Tag Archives: sexism

Men I Met in the Hospital

I guess it was silly of me to think I’d be safe from sexism in the nut house. Beyond the fact that there’s an long history of institutional sexism in mental health facilities themselves, there’s a simple reason why I should’ve known better: men would be there.  Men don’t stop participating in sexism or perpetuating microaggressions just because you’re all sick.

The most overt example was the man who told me how beautiful and sexy I was every chance he got. Who waited until we were alone in the group room to tell me how much he “liked me” and that he was single and I was far away from my partner so, you know, if I need a hug or even a kiss that could happen. Gross as his aggressive come-ons were, he was the easiest to deal with. His explicitness made it easy to report him to the techs. I felt his wide eyes moving over me even though he stopped speaking to me. I watched him move on to a patient who was more receptive to his grossness. I listened to him in group sessions rage against the mother of his child for refusing to take him back. I was relieved  that he’d stopped talking to me.

There were other men who were more difficult to deal with. Their bullshit existed on a more subterranean level that can often be difficult to make others see or believe.

One man, a white guy who rapped about “the man” (“the man” being a conspiracy theorist’s idea of the government), took my joking that bigfoot wasn’t real as a cue to talk at me about it for an hour. An hour. About bigfoot. As I stared straight ahead, giving no acknowledgements or signs of interest, he talked at length about (extremely shoddy, easily debunked) science that proved bigfoot was real. All the reasons why the government covered it up. All about his bigfoot website, which he encouraged me to visit so I could learn “the truth.” In general, I’m exhausted with men who think they have something to teach me (and assume that I want or need to be taught in the first place). And here I sat next to a man who wore a shit-eating grin while implying that I’m some kind of rube for not believing in bigfoot. I only took my eyes away from the craft I was working on long enough to say, “I bet you watch Ancient Aliens.”

And I swear to you, this man said yes, excitedly, and proceeded to tell me more now that the subject of aliens had come up.

Other men had infuriating tendencies to insert themselves in conversations they shouldn’t be in. I never got emotional in any of the group therapy sessions until the day before I left. Another girl had come to The Meadows a few days before, and we clicked: we were both students at Penn State, had similar histories and symptoms. In our last group together we had an intense conversation specifically about the pressures young women feel and how difficult it is to deal with. While this incredibly cathartic, intimate moment was happening, several of the men in the group felt it appropriate to throw out their defensive opinions.

“I don’t even like skinny girls!” “Yeah, same, I like women who eat, haha.”

I was furious. How dare they choose this moment, a clearly painful bonding moment between women, to shove their “not all men” bullshit at us. I turned towards them, eyeliner running down my face.

“It doesn’t matter what you like. The pressures still exist for us and telling us that you like something else is just a different kind of pressure.”

The worst one, the one I hated more than all the rest, is only named Mr. Toxic in my journal. (If I try, I can remember his name but I choose not to.) Imagine Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: an interloper, an instigator, someone who thinks he has all the answers. Now imagine him as a real person in a real hospital where real people are trying to get better.

Mr. Toxic was a con man. He was at the hospital to avoid jailtime, which is not uncommon and also not something that is inherently bad. But he made it quite clear at every chance that he didn’t want to be there and thought it was all a waste of time. Not just for himself but for the rest of us as well. In-session, he talked endlessly about how he didn’t need medication or therapy because all you need is a “higher power.” He tossed out bullshit truisms and always sat with a smug smile on his face, uninterested in anyone else’s discussions. Out of sessions, he glorified his past drug use and made general commotion around the hospital. He shit-talked all the therapists (who were, admittedly, a mixed-bag; we had 10-12 groups sessions a day so our group leaders varied from very skilled therapists to newbie techs) and sneered at the idea of medication for treating mental illness.

Essentially he was every anti-med, anti-therapy, “it’s all in your head” shit stain who’s ever told you to just get out of bed and change your perspective as if you’ve never fucking tried that before.

Unfortunately, he was also a strong enough personality that many of the other patients were drawn to him. When you’re mentally ill, sometimes you want to believe that the doctors are all quacks, that you don’t need your meds, and that you really can just power through it without help. Even if you know from your own experiences that it’s not true. Which is why I hated him so much–he indulged every maladaptive habit the patients had and validated our harmful thoughts.

I tried, for the sake of relaxation, to abstain from calling him out. But in or out of the hospital I can’t change my nature. And my nature is calling pompous, arrogant men on their bullshit. He spent a lot of time rolling his eyes when I pushed back against the idea of a higher power being necessary or something that can fix you. Same with my insistence that some people actually fucking do need their medication. But it all really came to a head the day he was set to finally leave.

He’d been saying loudly for days that if they didn’t release him soon he’d do something drastic so I was pleased they were discharging him. In one of our midday groups, one of the younger guys who rarely talked was actually opening up about his addiction problems and how he wanted to get better.

I spent most of my time at the long table in the group room drawing, crafting or journaling. (Only in the group room were we allowed pens and pencils; there are large sections of my journal written in marker because that’s all I could have in my room.) For certain therapists I would join the group circle but most of them were content to leave us at the table, and that’s where I wanted to be anyway. So that’s where I sat, drawing, when I heard Mr. Toxic say to this kid, “You’re not done yet. You’re too young; you gotta leave here and live more before you’re done.”

I fucking lost it. For nearly a week I’d listened to this asshole put on fake godly bullshit in groups while constantly belittling our attempts to get better and simultaneously encouraging our worst behaviors.

“I cannot believe you’re telling him that he’s not done. He’s trying to get clean and you’re encouraging him to leave here and go right back to doing the same things. You don’t get to do that. That’s disgusting.”

And he lost it too. I guess he was tired of it after a week of me calling him out.

“You don’t know shit about anything! You don’t know anything about him or me or about life!”

And because I’m spiteful, I laughed and asked, “If you know so much, if you have all the answers then what the hell are you doing in here with the rest of us?”

At that point, the therapist broke us up. Mr. Toxic left a few hours later and I never saw him again.

I resent all these men. I resent them for invading the already limited physical and mental space I had there. I resent being sexually harassed in a place where I was supposed to be safe. I resent being expected to feign interest in their bullshit or tolerate their entitlement or allow them to damage other patients. I resent them for trivializing my illness and my recovery. I resent being reminded, even in a place of rest and comfort, that I can never be safe from this kind of bullshit.

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That Girl is a Goddamn Problem: Girl Hate and Beyond in Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling has said that Pansy did not end up marrying Draco because Rowling always hated her: “I loathe Pansy Parkinson. I don’t love Draco but I really dislike her. She’s every girl who ever teased me at school. She’s the Anti-Hermione. I loathe her.”

The more I think about this the more furious I get. If I had to sum up most of my problems with the J.K. Rowling’s approach to writing, I would start with this quote.  This is at the bottom of the Harry Potter wiki page about Pansy Parkinson, a page that is literally nothing more than a list of all the mean things Pansy ever did. Because that’s all she did. That’s all she existed to do.

There’s a very overt thread of girl hate woven throughout the Harry Potter series. It becomes most noticeable in Half-Blood Prince, where teen girls in love become crazy, jealous and dangerous. But from Sorcerer’s Stone it’s there: we know right off the bat who are the nice girls and the mean girls, and we know who we’re supposed to root for. J.K. Rowling is often praised for her “strong female characters” and I would be lying if I said that Hermione Granger isn’t one of the most pansyparkinsonimportant characters that ever happened to me.

But as I reread and reevaluated the books over the years with a more critical, feminist lens I began to recognize clear patterns of sexism, gender essentialism and, yes, girl hate. I was shocked when I realized that, in these books that I’ve read countless times, there are no strong relationships between any of the women characters. (The fact that it took so long for me to realize it speaks to how normal the absence of women-centered relationships is in media but that’s for another time.)

It’s not even just that there are no strong woman-to-woman relationships: most of the women, especially the secondary characters, exist to act as a  foils for one another. Hermione in particular has two distinct foils. Pansy Parkinson, her enemy from the start and then, come Half-Blood Prince, Lavender Brown, who commits the crime of being a teen in puppy love. Cho Chang is a foil of Ginny Weasley (who is praised as “rarely weepy”); Fleur Delacour and Tonks (who are explicitly compared in-text by Molly and Ginny); even Molly Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange. What a disservice these books do to these women. They could be characters who live and breathe instead of existing to be compared to one another.

But I find myself particularly offended at her use of Pansy Parkinson, which is a place I never thought I would be. It may be petty or silly but I find myself wondering: why Draco and not Pansy? Why couldn’t Harry’s schoolyard nemesis be a girl, why not Pansy? Why does Draco get the redemption arc?  The back story? The capacity for sympathy from the audience? Why, in a magical world, must J.K. Rowling cling to the “realism” of teenage girl cattiness? Simple: revenge.  J. K. Rowling writes teenage girls based on real teenagers who hurt her solely to exact some sort of literary revenge. She creates a caricature of teenage girl meanness that is then read by real, live teenage girls. And it’s not just that mean teen girls exist in these books: they deserve lifelong punishment for their meanness or badness.

The fate of Marietta Edgecombe is an especially sadistic example of this. Marietta Edgecombe, who at 16 or 17 made a poor decision in a school that was under tyrannical rule from a powerful political interloper. We’re meant to interpret the embarrassing pustules as something she deserves and Hermione as clever for having the foresight to put that vicious curse in place. What happened in the long term? According to J.K. Rowling, while the pustules faded Marietta had lifelong scars because she “loathes a traitor.” What a horrifying implication: girls who make mistakes as teenagers deserve punishments that expand into their adult lives. The same with Pansy: she is deprived of a hypothetical relationship with Draco simply because J.K. Rowling hates her, because she is the “anti-Hermione.” There is no room for sympathy. There is no chance at redemption. These girls are not significant enough for that.

And maybe I could be more forgiving if it weren’t for the fact that the seeds of girl and woman hating bullshit J.K. Rowling plants come to full, forceful bloom when fandom steps in. Fandoms are notorious for their hatred of women characters, even ones that aren’t set up in-text for hatred. Pansy is a literary punching bag in many fanfictions: she’s typically a slut, a home wrecker, a bitch that no one likes. Including Draco. He’ll fuck her, cheat on someone (better and nicer) with her, date her, maybe even marry and have children with her but rarely like or love her. Draco, who committed actual war crimes beyond “being mean” and “being so afraid of Voldemort that she suggested they should give Harry over to him in an attempt to protect herself and her housemates.”

But Pansy doesn’t get that kind of nuanced motivation. Her yelling “There he is, get him!” is just another way to show the reader how awful she is. Complicated back stories and motivations are typically reserved for evil and morally ambiguous male characters (I say typically because Narcissa Malfoy exists). Draco, Snape, Voldemort–we spend a lot of time with their histories and emotions. But hey, these are mostly secondary characters. No author should be expected to flesh out all of their secondary characters. Archetypes and foils serve a very real literary purpose.

But I take issue with so many of the secondary characters in the Harry Potter series being women who fall into insidious, damaging stereotypes. Obviously J. K. Rowling is not the first or the last writer to do this. And it’s unfair to expect her to fix it or be perfect in this regard. But my resentment is not just because J. K. Rowling never intend for these characters to be more than vicious bullies, weepy depressives or annoying girlfriends. It comes from a deeper, more internal place. An ugly place that understands her desire to hate and punish literary proxies of real life girls. I remember being that kind of woman, full of hate and resentment for other women even as I claimed to be a advocate for them. And it scares me to think of young minds (like my own young self’s) being further shaped by that kind of mentality.

Ultimately, I’m tired of the long, harmful tradition of normalizing girl hate. Of making it common place. Of reminding us that it’s typical and expected. I want YA writers to shake up these shitty, false ideas of girlhood and girl friendships. I want a world, literary and otherwise, that teaches women how to be friends, how to support each other, how to critically engage one another. Where mean girls don’t begin and end at their meanness. I want stories about how wonderful we can be to and for each other. We shouldn’t have to unlearn how we’ve been taught to hate each other. Imagine if girl hate tropes disappeared from young adult novels. That would be real fucking magic.

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Link Dump: #76

This week’s unbelievably cute kitty is Pussyfoot, best friend to the dog Marc Anthony, as created by Chuck Jones. (This particular image is from “Kiss Me Cat.”) Enormous eyes, inexpressive face, loving canine buddy… yeah, every other kitty can just go home. Pussyfoot has to be the cutest. Anyway, here are a ton of links:

Not much in the way of search terms these past couple weeks, but I’m still amused by “look in side girl badey” and “www gose fozen muschi,” which seems like a severely garbled attempt to type in a URL. For what kind of website, I have no idea. “Goose frozen… muschi”?

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Link Dump: #60

Look! It’s a kitty clinging to a tree in the Steve Martin vehicle Roxanne! So cute. Not unlike that kitty, Pussy Goes Grrr has been pretty sluggish lately, for reasons related to personal lives, spring break, etc. But more writing is just around the corner and for now, some links:

This week, we have a pair of search terms that double as advice column submissions. First: “vagina getting red every month.” That is called menstruating and, in the words of Carrie’s mom, it means you’re a woman now. Second: “am i a pussy for being affraid of heights.” Hey: 1) the epithet “pussy” is nothing to be ashamed of and 2) I’m also deathly afraid of anything beyond a second floor. Heights are scary.

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Link Dump: #49

You know a horror cliché that I just love? When animals hiss at people who they just know are going to transform into monsters. Kitties, especially, seem to have a sixth kitty sense about these things. For example: the kitty above, hissing and clawing at Henry Hull just before he changes into Werewolf of London‘s titular lycanthrope. Keep at it, awesome kitty! And now, links:

  • The reliably excellent Roderick Heath of Ferdy on Films writes about MST3K’s Manos: The Hands of Fate episode.
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum objects to Pauline Kael’s Raising Kane while the New Yorker picks five essential Kael reviews.
  • Mark Harris names three stupid Oscar rules. (And when it comes to stupid, inconsistent, counterproductive Oscar rules, this is just the tip of the iceberg.)
  • If you want to read the text of the frivolous Drive lawsuit, you can do so here. It actually reads more like a bad essay out of Film History 101. Highlights include the following:

“Virtually no film critics described in any detail, if even mentioned, the allegorical nature of DRIVE, despite the importance of allegory in DRIVE. This is for inexplicable reasons.”

Well, we have a clear winner out of the past week’s search terms, and it’s “betty boops pussy on fire.” Yeahhh.

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Link Dump: #48

Boris Karloff’s grave-digging villain in The Body Snatcher needs to stop getting into fights. It’s pissing off his kitty! Look at how that cat’s snarling. It’s saying, “Hey Karloff, take your petty corpse-related squabbles elsewhere! I’ve got kitty stuff to do.” We hope you’ve been enjoying our feast of pre-Halloween delights this month, with plenty more to come. And now, here are links:

This isn’t that weird of a search term, but I found it too funny not to share: “snow white and the seven dwarfs get some pussy.” Yep.

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Link Dump: #46

This week’s kitty is from the ’80s horror classic Night of the Creeps, which gave us Tom Atkins as a zombie-killing cop with an unforgettable catchphrase (“Thrill me”). If you’ve seen the movie—or, really, any horror movie—you know that misfortune awaits this kitty. So let’s just appreciate its brief, non-undead appearance here. And then appreciate some links:

We had one outstandingly weird search term this week: “Чарли Кауфман пьессы,” Russian for “Charlie Kaufman pessy.” Yeahhh. I don’t know what to make of that. But it’s weird.

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