet Dad head on in discussion, I was told to calm down.
However, let me make this clear to you. Guys – men, boys – I’m not angry with you. Really I’m not. I’m angry with me, for being complicit – for allowing so much of my life to be molded into the shape of a good girl, a pleasing woman, an unthreatening woman, a damsel needing rescue.
And you? What shape have you spent your life trying to fit into?
The sort of compassion that is useful to men and boys seeking to escape a world of violence, misogyny and emotional constipation is not the compassion of a priest who forgives sins, but of a doctor who looks at a suffering idiot who waited too long to get an oozing wound checked out and says, firmly and accurately: I’m afraid this is going to hurt.
Of course it’s going to hurt. But then, it hurts already.
(Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things)
Seriously, guys. This is a truly heavy door. I’m going to need some help to get through it. And yours is pretty heavy too.
Perhaps we can help each other?