Monday, February 16, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: Passive aggressive?

I'm thinking of spending a whole week on the theme of Fifty Shades of Grey. Not the actual thing as I haven't and and will not read the book and will not be seeing the film. See if you can figure out the connection here.

My father put up with a lot of crap he shouldn't have put up with. You could read that as criticism of the people who subjected him to the crap he shouldn't put up with or you could read it as criticism of him for putting up with the crap instead of just saying "No!" to it. You could go either way and I leave it up to you to decide.

Here's the thing: because he put up with this stuff he shouldn't have put up with, he'd sometimes explode in rage when he couldn't take it anymore. I'm like that. It's nothing I like about myself. In fact, I hate myself for doing it. But it's a mixed feeling. I feel justified in my anger but I also feel that if I'd stood up for myself much earlier I would have been able to react rationally instead of blowing up.

I hate myself for blowing up. But I keep doing it. 

I used to think that was what passive-aggressive meant: you passively accepted shit you shouldn't accept until one day you just lose it and become aggressive.  That isn't what passive aggressive means. Now I think of passively accepting crap until you can't take it anymore as, "that thing that men do". Because it is. It's not just me.

Passive-aggressive actually means agreeing to something and then quietly undermining it by inaction and subterfuge. You might also call it, "that thing that women do". Not all women and certainly not only women do it but a lot of women do. And it's easy to see why. It makes sense. Historically, women were usually not given much power and being  passive-aggressive was often the only way they had to resist what they didn't like. (That's still true for a lot of young women and children with parents who just don't get it.)

You cannot, as I hope is clear, generalize too much. There are women who specialize in the first and men who specialize in the second.

If you feel like you're strong, you'll tend to use the male option. Imagine Gulliver seeing what the Lilliputians are up to and thinking he'll put up with this and managing to do so until he realizes that his liberty and safety are at risk so he explodes. When he does he either kills or maims Lilliputians. If he'd just stopped them right at the outset, he could have avoided hurting anybody but he cooperates because that's what you're supposed to do. That was how the Romans ended up with an empire. At first, they tried to cooperate and the neighbours just wouldn't stop scheming against  them so the Romans stomped them but good beginning with Carthage. A lot of the reputation the Romans now have for being violent oppressors stems from their having first tried to cooperate and then exploding. If they'd just conquered other peoples in the first place they'd probably be better-remembered today.

If, on the other hand, you feel weak you'll use passive-aggressive strategies in the classic sense. A lot of women use this even against people who haven't done anything in particular to hurt them. I think a lot of women who were repeatedly and unfairly criticized and demeaned by their parents later take it out on their husbands with passive aggressive tactics. Harriet Westbrook being exhibit A in this.

Real classic-aggressive strategies can work, however, and we shouldn't forget that. This was how the Irish finally won something like independence.

All that said, men mostly do the first and women mostly do the second.

More on Fifty Shades tomorrow.

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