It occurred to me completely out of the blue one day. Sometimes, you can’t trace exactly what it is that makes you stand up and challenge something, but it changes you. You have an inkling that this thought will completely change your life, even though you don’t fully know how or why. But you know it. You feel empowered by it, and suddenly things seem just a bit more clear than they did before. This is how I felt when the thought first came to me.
Actually, I’m not high maintenance. You’re just a jerk.
All day long, women try to pretend we don’t feel the things we do, that we’re not insulted by the things that insult us, and that we don’t expect more than a woman in today’s world should. We do what Kristin Wiig does in the opening scene of Bridesmaids, where she tells the man she’s just slept with, “Oh nooooo. I’m not expecting anything. I’m not crazy, you know, the way other girls are. I don’t want a relationship either. That is, unless you do?” And my girlfriends and I laughed at that scene, even though it hit a little too close to home.
We glanced nervously at each other because despite the widely held belief that girls talk about everything, it’s hard to admit that you aren’t perhaps the strong and independent and liberated woman we’re all expected to be these days. But we’ve all said things like that, and we’ve done it because we don’t want men to think we’re clingy. We don’t want to be labeled ‘high maintenance.’ We don’t want to be ‘that girl.’
And because of this, I finally realized, we’ve lowered our standards so much that they are barely recognizable. This is, of course, part of the problem – we don’t even realize when we’re being treated badly, or at least we don’t admit it to ourselves, because the conversation in our world stereotypes women as needy, clingy, overly emotional, and as always, that ever dreaded label: high maintenance.
Now I have plenty of male friends who are, actually, interested in a relationship and who do want to find someone to settle down with. But they are far and away the minority in a culture that tells women to stop being so emotional. So intense. To stop being so naggy and expecting so much and for heaven’s sake to just relax. Chill out. Put a lid on the emotional stuff. Because otherwise, we scare off the men.
When Tracy McMillan wrote her controversial piece “Why You’re Not Married,” she basically told women that we were all nagging, slutty b*tches who would never get a man if we didn’t start to recognize that “boys will be boys.” And I almost cried when I read Brianne Walsh‘s response:
And so we learned how to expect literally nothing from a man. We learned to let men treat us like crap. We came to believe that men were doing us a favor by settling down — because otherwise they would be out spraying the world of willing women with their abundant seed. We were taught to be grateful if a man showed interest in us, and we became fearful at all times that he would leave us once he did.”
The definition of “being treated badly” is clearly relative, and I recognize that. But I have literally been told by trusted male friends that I should stop harassing my boyfriend for being late all the time and not calling – after all, it’s not like he’s beating me. So many women around the world are treated so badly by so many men, that it’s an insult to them to define my boyfriend’s behavior as “bad.” And I’ve actually stopped to consider the merits of that argument. (Because there’s nothing like being told by men how to be a better feminist).
And then I realized that this is exactly the trap we’ve fallen into, articulated so poignantly by Ms. Walsh. That I should just be grateful that he’s around at all, and I should let the “petty” things slide. Because of course, this all neatly fits into all the other stereotypes about women that men have been promoting for years – that we are not only nags, but we nag about petty, insignificant things. Who cares if he’s late? Who cares if he cheated – it was just the one time, after all. Who cares if he didn’t wash the dishes? It’s not the end of the world. And besides – it’s not him, it’s us. We need to chill out.
But one day it occurs to you that it’s not your fault. That it’s not that you are naturally clingy or needy or high maintenance because you are a girl, or even that you are in this particular instance. You don’t have especially high or unreasonable standards. You just expect to be treated with some respect, with some common courtesy. It’s just that you have minimal standards.
And once we stop being afraid that we’ll be called high maintenance, once we stop being afraid that we won’t be as popular anymore, or that we’ll fall into a dreaded stereotype . . . then we’ll start to fight back. We’ll start to raise that bar, inch by inch, so that these types of men aren’t quite so surprised anymore when we expect them to respect us – all of us. And when they finally start to learn that it’s not us, it’s them.
We’re not high maintenance. We’re just being treated badly. And we’ve ignored it for far too long.