Lately I’ve been feeling very sad for women and the ways in which we continue to structure our lives around men, even as the capital-F feminists many of us consider ourselves to be. I see how my girlfriends do not feel whole without the attentions and embraces of men, so instantly recognizable and often sprinkled with a little shame… as there’s a part of all of us that knows (or, perhaps, hopes) we’re worth more. More than the endorsement of the male public, and the specific men that float in and out of our orbit, treading water until they catch another, more-appealing wave.
It’s difficult and painful and confusing to be a smart woman, a somewhat self-aware woman, who continues to fall prey to this pattern—this sense of worthiness borne from male attention, its slightly different texture each time. It’s difficult and painful and confusing to see so many other smart, somewhat self-aware women, succumb to it, too… rifling through each male encounter for shards that might lead to a less elusive sense of self-love.
Of course we never overtly admit this, not wanting to impede on the unemotional, ever-confident, “chill” façade society loves to see women partake in. It’s more like a not-so-secret code, passing indiscreetly underneath so many of our exchanges with other women, exchanges that have a sense of resignation— “I don’t want to care about this, I know I shouldn’t care about this, and yet I do.” How tough it can be to face this persistent male power head-on, how much easier it is not to think too deeply about it… to keep going through the same motions we see all around us, women stocking their shelves of self-worth with trophies bestowed on them by men.
And to keep this up, we often settle for men who have no interest in seeing us properly, or much at all. We ignore their indifference and dive headfirst into their lives, filling all the empty space with a curiosity, an empathy, that isn’t shared. We date them for months and they don’t once ask us about our lives, don’t once celebrate our victories, don’t once consider that there’s another person seeking pleasure in their bed. We recognize and accept this because the bar is still so, so low.
Such denial is easy to swallow in the moment, when you’re being touched, paid superficial attention to. It doesn’t go down as easy when your lack-of-meaning (as a lover, a friend, and even a human being) is served to you on shoddy platter. All of the things you looked past, you brushed off, you put up with—the things that we women are constantly looking past, brushing off, putting up with—come back to you then like a splash of cold water to the face. And so on top of feeling gutted, you’re ashamed… for not raising the stakes when you should have, for accepting weak-willed bullshit in lieu of something more potent, for skimming over all of those doubts.
But there’s a lesson amidst it all, and a choice—to never ignore yourself again as a means of keeping someone else around.