On some indiscriminate day, at some indiscriminate time, I listened to a radio interview that shifted my perspective. The celebrity guest, Ariana Grande, said something that hit me like a ton of bricks: “stop blaming women for the shortcomings of men.” The 15-second clip felt like a homecoming, the vehicle through which I was finally able to make sense of the many things I had felt in my relationships with men, whether familial, platonic, or romantic.
Newly broken up from Mac Miller and not yet engaged to Pete Davidson, Grande’s clarity struck me as that of a young woman who had freed herself despite “going through it.” Her words, not a lyric to some man-hating anthem, but the haunting, underlying beat of an undeniable, unwritten truth within the patriarchal societies of the world: that the denial of male culpability in situations they are wholly responsible for, shifts blame to women, subjecting women to lesser qualities of life, harassment, sexual violence and even, death.
“Stop blaming women for the shortcomings of men….”
Not only did I write down her words, as I do with anything that moves me, I essentially uploaded it to my psyche. Grande’s words guide the analysis of my rumination that day, the day that followed, and so on. Then and now, they elicit breakthroughs on situations I am still not fully healed from. Then and now, they allow me to be gentler with myself when (inevitably) considering the smorgasbord of character flaws I encounter in men, explicitly said to be my fault, my cognizance and self-lovingness aside.
Finally, a powerful, universal one liner I could put my finger on: “stop blaming women for the shortcomings of men.”
Then, after the passing of one short summer, Mac passed too. The words are still so hard to write, let alone, to imagine as reality. His heart shined through his talent in a way few rappers I’ve listened to have been able to master and even when theirs did, his felt just that much more effortless. His death made me think about how lucky I am to be alive, after years of struggles with disordered eating, depression, binge drinking, an MDMA-induced overdose and suicidal thoughts, all of which led me into therapy four years and some months ago, instead of into a grave. I felt horrible that he his life ended in the latter.
The disbelief remains but after the initial shock subsided, I immediately thought of Ariana and her words, which couldn’t be more revealing of the female experience in our overtly man-handled world.
Scrolling through the vitriol people threw at her over the Internet, my stomach turned; her words were used to imprison her with culpability for his death. The commenters (many of them men), declared, “you killed him.” Others wrote, “they couldn’t take Demi instead??” My anger, pre-heating to the seven-hundredth degree, found me praying for her and even the heartless, often icon-less bozos on the Internet.
Then came the nausea.
So much like the nausea I felt after it became frightfully apparent that first man I was strong enough to love unapologetically and unconditionally, wasn’t the great guy he so desperately wanted to be–and painted himself as.
The ILY’s, introductions to members of his family and long-term friends that shouldn’t have been made and the intentions he spoke of, but took no action to make a reality, nauseated me for days on end. I was floored by the humiliation of the reality that “he couldn’t be all in with me now, but would be ready in two years,” in similar ways as I was by stupid people on the Internet. The only difference was, I hadn’t made what felt like a lifetime of memories with these people, or traveled the world with them as I did with him, and I certainly hadn’t engaged in multiple conversations about our lives and the life we could create together. At times, the magnetism between us was so strong that observers, whether friends or strangers, approached us to say that we seemed to be so in-tune, we could only see each other in a crowded room.
Furthermore, flashbacks to their being, words and actions didn’t confine me to my apartment for a week because I was so weak and so broken by everything that had happened that I couldn’t survive as much as a glance from a stranger on the street. I was terrified of what they would see when they looked at me; the feat that I would be as worthless in their eyes, as his actions and words suggested I was in his, kept me inside my tiny studio in Los Angeles.
And here I was, “the strong friend, the fearless daughter, an exemplary young woman,” pleading with God, blankly staring at walls, feeling worthless because I did exactly what Ariana said I must stop doing: allowing men (especially those viewing the situation from afar), to convince me that I am to blame for their shortcomings. As devastating as that experience was, I’ve heard of, and even observed by proxy, women loving men who were far worse than he was; a kind-hearted person I just happened to get involved with at the height of his self-sabotage.
I still hope he metamorphoses into the incredible person I had the privilege of experiencing so intimately, solely for himself and no one else, especially not me. Nowadays, I see my value so clearly that not only am I sailing the ship, I’m working on wrecking on it altogether. And though, I have forgiven and have come to terms with not being able to forget, I’ve wised up to the game he and so many men engage in: The Fe(Male) Blame Game.
The game occurs as follows: he, the flawed guy who “needs to grow up,” he, the guy “you’re too good for,” as per his faux-friends (often the ones waiting to take his spot–stay woke), or family, convince you that you should’ve known better than to give him the time of day instead of urging him to take responsibility for his actions and his struggles in life. Because how dare you show up in his life, trying to be the most positive, supportive person you could be to him?
How dare you ignore the inconspicuous warnings? How dare you try to assist in fixing all the leaks in his house, after discovering his house isn’t standing on the most stable of foundations? And to make matters worse, like the nightmarish, antithesis of Bob, The Builder, after all you’ve tried to help heal, he sets you on fire…only to expect you to mix the plaster he mindlessly slings at hole-ridden walls. Fed up with his lack of care, you start to realize that at the root of the this pernicious, cultural phenomenon is the male ego.
The same male ego that forces women into culpability for more than just our heartbreaks, but even for our character assassinations, for the limitless micro-aggressions thrown at us, for our harassment, and sadly, our rape, and our murder. The Fe(Male) Blame Game allows us to be the creator of our own downfall, while men are “just boys being boys,” or “didn’t mean any harm,” when they’re violating us and our personhood in stunningly harmful ways. By complex, men are entitled to the throne and more, even when they’ve ground up bones of women come and gone for the sole purpose of creating one to sit their undeserving ass on.
Save labeling me as an angry man-hating woman, for that I am not. I love the men in my life unconditionally, so much so, I unapologetically hold mirrors to them, and nothing more. What is revealed in doing so is their responsibility to fix. Instead, label me a mere observer of the patriarchal society that initially caused me to build a shaky foundation for my own house, until I gained the bravery to tear it down and rebuild one made of self-love, of the love of God, a faceless, nameless life-force and of the bravery to be seen and heard in a world that often shields and shuts me up: a house made to last
However, I am angry at the detriment the male ego continues to create in a society where #MeToo isn’t a witch hunt but a reality. Even beyond that, there’s the gender-wag gap, the perils of childbirth, the limit of opportunities that come with child-rearing, the daily mind f*ck that you absolutely need to look like that model, smile all of the time and embody vulnerability so that a man can swoop in to save you; an action you must then reward said savior with pleasure so good, he even starts to lose interest in his favorite pornstar.
This anger damn near caused me to implode this week, while listening to two stories play out on Capitol Hill: one of an exemplary woman, Dr. Julie Blasey Ford, who also bears the title, survivor of sexual assault, which per her testimony, robbed her of peace of mind that her body is hers and hers only, her spaces are safe and that her society values her–something she cannot get back; the second, of her abuser, Brett Kavanaugh, a man attempting to cash in on the white male privilege he received a number for at birth despite his arrogant attempts to dodge arbitration, his agitation in not being above the law and his aggression in lieu of the rightful realization his actions are choices he made that make him wholly unfit for the Supreme Court seat he petulantly seeks.
I am angry that the male ego residing within Kavanaugh also resides in so many of the men I’ve rubbed shoulders with.
Within the enclaves of academia, a young, white male had the gall to say to my face that the only reason I matriculated at Boston College was because I reaped the benefits of affirmative action with my black skin.
Within the enclaves of white, patriarchal society, the last boss I had before starting my first business, audaciously told me that quitting is a mistake, though the position was bankrupting me mentally, emotionally and physically. “You know this is the only chance you’ll get to be an entrepreneur,” he quipped; I retorted that I’d send him a signed cover of my Forbes cover.
Within this society, I am subject to catcalling, told to smile by men I don’t know, forced to grapple with being perceived as not so smart thanks to my large breasts, or gorilla-like, or always angry (because black women always are, right?), or too smart to date due to my inability to not have the wool pulled over my eyes.
As a woman in this world I have experienced weeks of sexual harassment from a black man I considered a friend up until that point. I have also experienced a black man fix his mouth to suggest that if I were “10 years older, I’d be his wife.” As a woman in this world I have experienced a black, male TSA agent loudly proclaim, “my fiancé is coming through,” as I made my way through a crowded airport security line. I was 13. And traveling with my grandmother. To say we were both horrified is an understatement.
Yet, I remember thinking, well, “maybe if my shirt hadn’t been so low-cut,” revealing breasts larger than the average 13-year-old, “this wouldn’t have happened.” My tendency to blame myself for the way men treat me had been programmed into my neurons long before I realized it. My tendency to blame myself for the way men treat me is still something that percolates but now, doesn’t go unchecked.
That tendency plays out everyday, for every woman just to varying degrees. It’s the need to double check that the skirt isn’t too short, or that you didn’t send the wrong idea by being “too nice.” It’s sharing your location with more than one trusted person at all times, just in case. It’s knowing not sitting on men’s laps after you hit age 8, even when they’re “trusted.” It’s the inability to go anywhere without looking over your shoulder and quite frankly, the reason I personally started boxing because when push, quite literally, comes to shove, I’ll do everything in my power to not be the one on the ground.
It’s the art of rebuffing advances with seeming graciousness as so not to be further harassed. It’s balancing growing into your own person while taking on the second and third shift. It’s considering your plan of action in the event that you fall asleep on an airplane and wake up to someone else’s hands in your shirt or pants. It’s being manipulated into friendship in the hopes that it may turn romantic, unbeknownst to you. It’s the ongoing threat of a physical attack in a public or private space at any point. It’s being taught to value financial independence so that if your male partner puts his hands on you, you have the financial means to leave.
Women are forced to subconsciously play The Fe(Male) Blame Game all of the time, over just about anything, because that is what we’ve been conditioned to do within patriarchal society. That’s why the actions of Dr. Julie Blasey Ford, Debbie Ramirez, Julie Swetnick and other unnamed survivors of Kavanaugh’s abuse, are so remarkable. In their speaking out, bravely offering their names, reputations and more, they’ve continued the devastating work of breaking the cycle of shame and blame, of “if you had only done x, y wouldn’t have happened.”
They are the few amongst the many, whether we know their names or not, who are working to correct society’s grandest transgression: misogyny. By honestly sharing their stories, women in our global society are inspiring others to do the same, revealing the multitude of ways the unchecked male ego has trespassed against us all, even men. Now, more fearlessly than ever, I’m happy to ally with women of all walks of life working to destroy what has destroyed us: a culture wrongly blaming, shaming and punishing women for the shortcomings of men we were never responsible for fixing, excusing, or loving in the first place.