The Writing

17 March, 2013

bossy

Yoga-friend Anna and I  are bossy women. We've been called that all our lives. Her life is about 27 years longer than mine, so she's been annoyed by the practice much longer. Anyway, in light of Lean In and all the media yap about it, we ended up this week discussing how it is that a woman who asserts herself is called bossy and condemned for it, while a man who does the same is called, well, assertive, and everyone's just fine with that.

I think my first time being called bossy was by a teacher, when I was a little kid, maybe 6? for having an opinion and stating it. I was told to be more ladylike, to tone it down, to be quiet. Boys who behaved the exact same way were not called anything.

The lesson: Boys will be boys. Girls will be quiet.

That same school, a year later, punished me for protesting--loudly, and then physically--when a little boy my age would not leave me alone, to the point of poking and touching me, following me around, and generally being a creepy little stalker. He was a weird kid anyway. His attachment was unwelcome and unnerving. I was told--be nicer to him. He likes you.

The lesson: Boys have feelings. Girls have to accommodate them.

These lessons did not stick with me, in the sense that I never bought the basic unfairness of them. Oh, I learned to be quiet. Sometimes. I never did learn to back down. My own mother, generally much smarter than this, yelled at me in eighth grade because I decked a kid who slapped my butt. There were better ways to handle it, she said. I thought I'd used restraint, having just come through a mini-course (which 99% of the girls in my class attended) on self-defense, which involved knee-breaking and eye-gouging and which was taught by a big ex-Green Beret who collected many, many bruises in the course of the training. Butt-slapper only got thrown in a snow-drift. But I'd embarrassed my mother, behaving like that. (My father said, very quietly, that I'd done the right thing.)

The lesson: You can defend yourself against strangers, but if it's someone you know, you just take it.

That last lesson is a tougher one--not to learn, but not to learn. That's how acquaintance rapes happen. Acquaintance sexual assaults. Abuse. Creeper "friends" who get excused by your friends because "we know them."

Now how much worse is it with someone's family? A fine question. An academic question, until very recently. A dear friend of mine discovered a heretofore unknown older half-brother. Dear friend is an only, so this is a Big Deal. Dear friend is married to my best friend, The Rat, so this affects me because we spend major holidays with them, and New Brother is very likely to be there. They brought him down here a couple weeks ago to meet us.

I can't say I liked the man. He is frightfully insecure, and seems to be entirely artificial. He performs himself constantly. He wants to be liked. He is not above trying to steamroll you with you freakin' RAD he is (yes, he uses that word. FFS). How cool. How with it. Okay, okay. So he's a big golden retriever wrapped in manflesh. I like the attitude in a dog. Not so much in an adult. Less when the adult's been drinking. But whatever. I didn't hate him. I didn't have much opinion at all, except 'maybe when he's sober, and he's relaxed a little, he'll stop being a git.' Then we got to the parking lot and said our goodbyes.

Goodbyes involve hugging. From Dear Friend and The Rat, that's okay. I know them. They're family. New Brother is also clearly a touchy-feely guy. Ugh. Okay. Whatever. I've gotten used to hugs as the default greeting/goodbye from everyone, regardless of length or depth of acquaintance. I suck it up and hug him.

This is not a sweet little hug, this is a full body hug, the sort I would give The Rat, or Kman, or Nous. There's like 3 people in the world I would touch that way, ever. And he won't let go. And won't let go. And. Won't. Let. Go.

I was clearly Not Happy with this. I didn't kick or squirm, but I did my best to pull back, put a little distance between us. Nope. No hint taken. So after about 30 seconds, 25 too many, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Okay, that's enough," and extricated myself. That would've been sufficient to make me twitch, but then! Then he says something like: "I wondered how long that would take." And chuckled, like it was some big funny thing, that he'd gotten me to do something I found uncomfortable. Like he'd forced me out of my comfort zone, and that was cool. Like he was helping expand my horizons, dude, rad.

I am Cin's slow burning anger.

Okay, not so slow burning. I was pretty mad pretty quick. I told Dear Friend I wasn't happy. I told Best Friend. Nous already knew, of course. I resolved that, when next I met with New Brother, I would not allow the hello hug. Dear Friend and Best Friend agreed this was a good thing. "He needs to learn the rules of the tribe," said Dear Friend.

Ah yes. The tribe. That's the batch of us who hang together at T-day, Christmas, various other holidays and parties throughout the year. The ones who went to Dear Friend and The Rat's wedding. I've known these folks, friends acquired through The Rat, for about 8 years now. We've all got attitudes, quirks, issues, likes and dislikes. I wouldn't say we know each other super well, but we do know each other. We tease, and we tolerate, and we generally all get along--and when we don't, we squabble and then work it out, because we're in this for the long haul. You know. Tribe. Of which this guy is now a de facto member, by an accident of birth.

And so, at Dear Friend's birthday gathering this weekend, I pointedly did not let him hug me. "Nope," I said, when he leaned in. "You got your hug last time. You got like 6 months of hugs."

Now...how do you think he took that? Did he say, "gosh, did I bother you last time?" No. Did he laugh it off, and treat it as Cin's Hazing Me? No. He looked at me, at Dear Friend, at M. (who is Dear Friend's best friend, and one of my favorite people in the world, too), at Nous. Then M. cracked up and said, "OMG, I've missed you." Dear Friend laughed with her. The Rat only smiled.

New Brother was seriously offended. He sulked. He snapped at me whenever I spoke to him for the rest of the day. ("Where are you sitting?" "Aren't YOU up in everyone's business?") Maybe I was being bossy by asking. Hah. So I did what I usually do with people I don't like, and ignored him as much as possible. That was easy. M. and I just hung out most of the time, catching up.

And then I caught myself feeling bad... like, had I been embarrassing? Had I been...bossy? Had I behaved in a manner unbecoming because jeez, this is Dear Friend's New Brother, and that makes him someone I've got to accommodate, and hell with my feelings.

That of course was not the end of it. He lamented to The Rat, later, that he was just trying to be himself, he just wanted to be himself, and he felt like he'd spent the whole day being someone else. He also said he didn't want to come between her and her friends. (She laughed. I don't think he understood why.) But what he clearly did want is reassurance. He's done this before, with Dear Friend, when she disagreed with him--went around and tried to get another one of the tribe to agree with him. I thought that was shitty at the time, for Dear Friend's sake. I'm not a bit surprised he'd do that with me...I am a little surprised he'd try it with The Rat.

I feel a little bit like I'm back in elementary school, aggrieved because there's this boy being himself and I'm not allowed to defend myself or my space. No one has said that--quite the opposite--but that's how it feels. Like I'm wrong for refusing to smile and go along with it. That pisses me off, mostly at myself, for not having quite kicked the bullshit out of my system. Also at him,  for assuming that he should get to be him, but not understanding that I get to be me, and that might put a check on his privilege. Damn sure it's time he learned. But goddammit, do I have to be the one to teach him?