Tim Pylypiuk will tell his soon-to-be born niece or nephew, “No matter what your gender, be courageous.”
It’s a strain, at times, looking directly into someone’s eyes. Most think people like me just naturally lack this social action when this is far from the case. To me, the information gleaned from an eagle-eyed glare can feel like how a writer will sometimes deal out currency in prose—expensive and overwhelming.
More difficult is when I look at my own eyes and find what’s lurking behind their drawn drapes. Staring at my reflection, early impressions tend to start out favourable. When they’ve exhausted their stay to the point of novelty is where the problems occur as my murky underside rises on cue with precision.
Then the guilt tugs hard at my gut, ruffles my core.
In my previous article, “Bullied By Girls: One Man’s Account”, I pointed out aspects of culture that trigger me, flaring up the connective tissue riddled with scabs.
One aspect in particular: Strong women that hurt men. Girl Power that intimidates.
At first, when these experiences leapt free from an extensive degree of captivity, I felt cleansed.
Then the guilt followed behind in equal measure because there were some who thought that all strong, independent female characters received their due in the media. If I failed to revere their existence, no matter the concise distinction raised, I would be condoning narratives that stereotyped and harmed women; turn the clock back to a misogynistic culture long deemed unacceptable.
Aflame, the fire spread. Wet with desire to consume me, this malevolent creature called guilt.
I remember troubling passages, clear as crystal shards, from a book I read last year by Kazuo Ishiguro called Never Let Me Go.
For background, it involves the early chapters where all the characters were young. The male supporting character called Tommy is outside waiting to be picked for soccer by the other boys. The main female protagonist, as a young girl, mingles with her circle of female friends in the girls’ dormitory.
They observe Tommy getting picked last again by the boys, bullied and teased as he reacts. The girls, including the lead female, taunt him from their window.
- “There was something comical about Tommy at that moment. Something that made you think well, yes, if he’s going to be that daft, he deserves what’s coming.”
- “Laura kept up her performance all through the team picking, doing different expressions that went across Tommy’s face. The bright eager one at the start; puzzled concern when four picks had gone by. And he still hadn’t been chosen; the hurt and panic as it began to dawn on him what was really going on. I didn’t keep glancing around at Laura, though, because the others kept laughing and egging him on.”
- “‘I supposed it is a bit cruel,’ Ruth said, ‘the way they always work him up like that. But it’s his own fault. If he learnt to keep his cool, they’d leave him alone.’”
Those passages reared me up like a lion ready to shred its enemy. I wanted to tear the book apart, rip it, and throw its remains in the trash. Instead, I opted to toss it on to the floor and yell “BITCHES!” vibrating with rage and on the verge of tears.
I think there were moments when a few tears did leak out in compliance to my recollections because it was difficult to distinguish the actions of these characters towards Tommy and all those girls and women toward me. Those times under the steel whip blared.
Luckily, the female protagonist goes through some development and changes her stance towards Tommy later on in the book. He is soon treated well. My faith restored, I finished the novel and was touched by its heart adorned with pride on its cover.
But the point of my little tirade remained.
I didn’t want to see female protagonists like this with such an attitude towards male characters while getting away scot free, never changing nor getting called out.
That’s why I was so overjoyed to have witnessed such an event from the movie Our Idiot Brother. Yes, the premise sickened me at first. But I caught the part where the brother finally stood up to his inconsiderate sisters and they soon felt the consequences in full.
By the film’s end, they had thought long and hard about their ridicule and changed their ways, bailing him out of jail.
Feeling guilty because I don’t want new generations of women growing up getting a free pass to hurt and abuse men and boys doesn’t jive with equality in my view. Just as I had felt when reading Never Let Me Go in the beginning, the injured connective tissue will always be a part of me. Denying it, denying my feelings toward these troublesome narratives and how it could end up hurting women, would stunt the healing process until there was nothing left of the real me except an empty shell ready to put itself out of its misery.
So I gaze at my reflection in the mirror. Guilt won’t shackle me any longer. I refuse to be blinded.
When next I leave the room, I’ll soon be looking upon another reflection.
I’m going to be an uncle next year. When the time comes, I promise to impart the same philosophy I had grown up with from my personal foundations.
If it’s a girl, here’s what I’ll say:
“Don’t go around thinking all boys suck. If one boy, or a group of them, are giving you trouble, feel free to be mad at them. Cry into my arms.Tell them they suck. But leave it there and treat every other boy with respect. Be their friend as well, because they will need it.”
If it’s a boy:
“Please don’t think all girls suck. If one, or a group of them, give you trouble, feel free to be mad. Cry into my arms. Tell them they suck. But leave it there and treat every other girl with respect. Be their friend as well, because they will need it.”
No matter the gender, I’ll tell either one to be courageous. Stand up for your own gender when others won’t. Call out the miscreants, rake them across the coals with their prejudices and sexism tucked between their legs.
But don’t be afraid to come to me with your problems. Stare at the living reflection looking back on you in a nurturing and paternal way, a partnership.
And I will do my best to overcome my own fears. All for you, my little love.
That’s what reflections are all about.
photo: MSVG / flickr