Sometimes I wonder if we’re gonna make it. As a species. At various points in my life I have looked into my future with certainty, feeling assured that the world would take a familiar shape. Feeling that certain things were set and inevitable, even as all the details about who I would become and where I would be remained unfixed and malleable.
More recently I am not as sure. In fact I’m more and more sure that we’re not gonna make it. The more I learn about our collective history, the more fully I understand the context of the present moment. The more clearly I can see how we got here and the more I recognize the totality and interconnectedness of the challenges we are facing.
There are so many things that need to be worked on. And not enough time for me to work them all. Maybe not enough time for everyone to get on board and work together before it’s too late for some things, like climate change. It is easy to see how that can be incredibly overwhelming.
I see some folks stopping there, in that state of overwhelm, and I hear them say “what’s the point? We’re not going to fix all the things and we’re doomed, so why bother at all?” I have asked this same question myself, and my answer is: the effort itself is the point. The point is how you want to be in the world. How you want to get from point Birth to point Death. We can't control the whole world, so we have to decide how we move through it.
This week I read a friend’s Facebook post about an encounter in the check-out line at a grocery store. The clerk was coming on strong and my friend was not interested in their romantic or sexual offerings. My friend put up boundaries and the clerk persisted, taking the disinterest as a challenge instead of as a rejection.
There is nothing especially remarkable about this story. I have seen it a thousand times. I have heard it a thousand times. I have lived it a thousand times. But it caught my attention in the telling, and in the comments and reactions that followed.
All the comments were supportive, so I’m grateful no one questioned the veracity or validity of my friend’s experience. But some were still problematic in that the support they offered was actually just variously flavored perpetuation of the exact dynamic that allows this unhealthy and traumatizing behavior to continue so prevalently in our society.
My friend told the story and concluded with the come-back they thought of on the drive home. Her will-use-next-time tongue lashing insta-turn-off was humorous and cutting. One swath of suggestions took the jesting and ran with it, offering more and more comical ways to appear unappealing to the clerk. Stare into the clerk’s eyes while you pick your nose. Pick your teeth at them. Act completely crazy. So much imagination and creativity!
I was equally amused and incensed by the increasingly ludicrous strategies offered. One person should not have to spurn unwanted advances by becoming less desirable. The problem is not that my friend was desirable. The problem is that my friend did not want to fulfill the desires of the desire-er and the desire-er did not see that as a valid reaction.
Another well-intentioned suggestion was the one-liner shutdown: “If you wouldn’t say it in front of my husband, don’t say it.” One person should not have to use another person’s claim on them as a barrier against a new and unwanted claim. My friend is not an object. They are a person. And the only reason the clerk needed to hear is that my friend is not interested in whatever they are offering because they don't want that. That should be the end of that.
You know when you become aware of something you never noticed before, suddenly you see it everywhere? That’s what this moment felt like to me. I’ve been intensely focused on dismantling systems of supremacy and superiority within myself and my community in the context of anti-racism over the last six months. Now I see another way those narratives of superiority play out in predatory dating.
In general, I tend to pick up an issue and work it for a while, gaining experience and cultivating skills. Then another presents itself as a higher priority in the moment and I apply my skills and knowledge and passion there. This week I feel compelled to increase the volume of my time and attention on liberating the world from toxic masculinity.
It’s not the same issue as racism, but it is the same work. The underlying issues of unequal power distribution and of one person trying to increases their worth and value by taking it from another are at the root of both. And at the root of other societal ills. There is a lot of work to do.
I'm doing my work alongside many others. And we still might not make it. Even if every person woke up tomorrow fully aware of their individual power to affect the course of the world, I still may not live to see the end of racism, toxic masculinity, and predatory dating practices. But I’m going to try anyway. Generations of change-makers planted the seeds I am watering today. I want to be contributing to a better future even if it takes more than my whole life's contribution.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.