Healing From Pain: The Limitations of Empathy

I was raised to see everyone empathetically.

I was raised to believe that, if you knew someone’s story, their whole story, you would love them.

And, you know what? I still do believe that.

I believe that no one acts with the express purpose of causing harm and making the world worse off unless they are extremely hurt people who are acting out of pain or anger. I believe that everyone, end of day, wants to make the world a better place, wants to do good and help people, but sometimes they fall short because of ignorance, or mental illness (not to imply that everyone who has a mental illness will do nothing but harm in their lives; that most certainly isn’t the case).

I believe that the person who hurt me most in this world did not want to or intend to hurt me, but wound up doing it because he did not know better, and he did not have the capability to question what he was doing. I believe that, if he was able to fully comprehend what he has done to me, he would feel terrible about it.

But that being said, as much as I believe all of this, there is another side to all of this that still needs to be discussed.

Because the thing is, when someone has hurt us, especially when the pain is still raw and new, their intentions can only matter so much. And constantly taking their intentions into account does pose the risk of making the healing process that much harder for us.

I have known many people who have been hurt by people that they love, people that they know and understand, and so even when all is said and done and the two part ways, the survivor still does not want to come forward or confront their pain because they do not want to hurt the aggressor by doing so.

I have known many people who have been hurt by someone deeply, irrevocably, and yet they were so constantly bombarded with questions of, “but how could they have done anything? They’re such a good guy!” or “I’m sure they didn’t mean it; have you tried looking at it from their point of view?” that, eventually, they started to question their own perception of things. Maybe they’re right; maybe I am being unfair. Maybe I made it all up in my head, maybe they didn’t really do anything all that wrong. Maybe this is somehow my fault.

And as I said, I fully, truly believe that nobody is entirely evil and worthless. But sometimes, when you’re trying to cope with pain, you might need to forget that to a certain extent. Maybe you need to see things as black-or-white in order to heal.

Because when all we can see is how hard this is for them, how much they are losing because of their actions, it becomes more difficult for us to move on. If we feel guilty for our anger and pain, then we do not allow these natural emotions to run their course. If we become stuck in this idea that we were the ones who acted wrong (because, obviously, they didn’t mean it), then we never show them how their actions were wrong, and they never change or grow.

And, yes, in a perfect world, we would be able to accept that they did us wrong, but they are only human and they did it because of a very human fallacy. And maybe someday, we will be able to come to that conclusion and find comfort in it. But when the pain is still fresh, when we are still trying to sort through all of these messy emotions and we are still in the thick of dealing with it, maybe we need to separate ourselves from them a little bit, so that we may protect ourselves.

Now, that’s not to say that we should completely and totally discard them as worthless human beings, and that’s not to say that we use our pain to justify hurting other people. All that I am trying to say is that, while we should remain aware that they are a human being who deserves all the dignity and respect that the simple act of being human affords one, there is nothing wrong with separating ourselves from someone, even with hating them while the pain is fresh, if that is what you need to do to heal.

If hating them makes you realize that what they did wasn’t right and that you deserve better, then hate them. If hating them helps you heal and grow and get yourself out of a bad situation, then hate them. Do not feel guilty for putting yourself first when you need to, and do not feel like you are wrong for how you feel.

And hopefully someday that pain might become a little less fresh. Hopefully we’ll be able to see things from their perspective, to forgive them, not for their sake, but for our own peace of mind. Hopefully we’ll come to understand eventually that they were not pure evil, that they simply did the best that they could with what understanding they had at the time. But for the time being, do what you need to do to protect yourself, so that you may eventually reach that glorious “someday”.

 

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Me Too: Our Own Role in Upholding Rape Culture

We should live in a world where survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment feel comfortable coming forward, whether they are male or female.

We should live in a world where women (and, in some cases, men) can write “me too” on social media, and everyone behind their computers reads that and doesn’t judge them for that, but rather realizes that this is a huge societal issue that needs to stop.

And we should also live in a world where this doesn’t stop there.

I do believe that the “me too” campaign was, in fact, a good idea, because I think that there are many people out there (and men in particular) who don’t seem to fully grasp just how much of an issue this is for women or femme people.

In the past, I have told men about my experiences being catcalled, to which they responded by saying, “what! Why didn’t you call the police?” Because, what am I going to do? Call the police every time that happens? And, besides, it’s not like the police are going to be able to do anything; there are no laws against harassing a woman on the street.

In the past, I have had female friends cancel plans because they happened to take place in a sketchy area, where rapes were often reported, and my male friends responded by saying, “I don’t know what they’re so upset about! It would have been a good time, if they weren’t so sensitive.”

And I think we have all heard about that guy, the one who gets mad at a girl who won’t go home with him even though they just met, and rationalizes his anger by saying, “what? Does she think all men are rapists?”

No. Nobody thinks all men are rapists. But the thing is, women are taught to fear all men as potential rapists, at least until they get to know them well enough to let that fear subside. And I don’t really think that’s something that the average man tends to understand. In fact, almost worse, when certain men do start to see this in women, they don’t see it as a societal problem, but as a problem with the woman herself. She‘s too sensitive, she’s being judgemental.

He forgets that, if she were raped, then people would ask her why she didn’t take measures to prevent it; clearly, she must have secretly wanted it if she was in that place, with that man, wearing that outfit.

The thing about the “me too” campaign is that it’s all well and good to be aware that there’s a problem, but most women are aware, because we live it everyday. We know what it’s like to leave the house and need to walk with headphones in so that nobody mistakes us for wanting to chat, adopting our resting bitch face and staring straight ahead so that we get left alone. Women know what it’s like to tense up when a man walks too close behind us, to have a plan for what we’ll do if he tries to grope us.

For the most part, women know that there is a problem. And while there are some men out there who are also aware, who will be there for their female friends if another man crosses the line, there do need to be more men out there doing something about it.

And I don’t just mean being there for your female friend who got a little too drunk and is now being eyed by several creeps in the bar – although, don’t get me wrong, you should definitely do that too.

I’m talking about thinking back to every time that we might have been told “I don’t know” and interpreted that to mean, “yes”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when we touched or kissed someone that didn’t want to be touched or kissed, all in the name of “going for it”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when the one we were pursuing said, in no uncertain terms, “no”, and we figured that all we had to do was keep trying, keep making gestures, keep making them feel guilty and uncertain, because sooner or later, we’d win them over.

And I’m not necessarily trying to make anyone feel bad about themselves if they have engaged in this behaviour; all that I am trying to say is that rape culture is part of our culture, and there are many who aren’t even aware of it. Maybe we thought that we were being romantic at the time, because society has given us this narrative that this behaviour is romantic. But it is behaviour that we need to question. Because if the “me too” campaign has taught us anything, it is that this behaviour is common and it is harmful.

And if this behaviour is going to stop, then we all need to question it. Every single one of us.

Women cannot end the issue of sexual assault and harassment alone.

So let’s not allow the “me too” campaign to end with survivors sharing their stories and that’s it. Let’s actually open up this discussion. Let’s take a close look at what rape culture is, because the amount of people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment proves that this is not only being done by a few outlier creeps who nobody knows or speaks to by choice; this is a massive, societal problem. This is the result of a society that excuses and normalizes rape. That says that it’s perfectly romantic if we never give up on the person who has turned us down already, because they have to say yes eventually. That says that women who are flirtatious, or wearing a certain outfit, or going to a certain place, have already given their consent to whatever the other party wants. That says that men cannot be sexually assaulted, because they clearly want sex all the time.

And as uncomfortable as it might be to look at ourselves and our own behaviour, it is something that we need to do right now. Because we cannot control whether other people change or not, but we do have control over our own change. And if the “me too” campaign succeeds in little more than making a few people critically question their own role in upholding rape culture, then it will be worth it.

Me Too: Why We Need to Keep Talking About Sexual Assault and Harassment

If you have been active on social media lately, you might have become aware of the fact that every feed, dashboard, and home page has become an endless scroll of heartbreak. You sign on, and you receive an awful punch to the gut as you realize just how freaking common sexual assault and harassment is, all by reading those two little words that actress Alyssa Milano encouraged all those who have experienced it to post:

Me too.

Nearly every woman who I’m friends with or following on social media has posted it, and some men have as well. I have seen it posted by close friends, family, and people who I haven’t spoken to since high school. In some cases, it wasn’t a surprise, and in some cases, it was.

And all of a sudden, I find myself transported back to the first time that I realized sexual assault and harassment wasn’t just a horror that existed; it was commonplace. Back to being thirteen years old and discovering the statistic that one in four North American women would report being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Back to telling a group of my three closest friends this statistic, and upon doing so, having it strike me for the first time that, if this was true, then chances were that one of us would be assaulted at some point in our lives. These were girls that I cared about too. Close friends of mine who I didn’t ever hope to see get hurt, not in any shape, way, or form.

This was a pivotal moment in my life, because it was in that moment that I first realized just how astounding this statistic is. And the thing is, the statistic isn’t even where it ends. It is estimated that for every 100 rapes that occur, only 6 are reported to the police. I have known women who were raped, and then discouraged from seeking police involvement because it was her word against his and they didn’t think that they would be able to do anything with that. I have known women who were raped by their boyfriends, and then didn’t seek legal involvement because they cared about him, or because they didn’t realize at the time that what had happened really was rape. I have known people who were raped and then didn’t come forward because they didn’t want to deal with the shame that would inevitably follow.

In short, I have known too many people who have been raped. And none of these people even count toward the statistic of ‘one in four’. So, yeah, to this statistic that caused me such horror when I was thirteen years old, I call bullshit; the number is much, much higher than that.

And that’s just rape. This “me too” hashtag encompasses much more than that; it includes sexual harassment as well, like being groped without consent, having others make obscenely sexual comments toward us, or being offered unwelcome “rewards” (like raises, or a job) in exchange for sexual favours (etc.). And it seems like every woman has a story to tell in this regard, even if she hasn’t been sexually assaulted.

Let me take this moment to offer my own “me too” to this discussion.

So what do we do with this information? Right now, the internet is over saturated with “me too”s, but what do we do about that?

Well, personally, I think that this whole “me too” hashtag is actually starting us off in a good direction: we need to talk about it.

And I understand; not every survivor of sexual assault or harassment necessarily wants to talk about it right now. PTSD is a real and terrible issue that should be considered in all this, and nobody should feel pressured to talk about a trauma that they aren’t ready to discuss.

But, that being said, societally, we need to start talking about this, and we need to talk about it now. This isn’t just some horror that we hear about on the news; some senseless tragedy that we can’t understand but will never touch us in our cozy little lives. This does affect us. This affects every single one of us, in one way or another, whether you’re the survivor, or you’re the person who chooses not to hear the survivor out because you just don’t want to admit that there’s a problem. Either way, we’re all involved.

We need to start educating our children on consent. We need to start telling our boys that their worth doesn’t come from dominating others, or that they’re any weaker or less manly because they were assaulted. We need to start telling our girls that it doesn’t matter what they were wearing, or if they were drinking, or where they were at the time; they still didn’t deserve it, and they still deserve justice, or at least the right to feel safe in public.

We need to stop doubting survivors when they come forward. We need to listen to their stories when they try to speak out. We need to encourage others to come forward, and we need to create a safe space for them.

And this “me too” hashtag is a great idea, if for no other reason than that we can’t log onto social media without coming across it right now. It breaks my heart to see how many people have dealt with all this, because I wish we lived in a world where people (and predominately women, femme, or female-identifying people) felt safe to go out in public, or go to work, or even take the fucking bus. But at the same time, this hashtag is a great method of forcing us to realize just how common this issue is, how it has affected so many. It helps us to realize that we aren’t alone in all this, and that’s a wonderful thing for people who have been silenced (which many survivors have) by society.

But at the same time, I hope that this conversation won’t end with this hashtag. It’s great that we’re talking, but we need to keep talking; we need to keep drawing attention to the issue. Because only by spreading awareness and continuing the discussion can we enact real change.

The Objectification of Men

Recently, Suistudio launched the campaign #NOTDRESSINGMEN in order to advertise their line of business suits created for women. The images that have been released for this campaign are, in some ways, fairly standard for this sort of product: two people, one dressed head-to-toe in a suit and standing in a position of power and domination, the other posed provocatively, their identity meaningless, their body completely on display. Now, this is an image that we have seen before – many, many times, in fact. Yet, there is one thing about this campaign that not only makes it different, but has caused plenty of controversy, and that is the fact that a woman is placed in a position of power, while a male model is the one being sexualized and objectified.

There are many who have taken to social media to show their disagreement with this campaign, despite the fact that these images are not entirely new. In fact, it is nearly common for us to see the genders reversed. In many advertisements, women are depicted as sexual objects, to the point where we barely even think about it anymore. We’re used to the images of big-breasted women with their heads tipped back and their lips parted. All the time, we see men standing squarely facing the camera, their stances strong, their jaws locked, their power confirmed. This is the language of our media, and we speak it fluently.

But at the same time, the majority of comments that I have seen disagreeing with the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign have not been upset with it because it dares to reverse the gender roles; rather, they disagree with it because they know that this is an injustice that society already does to women all the time, and they don’t think that it’s right to spread this injustice to men as well.

As one Instagram commenter said, “If it was the other way around with the woman on the couch and man above her, feminist groups would jump and criticise. This double standard needs to end.”

Some people have accused this campaign of “making feminism look bad”, turning it into a movement of women who merely want to dominate and control men, rather than being about equal rights. And is this what the campaign is doing? Are these images trying to destroy the patriarchy and replace it with a matriarchy?

Well, the way I see it, my opinion on this campaign rests heavily on the campaign’s intent.

On the one hand, it is very possible that the commenters are correct, and the purpose of this campaign is not necessarily to challenge anything, but rather, to use the accepted language of our media to convey the age-old message, but with the genders swapped. And, in fact, many of the images do seem to be indicating that.

The reason why we often see men standing firm and square-jawed, staring directly at the camera, is because the image is very clearly trying to convey a message, and that message is very connected with gender: he is strong. He is capable. He can do whatever he needs to do, and he can do it without wrinkling his suit or breaking an expression. It just so happens, all of these tend to be masculine traits, and I don’t think that’s incidental. Similarly, when we see women lounging out over objects without much of anything on, that too is meant to convey a message: she is passive, but sexually available. When we see women compared to or used in place of objects, then that is the ultimate passivity: she isn’t even a person, she’s just a thing, waiting around to be used by whoever shows up and wants her.

So when we see the same poses used but the genders reversed, the messages don’t really change, although the gender roles might be challenged. But, still, the photographer is relying on a specific language, one that the viewer will undeniably be familiar with, to convey a message. And the message really isn’t okay. End of day, whether it’s a man or a woman being objectified, the message is that they aren’t really a person. They’re a sexy object, a thing that can be used and disposed of. And not only that, but in both cases, a specific language is being used to convey the message of ‘sexy’ as well; only one body type is displayed, because the viewer will automatically connect that body type to sex appeal. And when that happens, then that dismisses all other body types as being even potentially accepted by society.

So, essentially, if the intent behind this campaign was to rely upon a harmful language that feminism is, in fact, trying to combat, all so that they could convey to their presumably female audience that this company’s suits will make them powerful and alluring to men, then that is not okay.

But there is one other possible intent that this campaign might have, one that I am more comfortable with accepting: the intent to challenge the majority of media.

As I have mentioned, advertisers have made use of sexualizing and objectifying women for decades in order to make their product look somehow superior, and one thing that I think many commenters are forgetting when they show their distaste for the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign is that it is only one campaign. It is not an entire industry, meaning that women are not quite at the precipice of taking over the world quite yet. And, more than that, campaigns that rely on switching societal roles are released all the time with the intent of showing just how unfair our society really is.

For example, in 2004, the Disability Rights Commission released a short film called “Talk”, which follows an able-bodied man who suddenly wakes up in a world designed for the new majority, people with disabilities. Another short film, entitled “Love Is All You Need”, takes place in a world where homosexuality is the norm, and heterosexuality is looked down upon as “weird” and “unnatural”.

There are many issues in our society that are sometimes difficult for us to wrap our heads around – not because we never experience them, but because we experience them everyday. They are normal to us, so we don’t even second-guess them. And the purpose of media like “Talk” and “Love Is All You Need” is to try to point out just how wrong our society is. It forces able-bodied people to imagine, not what it would be like to be disabled, but what it would be like to live with the stigma of disability. It forces heterosexual people to imagine what it would be like if they couldn’t safely take their partners home to meet their parents, or hold hands with them in public.

And, maybe, the intent behind the #NOTDRESSINGMEN campaign is not to create a new norm, but rather, to force us to question the old one, to make us realize that the over-sexualizing and objectification of women is wrong by forcing us to see it from a new perspective. And, I mean, while I said that there was plenty of evidence in the photographs to suggest the other intention, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest this as well. The photographs, after all, are overly sexual, and overly objectifying, even going so far as to intentionally remove the man’s face from the images, as though to completely remove his identity and force the viewer to look at him only as an object – a body without a soul.

Now, what the company’s actual intent was is difficult to decipher. They have not made any attempt to comment either way, although Suistudio has confessed to intending controversy. Besides that, I suppose that the viewer can merely take what they want from the campaign: are they a frightening image of a new sort of objectification, or an isolated incident intending only to make us question our past and present?

Why You Should Not Have to Rush Coming Out of the Closet

The first time I came out of the closet, I was sixteen years old and very, very not ready.

Before I was sixteen years old, I had crushes on other girls, of course, but it wasn’t until then that I had my first crush that actually stood a chance of going anywhere. She had been in one of my classes, a girl so unlike anyone who I usually hung out with. She didn’t get along with any of my friends, and we didn’t often see each other outside of class. So what this essentially meant for me was that, for a good hour every day, I was distinctly reminded of my own difference, and then outside of that, I had to go back to pretending that I was something I wasn’t.

And, perhaps to make matters worse, my group of friends at the time had, for some reason, gotten into the habit of religious debates during lunch. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the most peaceful way that we could have been spending our break, but what can I say, we enjoyed argument. One lunchtime, these debates centred around the issue of homosexuality, and whether or not it was a sin. Having just finished my class with the girl I liked, I sat there, listening to my friends trying to decide whether I was going to hell or not, and without really meaning to, I broke in and screamed, “how do you think I feel about all this? I’m bisexual!

And at that point, all I could think was: well. I guess I’m the bisexual girl now.

Suffice it to say, I shouldn’t have come out that way. Not that anyone judged me or anything; I went home and I told my family, and I answered any questions that my friends had, and I tried to work out what all this meant for me, but the problem was, I had done all of this way too early. I found myself concerned that everyone was looking down on me now. Nobody ever called me a ‘dirty slut’ for being bisexual (not to my face anyway), but I figured that everyone was dismissing me as one now (full disclaimer: no woman should be judged or demeaned for the amount of sexual partners they have had, I’m just trying to describe how I felt at the tender age of sixteen). Nobody ever laughed at me or called me names, but I figured that they probably were. I didn’t feel comfortable showing affection toward any of my straight female friends, because I didn’t want them to think that I was flirting with them.

People did tell me that they thought I might be faking it, either for attention or to look edgy or different, and there was a part of me that agreed. Because, truth be told, I didn’t know that I wasn’t yet. I knew that I had had crushes on girls, but what if those were just flukes? What if I had just fooled myself into thinking that they were crushes because I wanted to be different?

The best way that I can think to describe it is to say that it was like I had ripped off a scab before the wound had fully healed.

A few years later, when I was eighteen years old and my dating prospects had long since gone up in smoke, I found myself wondering why I was even bothering to be out of the closet. I distinctly remember thinking that it would be better if I just went back to what I called ‘factory settings’; just call myself straight, pretend it was all a phase, and live without the assumptions that society places on bisexual girls for a while.

It was another year or so before I was comfortable coming back out of the closet, and challenging these assumptions by being my awesome, loving, passionate, open-minded, happy bisexual self.

Now, why am I telling this story, you might now be asking yourself? Well, for one, October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and two, I wanted to illustrate, for straight and queer people alike, that coming out of the closet is not always an easy thing, and not just for typical reasons that we hear about. I mean, sure, there are most certainly plenty of queer people, youths and adults alike, who are stuffed into their closets by judgemental parents or a closed-minded community, sure, but in my personal experience, I didn’t have any of that. For the most part, my family and my community were fairly accepting of me. I am privileged enough to say that I didn’t risk being disowned by my parents or thrown out on the streets, and I know not everyone has that same opportunity, but coming out of the closet was still mental torment for me.

One of the things that we don’t seem to talk about very often is the way that our society forces us to internalize certain ideas. Of course, I knew that I wasn’t flirting with my straight female friends (most of them weren’t even my type anyway), but society has sort of given us this image of the queer woman as predator, the queer woman as a threat to straight women, that I was worried I’d be perceived as that. And there was a part of me that knew I wasn’t making up my bisexuality because I knew that I had experienced it, but at the same time, there was a part of me that wasn’t sure because society had told me, time and time again, that bisexuality doesn’t exist, you’re either straight or you’re gay, end of story.

But sometimes, it really doesn’t matter what you know to be true. If society tells you enough times that something is wrong, then it’s always going to feel wrong.

And that was what I hadn’t come to terms with the first time that I came out of the closet: I knew who I was, but I didn’t understand what that meant.

And I know that there are a lot of queer youth out there who feel guilty over still being in the closet. There are some circles who perpetuate this idea that, if you know you are queer and you have not told your friends or family yet, then you are lying to them. But the thing about coming out of the closet is, that’s sort of something you need to be absolutely ready for. And I’m not just talking about being ready situationally. Because you are going to deal with awkward questions from time to time. And you are going to deal with straight people who seem to have never met a queer person before and have no fucking idea what to do with you, even if they’re alright with you in theory. And, worse than that, you are going to deal with internalized assumption about what being queer makes you. Violence notwithstanding, you can deal with almost anything from other people, but only if you are strong enough in yourself and in your own identity that you know when they are wrong.

So if you’re still in the closet, then please, don’t feel any guilt over it. You are not lying to your family or your friends by not telling them that you’re queer. You are protecting yourself. You are giving yourself time to build up confidence, to understand who you are and that the way that society might view you isn’t always correct. There will always be time to come out of the closet when you’re ready (and trust me, you really should; it’s great out here), but there’s no need to rush out there and risk damaging your self-esteem in the process.

Because there is nothing wrong with you. You are brilliant, and you are full of love, and you deserve every chance in the world to give that love to someone amazing. And it is completely understandable if you don’t see that in yourself quite yet, but you should. Give yourself some time, reconsider every negative stereotype that society has placed on you because of your queerness, and then show the world how amazing you truly are.