Monday, April 4, 2011

The Fragmented Self

I use books to give me a different view of life. Occasionally, a movie will do this, but it is not as often. I have just started to read a book by Julia Serano, "Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity"(Seal: 2007). It is a library book so like so many books that I check out I have to read fast. Just the introduction is full of insights.

The introduction starts with this quote: "If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive." -Audre Lorde. I started to write in my journal last night before I went to sleep that the older I get the more I attempt to put the pieces together that is myself. I don't think I am alone in this. I don't think that this is something that only women are subject to. I think we are all born into a culture and society and then split apart. This fragmenting of the self is one of the stresses we all have to deal with and for many of us there is the reality that we need to do this in order to be accepted and loved even by our families.

The thrust of Serano's book is how men devalue women's femininity but also the feminine in men as well. If a man is less masculine by his natural inclination he is less accepted by everyone as a whole such as the stereotypical gay man with the weak wrists and high voice. There was a scene in a film in which a man was beating up his wife and a transsexual stopped him and beat him up. Since the man perceived the transsexual as a woman and since he was beat up by a woman he had no choice to leave since he was disgraced. No man can be beaten up by a woman. I grew up knowing the facts of life that most men who beat up on women would never get into fights with men. My father was always beating my mother up and he knew he could especially during the days that it was legally possible to do so. It was just the facts of life and was acceptable that men did this.

I have a friend who I suspect very strongly that his wife beats him. He often has black eyes and bruises. He will never admit that she does this. It would be an embarrassment. He was unemployed for a while and she who is a stay-at-home housewife(They do not have children, thank goodness.) was really beating up on him. Many of us who knew him worried that if he didn't find a job soon she might kill him. He ended up finding a job as a federal police officer. Thank goodness he has been able to stay employed. He is a very nice man, but his wife is Hell on Wheels. He feeds the deer at night but cannot fix the carrots that he feeds them at home because his wife would get mad at him so one of the other wives fixes him an extra bag. His own wife has forbidden him, for some reason, to feed the animals at the place he works at. I have met her and even I am scared of her.

Since my quest is to be as healthy as possible, I have to join the fragmented selves that is me and that is not easy. I have to find out which parts is really me and which parts are there because society says must be there. I am considered a strong woman, but not a strong leader for I have no ambitions in that direction although I have done it and hated it. I just wanted to be strong for myself and my children. Society says I cannot be too strong. Well, I will throw that out. I will be strong for myself and write out the guilt when it occurs. Society says I have to let men take care of me. I say no. I want to take care of myself. That is easy. It is easy because I am a senior and most seniors find out that anyone who wants our checks wants to spend our checks. That is not a good idea. And on it goes. There is a saying among senior women that when you get to be our age, all men really want is a purse or a nurse. I have found that to be true for the most part regarding younger men.

The thing to do is to question everything. By doing that I can gather together all that is me and throw out the parts that is not me. I know someone who says she has always hated children and it took years to admit it. Thank goodness she did not let herself be talked into having them. When she got engaged the first thing she told her prospective husband was that she did not want children. He was taken aback at first as he assumed all women loved children, and he was not in love with the idea of having them either. He was hoping he could talk her into having only one or two. He was delighted there would be none. All they had to do was deal with both sides of the family who wanted grandchildren, but they thought they could do that.

I wanted children but was not happy about the husband part. I had my children and ended up single and although many people especially men assumed I was looking for a husband, I was pleased with my single status. I don't want to be a wife. I like being friends and lovers, but I also love being alone. I love reading more than watching television. There is nothing on television I like watching at least this year except some news shows and some programs on PBS. I used to love Nature, but there were a few episodes that were silly I switched it off. I love science, but I don't like being talked down to. I never watch network news anymore. When I did date some men, they wanted me to watch television with them and not just one or two programs but four or six hours worth. I can't do that. I even tried to wear ear buds and listen to music and read but they objected to that.

I also won't cook them dinner while they watch television. I will cook dinner but they have to be part of the preparation. If not, we can go out, and I am willing to go Dutch. Stir fry lends itself well with this sort of thing because everyone helps and it is great fun. I ended up with this preference when the last man who wanted me to fix him dinner did so while he watched football. Then he sat in front of the TV and ate his meal and never said a word to me. I would have left but he drove me to his house so I had to eat my dinner and just wait until the end of the game.

I don't date all that much but occasionally.As I wrote, I am not looking for someone to take care of although spending time with people for a while is great. Many men don't want to be alone at all. Again, there are many women who would want this, but I am not lonely. Many men don't cook for themselves and go to restaurants where there are women working who are looking for husbands. It amazes me how little it takes for people to move in with each other. Again, it depends on what each wants and what is expected. Most women's jobs don't pay as much as men's jobs, however jobs are hard to get right now. Many men in this area are retired with good pensions from jobs that used to pay fairly well. Women are living on income that does not pay as well.

Men can't admit they are lonely and want someone to live with them and take care of them in an unselfish way. All the men I have met have dated younger women who just want them to buy them things and don't want to stay home and take care of them. They want the older woman to take care of them but many of those women have their own income and don't want to spend all of those hours picking up after another man again. They don't have to anymore and although they don't have as much money as the man they can live on what they have. Many of the men just want the women to live with them and don't want to marry them. That works for some of them since both won't lose their income that way; but the men get confused when the woman gets angry at having to work all of the time. There doesn't seem to be a meeting of the minds or at least to a therapist who specialist with seniors who works with these couples. The man is retired and does not expect to work anymore but does not understand a woman who feels she shouldn't have to work when he doesn't. He just sits in his chair and expects his wife to cater to him. The therapist states that she is seeing first marriages now too.

The same goes for same sex couples. There are expectations that are unrealistic because they are based on what society has defined for couples and not what is really out there in reality. One woman who is in a same sex relationship says she gets tired of the question she and her partner get all of the time: "Who is the man and who is the woman?". Some people cannot let go of the stereotypes that seemingly define the heterosexual population although they are no more true than what exists in the homosexual population and the rest of the populations. I was in a marriage in which I was the one in charge and I hated it and so did my husband but he pushed me to make the decisions and hated it when I did. Talk about a no win situation.

Then there are women who get mad at other women who have retirement income but no husband to take care of like they do. Some of the senior centers have been the scene where feuds have broken out between these two groups. It isn't fists and hair pulling, but a problem with taunts and gossip. The therapist has been called in when they get out of hand and she finds that the groups will have underlying resentments such as women who have to care for ailing and/or demanding husbands and women who do not. She said the happiest group are the ones who have husbands who are healthy and have outside hobbies and women who have hobbies as well. She went into the first time she was called with the assumption that there was an economic issue and found that there was not the case nor was there a educational separation.

As for the men, those groups did not seem to exist at all. There were men who had political differences and those who were angry at their financial situation and those who were not. The anger was not directed towards anyone in the group but at some ill defined group "out there somewhere". They often ignored what was happening with their wives if they had them. She was never called in for any issue having to do with the men groups.

Even in the seniors, there are women who define themselves according to their looks. They do not age well. There has been many times I am behind someone with beautiful long youthful hair and when I looked at their face I have been shocked to see a very old face. It seemed like a monster. Or see someone in a scanty sexy dress with the body of a woman in her 70's. It can be surprising. Or from the opposite, there is a store that is selling sexy revealing dresses for girls six or seven years old with padded bras. Everyone has heard of the murder of a six year old beauty queen with makeup and revealing clothes that was raped and murdered in her own home. Her face with all of her jewelery and applied grown up looks appears from her many photos. She never got to grow up into the woman she really was under all that crap.

If each of us allows others to define who we are, then we become parts of those roles never really becoming the selves we really are. It took a lot to throw off the parts that were not me and to accept the parts that were. It was as if I had to make friends with myself all over again. I ended up accepting and even liking myself and discovering that process was important in accepting not only myself but everyone else. I like coming home to me and then I discover that everyone else is really not so bad.

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