Over some Chinese takeout, we were talking about physical abuse. Just some normal, light dinner conversation with my roommate.
I was having trouble wrapping my head around the mentality of a victim of abuse staying within the relationship. I’ve known a few close friends and family to do that and it was terrible. My roommate gladly engaged the more informed perspective from the female point of view, adding in her experience of volunteering extensively with counseling sexual and physical abuse victims.
I found myself revealing my own brand of masculinity. Personally, I never understood the mentality behind the universal law that no one should ever hit a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging or tolerating violence against women; it’s disgusting. I’m trying to comprehend why there is a brick wall for that kind of behavior toward women, and not for men. Why is it perfectly unquestioned when a man is hit and, on the flip side, it’s a manic witch-hunt when a women is hit?
Do I know how ignorant that could sound? Yes. Speaking in general terms, it’s obvious why abuse towards women is much less tolerated. Women tend to be smaller in stature and don’t have the aggression or strength to defend themselves. The imagery that comes to mind is often the stuff of Lifetime movies. I know this, and, again, I am talking in very general terms.
For years, my mentality has been that if someone, man or woman, were to slap me, I’d hit them right back. I couldn’t imagine a situation where someone would be allowed to hit you in the face because of their feelings. Nope. Unacceptable.
I struggled to tell my roommate where I found this idea. It could have been something I heard my father say once, or what the media portrays on a consistent loop. It could have been anything, but I didn’t think I was out of line in saying I find violence like that inexcusable. What are we really saying, after all?
She asked, “Do you really think you would hit a woman if she hit you?”
I took no time in saying yes.
And in the time it took me to close my mouth, she stood up and slapped me across the face.
And I did nothing.
I’m pretty sure my fists didn’t even clinch. My eyes locked on hers and all I could say was “What was that?”
Believe it or not, I don’t believe it was a malicious act. This is not an writing exercise. This is not therapy. I have nothing but love for the girl to this day. She didn’t mean for it to hurt, and it barely did; it’s just besides the point. It was an experiment. She was testing my limits, and I’m sure you could argue that’s what some girlfriends have done to abusive significant others before. The key difference was that we weren’t arguing prior to the act. It wasn’t an attack of passion and pure ignorance.
What followed was a few relatively-quiet awkward moments where I cleaned up my leftovers, poured a glass of water to cool down, and managed a bit of pacing. Normally, when I’m wronged by someone, for whatever reason, I’m glad to give the silent treatment and have them suffer with their own thoughts. Because this happened mid-conversation, and in the middle of a good one, I sat back down.
I knew she could see how serious I was when I said, “I’m not going to hit you, but don’t ever do that again.” I could see the uncomfortable shame in her face. Whatever the motivation before, she saw it was wrong. And really that was my thought all along.
For the nights afterward, though, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened there. I was glad to realize I wouldn’t always react with some caveman-monkey rage if someone slapped me in the face. I was disappointed too. Somehow I built up this conceptual portion of masculinity as the ability to tower over anyone who thought they might have the audacious privilege to hit me. Somehow I rooted my own masculinity in being strong, emotionless, calculated enough with my own gender-fueled beliefs. Now I’m not too sure. It opened the doors for me to question my romantic relationships, my role models, and my bullied childhood.
What I do know is I’m sick of the Swiss-cheese generalities for gender. What does it mean to be a man and what does it mean to be a woman? There are no rules outside the biological differences. Sure, men can be aggressive and women can be nurturing, but I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I know very timid guys and very selfish women.
What are we left with? It is my belief that you’re a man by how you treat women and you’re a woman by how you treat men. We all fill in the details ourselves but, in the end, we need to remember we’re all in this together.