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The theories of hegemonic masculinity clearly show how the male ego that strives for gender performativity makes men want to impress other men by flaunting their sexual ‘conquests’, which means they are likely to persuade women simply to ‘get it’. For that, a man might pretend to share your values, stage immense curiosity, temporarily respect your boundaries and vaguely meet your needs.
Hyper-masculinised quotes such as ‘all is fair in love and war’ authorise this form of deception. In short, ‘love-bombing’ is more likely to come from a man than from a woman. However, if you then transgress into a relationship with him, if you let down your guards and begin to trust him, if you are bravely vulnerable, you become suddenly aware that the society happily overlooks it if he is to mistreat you because ‘he’s just being a man, you know?’
As soon as you become aware of his sudden laziness to make an effort, you might also notice the needle of relational gender power slowly weighing down on his side. His efforts to meet your needs might begin to fall short, he might care less about honoring your boundaries and he might express less appreciation for your presence in his life.
Drawing from the works of bell hooks, Sara Ahmed, Simone de Beauvoir and Raewyn Connell, we can see that the ‘the cool girl‘ is positioned as the passive and selfless role a woman takes on in moments when she conforms to respectability, trade authenticity for promised happiness and get coerced to stick with the ideals of emphasised femininity to seek acceptance, unlike the moments when she refuses to betray herself and becomes the ‘feminist killjoy‘.
The society has socialised men into believing that the preservation of a relationship is entirely the woman’s duty because her worth is measured based on her ability to ‘keep a man’ and on the selflessness of her motherhood. Most men know that the woman will stick around but of course, you would begin to notice what’s going on. He might not acknowledge that anything is changing since the ‘changes’ are orchestrated by him, to favor him, at the cost of your happiness.
So, you would indeed be the one to voice it, after giving it thought and deep consideration. He already has his reasons such as, “I’m bad at communication”, “I’m just not great at expressing emotions”, “I’m just not good at relationship stuff” etc. which are very shamelessly popular macho brags that many men carry along on ego trips.
But you are a kind person who sees the best in people because that kind of nurture is also programmed into you as a gender role, so you empathise with his emotional illiteracy and work on breaking it down into simple concepts so you can get him to understand what hurts you. This is the kind of invisible emotional labour that burdens and drains women in heterosexual relationships.
Why does he label you?
Gender power gaps in the political, economic, cultural and social realms weigh heavily in the microcosm of a romantic relationship between two individuals. It takes immense self-awareness, a genuine willingness to learn and a steady commitment to feminism for a man to unlearn and keep the misogyny ingrained in him in check, mostly because society will sanction his misogyny, conscious or subconscious.
The society did not necessitate him to harness the skill of honest self-reflection but the same society did grant him the shameless entitlement to your unconditional love and acceptance. So when he doesn’t reciprocate the commitment, the consistency, the affection, the respect or the effort, the society brings the knife of ‘dishonor’ to your throat to coerce you into swallowing your rightful anger, abandon your self-worth, shush your instincts and reward him with more love.
We like to measure a woman’s love in terms of the degree of her servitude or her resilience in the face of abuse. It is a convenient emotional persuasion that seduces women into self-denial. However, if you happen to refuse to betray yourself and stand your ground, ie., if you insist on your boundaries being respected, your emotional needs being met and the emotional labor to be shared, if you walk out of the bubble of gaslighting, burst into your reality and confidently validate it yourself, or if you speak your mind and refuse to be complicit, your pain and protest are likely to be translated as ‘irrational anger’ because that would fit the narrative whilst letting him get away without accountability because, ‘she’s hysterical!’.
This is where the labels are born. He calls you ‘naggy’ because you refuse to be silenced. He calls you ‘possessive’, ‘jealous’ or ‘insecure’ when you do not tolerate your boundaries being crossed. He calls you ‘needy’ because your self-worth doesn’t let you settle and compromise when your basic emotional needs are being unmet.
His words also have more epistemic power than yours because the society lays more credibility on men’s words. Society sanctions the abuse that men perpetrate towards women. If he labels you ‘needy’, ‘naggy’, ‘insecure’, ‘possessive’ or ‘jealous’, ask yourself these three questions:
1. What are your boundaries and has he overstepped any of them after you clearly communicated them?
2. Was the label his reaction when you addressed an obvious shift in his level of commitment to meet your emotional needs?
3. Do you feel ashamed and/silenced by that label? Do you feel silenced by that label thrown at you when you address what’s important to you, especially when you feel disrespected?
If your answer to any of the above questions is a yes, it is quite likely that your partner has some unchecked traits of toxic masculinity and that you are being gaslighted. Labeling is a tactic used to humiliate and silence you when you raise legitimate concerns. It is nothing but a tried and tested old trick used to coercively repress your emotions, minimise your rightful feelings and demean your dignity within the sphere of your intimate relationship.
Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India