Thursday, 4 April 2013

More on Boundaries

As I was rereading yesterday's post, it occurred to me that I ought to have said something about boundaries. Guarding your heart and, let's face it, your whole self from harm involves the setting and maintaining of boundaries.

When we are kids, we are taught a lot of boundaries. We are allowed to play in these places, and not in others. We aren't supposed to talk to strangers unless our parents prompt us to do so. (A bit confusing.) We can't take candy from strangers--again, not unless our parents prompt us to do so. (Also confusing, like so many parental mixed messages.) Some of these boundaries are about our parents' comfort and ease. But most are about our personal safety.

Civilization is all about human beings--especially weak human beings, like children--surviving, thriving and flourishing in community. It is about training the strong not to hurt but to protect or at least to suffer the weaker to survive and thrive unmolested. Christian civilization stresses that all human beings deserve to survive and thrive unmolested--unless they are hurting others, in which case they must certainly be restrained.

However, human beings are not innately civilized, and human beings are thoughtless or wicked quite a lot of the time. Some human beings dedicate themselves to destroying civilization, rather like  that game where you remove parts of a toy tower (or house of cards), block by block (or card by card), to see how much you can remove without the tower crashing down. For example, how often can a child listen to hateful, misogynist, sexually explicit, rape-culture pop music before he or she starts despising women as whores or, ahem, "ho's"?

When civilization begins to fall apart, those who are weaker are most vulnerable. And, although I'm very sorry to say this, this means women, especially young women.* Not only are most women physically weaker than most men, women--especially young women--care more about what people think of us. In general, women want to be cherished, and men want to be respected. We women want to be thought of "nice," and so we often smile ingratiatingly in even the most outrageous of circumstances. We are more likely than men to be victims of political correctness because to be called racist or homophobe or any other nasty name threatens our status of "nice" faster than it threatens our jobs.

I once knew a teenager who was mentally and emotionally abused and manipulated into doing sexual stuff she didn't want to do by a boyfriend who was confined for life to a wheelchair. Disabled men can be just as gentlemanly or as abusive as other men, that's for sure. And this is where I make my Woman Trumps Everything but Child speech.

You may discover, in life, people trying to break down your boundaries or forcing you to second-guess your instincts by acting or speaking as though you are some kind of privileged tyrant, either because of your colour, your ethnic background, your religion, your sweet demeanour, your education, your nice family, your ability to walk, whatever. I highly recommend that you have nothing to do with such people, or at least tell them that they are making you feel uncomfortable, and then talk about what they said with HR (if at work) or your chaplain (if at college).

What's more, I highly recommend that if you get on an elevator and see a man who makes you feel uncomfortable, get off the elevator, even if he is a different colour from you.  If you are walking down the street and you see a man before or behind you who makes you nervous, cross the street, even if he is a different colour from you. It is very important that you privilege your physical safety over your fear of being called a racist. And if anyone ever, ever tells you that if you don't go out with him or kiss him or anything else with him it's because you are a racist, leave at once. Call your mother. Call a cab. Get the heck out.

Woman trumps race. Woman trumps gay. Woman trumps handicap. Woman trumps poor. Woman trumps ethnic group. Woman trumps everything and everyone except children and babies because most woman are more vulnerable than most men, especially in a crumbling civilization. My ethnics prof back in Canada told students always to consider, in an ethical dilemma, "the most vulnerable person in the situation." When it comes to strangers or near-strangers, the sexual revolution, the darkened street, the drunken party, that would be you, my female readers.

This is not to say you cannot inflict a lot of emotional damage on men because of course you can, and I hope you don't do so deliberately or out of thoughtlessness. But you do have to realize that although the sun is shining and the world is beautiful, there are a lot of men who will say or do absolutely anything to take advantage of you and then, after you are crying in agony of spirit, smugly congratulate themselves on their cleverness. (To such men, any lie that does the job counts as cleverness.)

So boundaries. Now that you aren't a kid anymore, it is up to you--not your parents--to draw up these boundaries and to enforce them. Here are a list of potential boundaries you might have chosen already or might find helpful:

1. You don't allow men in your dwelling unless you have known them for a long time.
2. You don't go on overnight trips/out of town with men you barely know.
3. You do not go behind closed doors with men you barely know.
4. You don't discuss "such personal subjects" (i.e. sex stuff) with men who are not your husband or boyfriend.
5. You don't discuss your marital status.
6. You don't discuss your religious beliefs in a casual way, at work or at parties.
7. You don't accept lifts from strangers.
8. You don't discuss race or politics or [whatever] at work/with strangers/ etc.
9. You don't talk to strangers on the street beyond remarks about the weather or giving directions.
10. You don't talk about your sins, except with the clergyman in whom you have chosen to confide.

To enforce your boundaries, you have to speak up. If you have to preface the stating of a boundary with, "I'm sorry, but," that's fine as long as it's just a polite convention and you are not really sorry for your boundaries and God-given autonomy. If speaking firmly doesn't seem to convince your interlocutor of the inviolability of your boundary, or if he starts calling you names (e.g. racist, prude, selfish), then I recommend walking away. And if he tries to physically restrain you, scream your lungs out. Either way, you must then call a friend or relative to tell them what happened, so that your sense of autonomy is strengthened by someone who loves you.

*Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to STDS/STIs.


Lisette said...

Absolutely. Safety first. I´m a woman of color and I cross the street when I am uncomfortable.

Seraphic said...

Thanks for mentioning that, Lisette! When I lived in the USA, I was amazed by how absolutely obsessed people were about race and "not looking racist." Meanwhile, even the anti-racism measures were outrageously racist--like TAs having to write special reports at my college about the students of colour to make sure they were doing okay in the (and I quote) "white" environment.