When I was six or seven I had a birthday party like most little girls like to do. My mum, being the amazeballs artistic genius that she was made “party bags” that looked like this: and planned awesome games and activities for all my BFFs who all turned up in gorgeous floral party dresses and the like. My dad, being a very tall, hairy man with a loping run caused by an off-kilter pelvis made an awesome “Mr Wolf” and mum, being the perfectionist that she is had as busy busy busy all day! Very cute, very heteronormative, very pink!
Sadly, little girls being what they are, or at least what they’re taught to be, aren’t always as sweet and lovely as their floral prints and perfect hair bobbins would make them out to be and the inevitable bitchiness and nastiness occured some time in the afternoon. What wasn’t so similar was the way that my dad dealt with the situation. As far as he was concerned, this was my house and my party and I had a right to feel safe and loved and respected in that space, so when he discovered the bullying and nastiness, he whisked the two girls in question back to their parents before they could blink. It was seen by the parents of the offending girls as quite dramatic and by myself as a confusing emotional experience, but in retrospect I think my father’s refusal to see young women’s bullying and nasty behaviour as “just what you have to expect” as being instrumental in my own abhorrence of unnecessary and irrational bad behaviour on the part of women of all ages.
It’s no longer enough to say that someone is acting “childish” if they throw a tantrum about something that didn’t go their way, or go out of their way to hurt or humiliate someone that they see to have wronged them, this is now standard behaviour of women across the age spectrum (and men as well, but this is a discussion about women’s behaviour).
So where does this acceptance of bad behaviour come from? Are we all to blame? For letting our friends/family/aquaintances/colleagues get away with it? Is bad behaviour everyones business?
On the weekend just gone I had an experience of bad behaviour that bordered on harrasment. It made me feel unwelcome and unsafe in my own home. It made me feel helpless and useless at protecting my friends and my property and it made me question everything about the experience and to be honest, made me wish my dad was still around to send the offender home. In hind sight, I should have had the guts and integrity to do that myself, but I second guessed my own reactions, excused her behaviour and put her comfort and rights before those my myself and my friends. On reflection I feel like this is the reality for a lot of badly behaved people. They get away with it because we just let them.
For illustrative processes this particular persons behaviour stemmed from an experience of rejection and betrayal which in itself had some level of legitimacy. In the moment she had a right to be frustrated and annoyed and hurt by my, and by other people around us’ behaviour and action. In the months that have followed it has been on some level a sense of regret that has prevented me from stopping the behaviour before it escalated to the point that it did but to what extent is that my fault? How long should I continue to shoulder the blame and accept the behaviour? In my opinion that threshold was well and truly exceeded on Friday night by the individual in question who chose to attend a party where her presense was questionable and came with the express purpose to cause trouble. There was intent and execution in her actions. She was aware that she was purposefully hurting other people that she supposedly cared about and she chose to continue anyway. At one point she even asked whether she had crossed a line and when she was told yes, she continued with the behaviour regardless.
My response to having this person in my house was to run and hide. Literally. In my housemate’s bedroom, which was the only space in the house that I could be entirely hidden from view. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going or why. I didn’t express to anyone that something was wrong and I didn’t attempt to change the situation. So, how much of what happened was my own fault? A failing in my responsibility to protect my home, my friends and my space from hostile invasion? When I write and teach about standing up, being assertive, respectfully insisting on respect, how much am I lying to the world about what I do myself in these situations and how much does this make me a little bit of a failed feminist?
Is standing up in these situations and demanding better behaviour a feminist act?