THE GNARLY HABIT THAT’S DESTROYING YOUR LOVE LIFE (& HOW TO FIX IT).
Ever been accused by your fella of being a passive aggressive, manipulative b*tch?
I know I have.
(More times than I’d care to admit).
In last week’s blog post, I shared about the unnecessary drama that ensues when romantic partners (well, any humans) fail to communicate effectively.
This week, I want to talk about the deeper reasons as to why we’re so bloody bad at communicating – and why it’s imperative we sort it out NOW.
When I say ‘we’, I’m actually just going to be focusing on women.
In the grand scheme of history, women haven’t had autonomy for very long.
I mean, we weren’t even considered a person in our own right until 1929.
We didn’t get equal pay for equal work until a law was passed in 1983 (and we all know how respected that law’s been).
How about this:
Marital rape wasn’t made a criminal offence until 1991.
(And we wonder why it took this long for the #MeToo movement to gain some serious traction).
Studying English Literature at university, it never failed to boggle my mind how much women have been shoehorned in to assuming the idealized feminine identity of being silent, chaste and obedient throughout the course of history - and in the ludicrously biased writing that documented it.
If you look closely at the majority of classical texts, you’ll see the heavy price paid by any gallant female character who dared challenge these stifling limitations, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
When Desdemona refutes Othello’s wrongful accusation of infidelity, he bumps her off with a pillow.
Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is branded a batty old crone – having suffered a mental breakdown after being defrauded and jilted at the altar by her horrid husband-to-be.
In Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester’s first wife Bertha is also unable to comply with the idealized female stereotype due to being severely mentally ill, and is locked away in the attic like a rabid dog. Out of sight out of mind, eh (well, that is until she takes her vengeance by burning down Thornfield Hall, before throwing herself off the roof of the burning building).
And forget literature for a minute - what about poor old Anne Boleyn, who lost her head for committing the very same crime as her rotund husband? Unfortunately for Henry, this savage punishment only served to immortalize his fiery wife as one of the most fascinating, brave and pioneering women of all time - she even gives her wife-murdering husband a run for his money in the fame stakes ;)
So, what do all these historical female figures and characters have to do with how us modern women are showing up in our modern dating lives, where – for the most part – getting our head lopped off for cheating on our hubby is not a pressing concern?
A lot, actually:
They provide crucial context as to why many of today’s women find it so difficult to be clear, direct and forthcoming when it comes to communicating – especially with the men we’re dating.
The only hope women from earlier centuries had for steering their own fate lay in their ability to coerce and manipulate under the radar.
And guess what?
That compulsion has not yet entirely left us.
If there’s one reason I believe the majority of us are so prone to passive aggression, manipulation and playing the victim as a means of getting our needs or desires met, it’s because we still harbor an underlying fear somewhere in the recesses of our psyche that speaking our truth - directly and unapologetically - equates to certain death.
Not so much a literal death (although that’s shockingly still a reality for many women today), but an intrinsic feeling that speaking our truth will result in us being shunned, rejected or exiled from our community – which to the women from times gone by would mean literal death, anyway.
Any woman who’s resonated with the #MeToo movement will be all too familiar with the fear associated with speaking up, because the majority of rape or sexual harassment claims are still dismissed, even to this day.
Gervase Markham – an English poet from Shakespeare’s era – published a book in London in 1615 entitled The English Housewife, Containing The Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought To Be in a Complete Woman.
In it he asserted that to be considered worthy and desirable, a woman must be:
“Of chaste thought, stout courage, patient, untired, watchful, diligent, witty, pleasant, constant in friendship, full of good neighbourhood, wise in discourse, but not frequent therein, sharp and quick of speech, but not bitter or talkative, secret in her affairs, comfortable in her counsels, and generally skilful in the worthy knowledge’s which do belong to her vocation.”
Whilst this extensive list may seem laughably foreign to us nowadays, the modern woman is still raised to be what’s essentially a blend of all these ‘virtues’ put together, and that is….
(Which to me has got to be one of the most under-handed, patronising put-downs masquerading as a compliment out there).
According to Cambridge dictionary, ‘nice’ is defined as ‘kind, friendly or polite’.
There’s a subtle inference in our culture that ‘nice’ also means passive and conforming.
Any indication that a woman’s being anything other than ‘nice’, and she’s often labelled a bitch - or at the very least, tricky.
Being a bitch immediately identifies you as an untrustworthy outsider, and as we’ve already discussed, a woman cast out to the peripheries of society was once akin to a death sentence.
Is it any wonder that we fall back on old, familiar modes of passive communication when potential for conflict or tension arises?
There are few among us who’d be willing to be labelled a tricky bitch – and even fewer who’d happily welcome being rejected or outcast, simply for holding an opposing view to the status quo.
(You only have to look at the shit that many successful women at the top of their career game get for daring to be as direct or ruthless as a man to know it’s a path fraught with obstacles and judgement).
But, one of the main problems with stuffing down our truth in order to be considered a nice girl is that soon enough, the suppression can become so unbearable that we may find ourselves involuntarily launching in to full-blown psycho mode.
Like bonkers Bertha in Rochester’s attic, we’ll wind up burning down the prison of conformity that’s kept us incapacitated all this time, and though there will likely be collateral damage in the form of harassed ex-boyfriends/ their new girlfriends (Fatal Attraction styley), it’s ultimately us who’ll end up a broken mess on the floor.
So, what to do then, when an inevitable cause for conflict arises in any of our relationships?
We feel the fear of death that’s steeped in the blood of our female ancestors, and we speak our truth any way.
We learn how to assert our needs, our desires and our boundaries with grace, maturity and respect - and without apology.
We don’t hint, we state clearly and directly.
We release the bullshit premise that the men or women in our life should just “know” how we’re feeling or thinking.
We don’t condemn or vilify other women for being more assertive or ballsy than we’re currently able to be.
We don’t chastise ALL men for the patriarchal structure that’s responsible for the suppression of women – many of them are victims of it, too. Plus, we’re all partly responsible for the fact the patriarchy is still the dominant power structure, and if we’re serious about dismantling it, then there’s only one course of action to take:
We have to be brave enough to SPEAK UP in our personal lives as well as our social and political ones, because the personal is the political.
Because, every time you clearly and unapologetically state your boundaries and preferences to any human you encounter – whether that’s saying NO to a man that continues to cheat or verbally or physically abuse you, or simply turning down the invite to your best friend’s dinner party (without making up a BS excuse) because you’re just too exhausted…
…You do our female ancestors proud.
Remember, they didn’t have a choice whether or not to communicate their truth.
And it’s our duty to claim this choice, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us in the process.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Do you find it hard to speak your truth in moments of potential conflict?
How have you overcome this struggle in the past?
I’d love you to share with me in the comments below J