I am sitting at the new artsy craft brewery, headphones in, laptop in front of me, and I am clearly writing. A man comes over, sits down at my table and expects me to talk with him. He asks if I want a beer. I say no, but thank him for coming over to say hi, so as not to damage his fragile ego. I had to take out my headphones and stop my train of thought in order to accommodate this conversation I did not invite.
I am dressed professionally, working in my own space, in my own thoughts. I just left the small town, small claims court where I filed against another man who tried to screw me over by calling his shitty work good enough, and me too hard to please. I accommodated him too by babysitting his kids while I paid him to tile my kitchen.
I have a history of accommodation.
My first boyfriend was in love with baseball. Sure he loved me, for three years, two months and some odd days, but he was in love with baseball. It was that third party in our relationship.
“Want to go to the movies Frank?”
“Sure, just let me check with baseball.”
We went to an indoor batting cage on Saturday nights. Not my idea of a nice evening together, but then again, it was my fault. I said it was ok, that I liked to critique Frank’s swing.
My second major relationship did not improve with age.
“Honey, can you take off work so you can pick up my ex-girlfriend from the airport so she can stay at my house all weekend?
“Sure Ed, I’ll play nice with your ex. And don’t worry Ed, it’s ok if you hug her first, stay up talking all night, and let your dad cook his famous French toast every morning for you guys in your pajamas.”
And when we were first dating, my husband forgot my birthday two years in a row, and then he left me in an email.
They say we teach people how to treat us. And while I know this must be true, who teaches us how to teach people how to treat us? The cultural norms and expectations we are surrounded by, the parent figures who raise us, the stories of those we idolize as heroes - those all inform our tolerance for how people treat us.
I feel this collective rage on behalf of all women who have been fucked over by men they trust or love. It is incomprehensible to me that men can feel so entitled that betraying a woman is even in the realm of possibility. Because it is mostly not for a woman, and almost certainly not if she is a mother. We are almost never the ones to go batshit crazy and "leave" by whatever method is the flavor of choice. We really don’t even have "leaving" as an option as we are expected to be the ones to keep it all together when the other person leaves. And if one of us does "leave" her sanity, or motherhood or relationship or drops one of the billion balls she is juggling, she is harshly, immediately judged. Because according to the rules of the toxic feminine expectations we are raised with, women are meant to be accommodating.
As I look across the bar, I see a male version of me. Headphones, laptop, craft beer. Will he be interrupted? Can he finish his song and train of thought? I was planning to be here for another 2 hours. Plenty of time to enjoy another craft beer and drive safely home. I am unsure if I go up to the bar, with its male guard squatting at the entrance, if I would invite more attention. If I have another beer, would I be dulling my senses? I am wearing a shift dress. It does not allow much give to accurately administer a literal kick to the balls if needed. Maybe I should find someone to walk me to my car...
Laptop man just left unaccompanied, with not so much as a glace over his shoulder.
So now I sit here writing, intentionally not looking at the single man who intentionally sat in my line of sight and is trying to make eye contact. I think about the meme “sorry, not sorry.” What is that? Is that thanking the guy for interrupting me? Is that feeling guilty that I will not look at eye contact guy who is clearly getting impatient? Is that accepting sub-par work from a bully contractor just because he calls me names? Or accommodating bad behavior in a relationship because I was taught to be happy with the scraps thrown at me? Apparently, I must apologize for not being sorry. Even an act of defiance needs to be couched in accommodation.
I get a little ragey when I think about the ways in which I have accommodated in my past, and maybe continue to do so presently. This rage used to be directed squarely at men for their entitled existence. But if I can say that my accommodating behavior can be blamed as toxic femininity and a product of my cultural upbringing, then men of course can claim the same.
There are so many very angry men alive right now. I used to call them manbabies, and in some ways that still fits. Hurt, scared little boys who were not taught how to become real men, just as I was not taught how to become a real woman.
My young sons and I once witnessed a neighbor get out of his car to scream at another neighbor for some petty reason. He tried to make small talk with me after to make up for his bad behavior. I told him that I have been trying to find good role models for my sons. And these days, they are few and far between - especially men. This time I did not accommodate. I did not make excuses, because my sons were watching. They needed to know that the man behaved badly, and they needed me to act with full, healthy feminine power to protect them as a mother.
The act of sacred right of passage for a man no longer seems to exist beyond religion or other club initiations. And beyond the fear and humiliation of a first period, women only seem to become women when they become mothers. Motherhood has sparked my fire to begin my return to the true feminine. Unfortunately, many men seem to run the other way when faced with fatherhood.
Western society has outsourced the responsibility of teaching young people to the entertainment industry, public schools, and peer pressure. There is no sacred welcoming into man or womanhood. No role models to teach us how to teach others how to treat us. We can now clearly see what toxic masculinity and accommodatingly toxic femininity look like, but where are the examples of real, true masculinity and femininity in pure form? Where are the role models? Can we heal enough to become our own?
I collect my things and stand up to return my glass and pay my tab. Mr. eye contact asks me to sit back down so he can talk to me. I say no, but thanks for asking, so as not to upset him too much. At the bar, I make eye contact with the bartender, and each of the male gargoyles. They give me my space, and I turn to leave. But, just before the door closes, the words of a catcall slip out with me.
I am grateful to find a place with rich soil to grow a community. May we take root, and flourish together.
All artwork, photographs, and content are original and created by @bia.birch unless otherwise credited.