Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What Monsters Sleep Under Your Bed?

Recently, I asked an acquaintance what monsters sleep under his bed, and as one of his fears, he replied: "I don't ever want to instill fear in someone else."

His answer not only reminded me that oppression oppresses the oppressor, it also felt fascinatingly foreign to me. As a petite woman, I can't recall being acutely afraid of inspiring much fear.

At an early age, girls are often trained that we are prey. We need only open a volume of fairy tales to see how frequently we are victimized. Just in case we aren’t frightened by Little Red Riding Hood, the Charles Perrault version offers us a "moral" at the end, telling "young lasses," particularly those who are "pretty, courteous and well-bred" that they “do very wrong to listen to strangers." And seemingly "gentle wolves," he warns us, may turn out to be the most dangerous.

I’d like to think it’s possible to deduce from this "moral" that it’s providential to be old, ugly, loud-mouthed and rude, but clearly that’s not the message here. We are instructed to trust no one and go nowhere.

Eventually, we may grow annoyed that these "wolves" dictate whom we speak to; our comings and goings. We may resent that this moral burdens us with avoiding such indiscernible wolves instead of shaming and blaming the wolves themselves for their wolfish behavior. And we may even wish to bare our teeth and growl to keep any wolves at bay, which would imply - instilling fear in another.

So do I, as a feminist, desire women to be seen as a formidable force? Do I fear that abandoning anger means abandoning justice (since anger can be a catalyst for positive change).

Still, I know women are capable of waging a tyranny of fear, albeit on a smaller scale than men (who still claim the political and global arena), in households and workplaces. I’ve often interpreted such fearsome behavior as a manifestation of helplessness rather than power, but is it less reprehensible?

"I don't ever want to instill fear in someone else."

This answer intrigued and surprised me. I wouldn’t have thought of it myself. I would have considered instilling fear a luxury of the powerful.

But how can I discount the power of women so absolutely? And wouldn’t I desire to use whatever power I possess to instill peace, not fear, inside this fragile world?

And I can’t help but wish that Our President had "this monster" sleeping under his bed.

26 repartee:

Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

"I would have considered instilling fear a luxury of the powerful."
Perhaps this also applies to the powerless, and as you say, the helpless. Often, I think people oppress others when they themselves are the weaker ones. For example, someone's goodness may frighten another person so the latter reacts by abusing. This isn't the case in all circumstances but surely there is something very wrong with the oppressor that makes her/him oppress others.

5/30/2006 9:58 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, MysticGypsy!

“Often, I think people oppress others when they themselves are the weaker ones.”

Yes, I think you’re quite right here. A deep sense of powerlessness (as much as an overblown sense of power) can stir someone to create a “false” force of fear and punishment. I imagine this is the case in domestic violence. A man might feel humiliated at work and take it out on his wife. Or a mother may feel trapped in poverty and take it out on her children.

So to exert a fearsome force over someone vulnerable to you is quite different than doing the same to one who is threatening you.

“For example, someone's goodness may frighten another person so the latter reacts by abusing.”

I find it so interesting that you suggest “goodness” is frightening! I’m going to have to think about this more... (I bet you can name instances in literature, tho!)

5/30/2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger Charlie wrote...

“Often, I think people oppress others when they themselves are the weaker ones.”

I agree that this is the major reason for not only domestic violence, but other violence as well: rape, bullying, pistol whippings of robbery victims, etc.

At the base of all violence is the NEED to control—the need to assert one's power over another for self-vailidation, for self-worth. Anger of course is the catalyst for violence, but the need is there first: To be alpha dog when in fact one is a beta—or even an omega.

But the controller is also a coward, and therein lies the weakness to abuse the weak. A man cannot physically abuse his boss, so he projects his control over his wife and children. A bully, by definition, will always pick on someone smaller. A rapist needs to control women and, when he can't, chooses a vulnerable victim.

John Reed was a bully and chose Jane, a tiny defenseless girl, to control and abuse. Mrs. Reed hated Jane for a different reason: Jane's verbal cry of "Enough!" exposed Mrs. Reeds oppression and cruelty. I was not surprised that both died tragically and bitterly.

Could it be, then, that both Reeds were frightened of Jane's goodness?

5/30/2006 12:35 PM  
Blogger Charlie wrote...

So do I, as a feminist, desire women to be seen as a formidable force?

Yes. "Good" anger is as powerful and constructive as bad anger is destructive.

Just look at the Civil Rights movement and Rosa Parks.

5/30/2006 12:43 PM  
Blogger Tai wrote...

What an interesting post!
I've had alot of those same questions about what it means to be fearful and what it means to instill fear.
Thanks!

5/30/2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Admiral!

“At the base of all violence is the NEED to control—the need to assert one's power over another for self-validation, for self-worth.”

Well stated (as is your entire comment!). I think you’re right that controlling behavior often comes down to self-esteem, ego, and as you note, cowardice.

I also wonder if there is a lack of self-awareness, too, in some cases. An inability to perceive one’s own power and thus, the devastation one has caused/is causing.

Ah, how clever of you to include Jane Eyre in your response! - :D

“Could it be, then, that both Reeds were frightened of Jane's goodness?”

An excellent example! The Reeds do everything in their power to label, prove and publicly expose Jane as “bad.”

“‘Good’ anger is as powerful and constructive as bad anger is destructive.”

Yes! However, I think a question for me is when does constructive anger become unconstructive?

Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron has said that if two sides are shouting at each other, no one is being heard, but when an activist confessed to her that she was afraid to stop shouting, because too many are silent, Pema had no easy answer. Rosa Parks, of course, is a excellent example of someone who did not shout, but was heard.

Thank you!

5/30/2006 1:59 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Tai! Thanks! As usual, I have more questions than answers - ;)

5/30/2006 2:00 PM  
Blogger Janet wrote...

I seriously think you should take some of these posts and turn them into a book.

5/30/2006 6:27 PM  
Blogger Bored Dominatrix wrote...

Interesting question, as always!

Don't you think it has something to do with people's own notions of safety and fearfulness?

I have certainly been afraid of a lot of things in my life--not so much of people but of situations. A few things I should have been even more afraid of than I was, but I wasn't smart enough to realize how dangerous something really was. Other things scared me far more than they should have, again because I was inexperienced and didn't understand how little real threat existed.

At this point I can't imagine being afraid of someone unless they are threatening me with violence or sabotage, both of which I try to avoid inflicting on others.

You raise the issue of power--I would have considered instilling fear a luxury of the powerful. I think a lot of people interpret resentment of power as fear, particularly when the power is held by someone they think shouldn't have it. Students sometimes tell me that I am "intimidating." Given that they feel comfortable telling me this, I have to wonder how "intimidating" I really am.... The people I'm truly afraid of frighten me enough that I'm not going to tell them I'm afraid. I'm going to keep my distance and protect myself. (Though perhaps there are students who take this approach with me.)

I have no doubt that students often resent the power I have, but I try not to wield it capriciously, and I state my policies explicitly to reassure them of that. I don't want to scare anyone, and I try not to be scary. But some people are simply afraid of power--wielding it, observing it, responding to it. And with such people, their fear is their problem, not mine. I'm not instilling fear, I'm simply the object of it.

5/30/2006 6:55 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Thank you, Janet! Any time you're ready to publish me (ha!), just let me know - ;)

5/31/2006 5:35 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Holly (aka BD)!

Wow. You have really deepened this issue for me.

Yes, expectations and anticipations can create fears about a nonexistent or self-created monster. Our fear itself can become the very monstrosity we are fleeing.

“Students sometimes tell me that I am ‘intimidating.’ Given that they feel comfortable telling me this, I have to wonder how ‘intimidating’ I really am....”

Hehe! Yes! And being “intimidating” could mean that you are a demanding teacher, which (despite their “fears”) is in their best interest.

Not only are there those who are afraid of authority outright, there are those who resent women in authority, and so I think you may get a double-whammy in some cases.

Thank you for your rich comment and for allowing us to look through the lens of woman in power, who may be feared for no other reason than the fact that she is a woman in power.

I love how you turn “instilling fear” on its head. You have reminded me that some “fear” is good. If we have no fear at all, then we may be fools or we may not be truly challenging ourselves.

Your comment has sparked a lot of thought for me. Thanks! - :)

5/31/2006 5:37 AM  
Blogger The Poodle's Friend wrote...

Sometimes, instilling fear is a less a luxury of the powerful than a means of gaining power. As Machiavelli said, it is better to be feared than to be respected. Thus, by intilling fear, the weak gain power and instill more fear in order to maintain it.

Now what does this tell us about dearest Mr. President?

HI FROM BOMBAY!

TPF and Pan

5/31/2006 1:04 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

TPF & PAN!!! Hello, world-travelers!

“Thus, by instilling fear, the weak gain power and instill more fear in order to maintain it.”

Hmmm… I think this says quite a bit about dearest Mr. President - ;)

Lovely to hear from our beloved teen bloggers – all the way from Bombay!

5/31/2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger actonbell wrote...

Hey, my comment's gone:(

What was I saying...I admired Admiral Pooper's comment, and then said something on the line of what Poodle's Friend said--look at how everyone wants to have nuclear weapons--it's all about respect. And our dear prez wants us all scared, too. I think that's pretty much all I said, anyway.
Happy Wednesday, Frankengirl:)

5/31/2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hey, ActonBell!

Apparently, the blogosphere finds your comments very tasty and eats them right up - ;)

Yes, I agree about the prez wanting Americans scared. It’s how he keeps so many in-line. It convinced my mum to vote for him. Fear.

Happy Thursday to you!!!

6/01/2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger Charlie wrote...

I think a question for me is when does constructive anger become unconstructive?

Sometimes, I actually have to think before I say something.

My anger becomes destructive when:

1. Anger turns into resentment.
2. That I am yelling so loud that no one, including myself, can either hear or listen.
3. When my conscience "tells" me that I am violating a personal principle I am determined to uphold: That I must accept the things I cannot change, and that raving hurts no one but myself.

The latter is indeed a bitter pill to swallow, but I cannot destroy myself trying to set aright injustices I have no "control" over.

Unfortunately, there are always other good fights to be fought.

6/01/2006 11:57 AM  
Blogger Sophia wrote...

I too cannot relate to the fear of being feared, as a fellow Petite. In fact, one of the reasons I decided against becoming a high school teacher was that I felt I wouldn't seem authoritative enough when standing up (literally) against big football jocks! Silly me.

I like MysticGypsy's idea that goodness can be intimidating. Good versus evil...

6/01/2006 12:14 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Admiral!

What an astute and candid response to my question. Thank you very much.

I can say that I have experienced all three myself. Sometimes, it is hard to know when to give up the fight, but as you say, there are always more battles to be found and fought elsewhere.

6/01/2006 6:14 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Sophia! Hello, fellow petitite (and gym class dodgeress)

I did teach high school, and on my first day, I was repeatedly mistaken for a new student. What fun that was - ;)

And I agree - MysticGypsy’s comment on Goodness being intimidating is very thought-provoking…

6/01/2006 6:20 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl!
"I did teach high school"
Oh can you share more about your experiences? I'd love to hear them :) Were they positive?

If someone's concience is troubled when they come face to face with its negative propensities, this is one reason why they might find goodness intimidating. An attack of conscience is a far serious matter because one deals with it alone. And many would rather not do so, and hence they might resort to violence because they just dont' know how else to react. This is illustrated in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, where both Hattersley and Huntingdon abuse their "virtous" wives.

6/01/2006 9:47 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, MysticGypsy!

“An attack of conscience is a far serious matter because one deals with it alone. And many would rather not do so, and hence they might resort to violence because they just don’t know how else to react.”

Yes, so very insightful - how people project their own flaws onto another or desire a scapegoat to blame for their own weaknesses. Tenant is a great example - :)

Hmm, as for teaching, I loved the students, but I was constantly embattled with the administration at this particular school. I found the textbooks absurdly backward and uninspiring, and would toss them aside to talk directly to the students. I was informal and not very obedient to school regulations when I found them limiting to learning.

There was a “boy’s club” atmosphere at this school and another female teacher who started when I did quit midway through the year. Once there was a skirmish between two students in the hallway, and I threw my small self between them while two manly men closed their classroom doors to avoid involvement.

Ah - I should note that I was teaching in the Special Resource Room in which all teens who were unwanted in “normal” classes were thrown. I found that some of these kids were often bullied in the so-called normal classes and there was absolutely no “intelligence” reason for them to be with me, but those in power appeared to look the other way. Thus, I ended up with quite a few gifted teens among the struggling ones.

The students amazed me with their incredible creativity and their fierce strength against adversity. They taught me far more than I taught them.

6/01/2006 10:38 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Wow! How much you seem to have done Frankengirl! Teaching to boot as well! And working in Special Resource Room must have been challenging, no doubt. So I gather you worked in an all-boys' school? Would you have the same opinion of teaching if you had worked in a co-ed or all-girls' environment? Also, if you have left teaching, what was the most important factor that made you leave it? Would you do it again?
Sorry if this sounds like too many questions at once. I was considering teaching too.

6/01/2006 11:28 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

"How much you seem to have done Frankengirl!"

Hehe! When you're an English Major, you can end up with a lot of odd jobs! - ;)

I didn’t work at an all-boys’ school - sorry for the confusion. It was a coed public school in an old mill town in which the mills were being shut down. By “Boy’s Club,” I meant that approx. 70-80% of the faculty and 100% of the administration was male. In the end, they didn’t want a young idealistic (and yes, somewhat Pollyanna!) feminist coming in and rocking the boat.

I truly regretted leaving the students behind me. There were lots of tears and I suspect feelings of abandonment on their part, but I had taken too many punches from the administration, and at that time, I was too young to know how to work the system to the students’ advantage.

But PLEASE don’t let this story deter you from considering teaching!!! A Resource Room in an under-funded school is not at all the easiest place to start one’s career - ;)

A friend told me about a job reading scripts for a theatre, and I thought—what Heaven!!! And yes, it was Heaven (tho Heaven doesn’t pay very well). One aspect of my job was overseeing literary interns and I loved teaching them "the ropes;" sharing what I had learned with them; being challenged by their questions. This is the joyful part of teaching for me.

Thank you for your questions!!! They are a gift, you know - :D

6/02/2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Kyahgirl wrote...

This is such a great post Frankengirl. I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful posts. It makes it a pleasure to come here.

A lot of your commenters have touched on points I want to make. There is one more though. As a woman raising a daughter, I'm always conscious of the messages I send to her (and to my son). I want the children to be aware of their vulnerabilites so they can defend themselves, but to be aware of their innate power and their rights to be here, to not be bullied, to have a voice, and a place.

There are so many themes about fear and femininism and power that revolve around this.

One example I have is that my brother gave me heck for revealing too much about myself on my blog. I am moderately careful to protect my children and family but I told him, I'm not going to 'hide' in case someone wants to steal my photo and put it on a nude body or something like that. I won't let the bastards that do that kind of thing make me live in fear. Also, I think I generate enough good will on my blog that it is a defense in itself. I don't have trolls or nasty people hanging around because they don't enjoy the spirit of goodwill, strength and caring that my blogging friends and family surround me with.

Fear is so complex, I could blab on for a long time but will stop here.
I always learn something when I drop by here. Thanks! :-)

6/02/2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Dear Kyahgirl,

What a great point you raise!!! The desire to protect others from dangers without instilling fear; ensuring your children protect themselves without restricting themselves too much.

This seems a whole topic in itself and I can’t do it justice here, but I’m so glad you brought it to light. Our struggle to find the right balance - creating as much safety as possible without creating “ivory towers” around ourselves or our loved ones.

Thank you so much for your truly thoughtful comment – :)

6/04/2006 3:08 PM  
Blogger Charlie wrote...

FG: An acquaintance of mine has contacted me and asked that you forward this note to our mutual friend.

Dearest Doriana,

I am deeply distressed by your beautiful portrait, which C. has hung above the fireplace. I do not mean to alarm you, and it may be nothing more than my feeble eyesight, but it appears that your visage is not aging properly. It distresses me that an already inexplicable process may indeed be reversing itself. Please respond, at your earliest convenience, and tell me that I am seeing things, that it is merely a product of my overactive imagination.

Yours truly &c,

Eunice

6/05/2006 10:25 AM  

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