People have been wondering why white women voted for t-boy, as have I. Until I started thinking about being teased growing up. Then it sort-of kind-of made some sense: this voting for a bully thing.
I lived in Queens in a fairly typical six-story, ten apartments per floor, red brick building with an identical building across a joint parking lot, making it a little enclave. Between the two buildings there was a large playground/play area. This was my immediate neighborhood and the kids who lived in the two buildings, until we were old enough not to depend on proximity for friendships, were the kids I hung out with. These included two girls a year older than me, two girls a year younger than me, and about the same number and age range of boys.
Memories of my childhood include name-calling about how ugly I was and not being chosen for teams. These two, shall I go out on a limb here, were linked. The teasing and the non-choosing were done by the boys, while the girls, especially the two younger girls, acted as if they didn’t see or hear a thing, and took their places on the teams they had been picked for. They were the cute girls. The two older girls generally acted as if they were too old to play games, besides they were too tough to be teased, and their older brothers and parents were far more intimidating than mine. Which left me as the outlet for the bullies. Lucky me!
For years my mind would revisit a scene where a pack of those boys on their bikes turned to me and told me that I couldn’t follow them, that I wasn’t wanted. Another scene that replays is being ignored when choosing teams on the improvised baseball field and my desperate retreat straight to my bedroom in our first floor apartment (where I could still see and hear them).
In all of my brief, then hastily re-buried, remembrances over the years, it never occurred to me that my friends didn’t defend me. There was no “her or us” ultimatum. There was no sacrificing themselves for me. (Were they saving themselves from being teased too?) Or, they didn’t notice. Or, they didn’t take the ignoring and teasing seriously. Or, they didn’t care enough about me. Or, they didn’t care about anyone but themselves. Now I know that they were not friends: there are no good reasons to ignore others being hurt and bullied, especially a friend.
When I was going through my divorce, I used to note how cruel my daughters could be to me, siding with their father against me. But what I finally understood was that they needed to do that to preserve their relationship with him. They saw what he did to someone who he no longer loved; they saw and heard the cruelty of his actions and words toward me. They knew, in the way we know things without being cognizant of them, that I would never seal off my love from them and treat them as unwanted outsiders, as he had done to me. Siding with him was the only way they had of trying to keep the love of their father. What a choice, even if an unknowing one.
Perhaps my friends didn’t react so that they could preserve their status as valued and protected girls. Perhaps that is what some of the white women who voted for t-boy and his ilk, did. They get to remain within that protective circle, even if it means being demeaned and demeaning themselves. For them, being protected, even by their abusers (for what else is a person who devalues you?), is safer than being on their own, with no protection. Research on abuse shows that it takes a woman seven times of leaving to finally leave her abuser. It’s hard to break a cycle of abuse; it’s hard to create one’s own sense and space of safety and security.
My friends stayed outside to play, while I retreated to my room.
I wonder now who was really safer?
Do we really wonder what happens to women who are deferential, who allow themselves to be physically comforted but morally contorted?
We must defeat those who will diminish our independence by recognizing that some modes of self-preservation do not protect the core, and that one’s moral fiber can become thickly woven with dissatisfactions and anger, rather than fulfillment and purpose. We need to recognize how we can twist ourselves to appease the internal distress that comes when we act against ourselves. And act against ourselves we do when we join with those who debase a person’s essence.
All of us—women and men—need to recognize the place within that concedes, appeases, and fears. We must crowd out those hesitations and use that internal struggle to learn to vie against those who seek to hurt or weaken any of us. Strength is not a show of force; strength is overcoming fear so that we can act in compassion for me, for you, for us all.