The movie Room was easily one of my favourite films of 2015. The range of emotions that it puts the viewer through, and the way it’s filmed almost completely from young Jack’s point-of-view. The whole thing is just so well done, it’s the kind of film that stays with you long after the final credits roll.
There was a line in it which suggested that the character of Ma was in the predicament she’s in at the start of the movie was because she’d been raised to “be nice”. That perhaps she might have protected herself better if she’d been less concerned with how she might be viewed by others.
In the moment the line was uttered, my first reaction was of how mean and hurtful it was. My second reaction, right on its tail, was that it felt true.
It’s kind of a contradictory message we send, especially to girls and women. Despite the fact that there have always been predators waiting in the shadows to exploit it, we are raised to be nice. To be polite. To not be combative. To be agreeable and not make a scene.
Yet it’s pretty much impossible to protect yourself without appearing rude.
On top of that, we are made to feel guilty if we don’t trust someone enough to assume they won’t take advantage of that trust. We get accused of not understanding that someone is a “nice guy”. We have to provide evidence for why we don’t trust, as opposed to them having to provide evidence of why we should. But it only takes one time – one lapse of judgement, one wrong choice of throwing caution to the wind – to potentially ruin or end your life.
And usually if a guy has to insist that he’s nice – he’s not. Just sayin’.
Conventions of society, of a civilized world, teachnus that girls and women are either kind, malleable and easy to manipulate, or they are loud, abrasive, headstrong bitches who will never know love. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially if you think the only way to earn affection and acceptance in the world is to be the behavioural equivalent of sugar, spice and everything nice.
That doesn’t describe someone who would cause a scene, who would say no, who would fight back, or keep walking if approached by a stranger asking for help.
I mean, until quite recently (and still now if we’re being honest), a husband could not be said to have raped or assaulted his wife. She married him, and apparently marriage means consent at any time forever. What kind of shrew would withold sex from her husband?
It’s completely ridiculous to say, or type, and yet it’s still there, even now, in our public consciousness. The way women – any woman – who does step forward to accuse her attacker is treated and viewed is…abhorrent. It’s a wonder anyone speaks up at all.
When I was little people used to like to pin me down and tickle me sometimes. It made me laugh, but I hated it. I even had at least one nightmare wherein I saw someone else getting tickled and knew I was next so I tried to run but I could hear the footsteps in pursuit, right behind me. I learned that the easiest way to stop the tickling was to not react. To freeze and wait for whoever was doing it to stop because my non-reaction was boring. It wasn’t the laughter they were looking for.
That’s my first instinct to this day – avoid conflict, freeze, don’t react, wait for it to stop. And try not to draw attention to yourself in the first place, if it can be helped. Not because I’d deserve what I got, but because it’s way easier than fighting back.
Because after all, it’s impossible to fight back and protect yourself while still being nice.
Note: I have more to say in this vein but I need to go to sleep. To be continued some other time perhaps!