“If you’re beautiful, you’re not smart.”
“If you’re beautiful, you’re not tough.”
These were the phrases that popped into my head as I tried to figure out what made me feel so vulnerable in this photo of mine. There is a certain softness in the photo, an almost feminine quality. He looks younger than me. I find it vulnerable. This photo scared me and I didn’t know exactly why until these two sentences popped into my head.
I don’t want people to think I’m stupid. I don’t want people to think I’m weak.
If people think you’re stupid, they don’t take you seriously. If you say or write anything that is different from your existing beliefs, they will take it out as uneducated naivete, rather than a contextualized and supported view. Instead of wondering where you came from with your ideas, they tell you how wrong you were.
I know this is true because I experienced it when people rejected me as a “handsome boy.” I’ve also seen it when powerful, beautiful, and intelligent women in my life have tried to say what they thought. I see it in the news whenever a beautiful woman says something controversial.
This is the double bond we put women in. All women are expected to be beautiful, but when they achieve this feat, their perceived intelligence is automatically reduced. And we see it all around us.
Associating beauty with stupidity is common; it is also a form of misogyny. What most people don’t realize about misogyny is that it also affects men. It pushes men to repress parts of themselves that they consider feminine.
I’m afraid of being pretty because I don’t want people to think I’m stupid.
I also don’t want them to think I’m weak.
Beauty is associated with weakness in dominant American culture; a woman is expected to be weak (because they are just girls, right?). However, for a man to be weak is laughable and embarrassing. In the dominant American culture, weak men are pushed. Weak men are beaten. Weak men are at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
I know because I’ve been there. I was smaller and prettier than most when I was older. I was caught, intimidated and beaten accordingly. It was horrible.
In high school I joined the wrestling team, worked hard and started learning martial arts. That was GREAT for my self-esteem. I started to know that if someone was fighting with me, I could at least defend myself, at least I could hurt them too.
What I learned, though, is that adapting to a society that glorifies violence has its own dark side.
When I was 20 I fought in a bar. I’m ashamed to admit I started it. I got angry with the other one and thought I was being an asshole. My original intention was to have strong words with him, but before I knew it I was moving my fists.
It was easily the darkest time of my life. He had been depressed to the point of suicidal ideation. When I came out of depression, I felt full of anger and self-hatred. When I started throwing punches, despite my intoxication, my body knew what to do. All my training and martial arts made me more adept at violence than the other guy. When the porters pulled me out of him, I had his blood splattered all over my clothes.
The police found me at my house later that night and arrested me. I spent four hours in a cold concrete room before my fingers were squeezed, my clothes were taken off, and I was given orange peels to change into. I spent two nights in a cell of 15 men. My family rescued me, but I was charged with assault. I went to anger management, therapy and pleaded guilty with the request to reduce the crime to a misdemeanor. They were easy for me and I didn’t have to spend more time in jail, just community service.
I realized there are no “winners” in a fight (unless it’s a fight with a referee, rules, and boxing gloves). When violence, or the threat of violence, is used to enforce a social hierarchy, everyone loses.
I remember in high school I thought that the constant fear of violence was something that only men should face (except in cases of domestic abuse and other “marginal” situations). I remember sometimes feeling jealous of women because they didn’t have to worry about fighting other men in school. The more I learned about feminism and gender-based violence, the more I realized how everyone suffers from the culture of violence. The sheer volume of #metoo posts made me feel the emotional impact of this reality.
I want to live in a world where we can all be our different types of beauties and our different types of brilliants. I want to live in a world where we can listen to each other and listen to different perspectives. I want to live in a world where violence is not used to enforce the social hierarchy. I want to live in a world where we decide our own interpretation of beauty and brilliance. I want to live in a world where neither beauty, nor brilliance, nor violence are used to create hierarchy. I want to live in a world where, instead of thinking about how to defend ourselves from others, we think about how to open our hearts to others.
Photo credit: Stephen Flynn, email@example.com or https://www.redtemplepriestess.com/photography/
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