It’s a funny sort of compliment: “you’re not like other girls”. On its face, its premise is that we should be so ashamed of our gender that to be distinguished from it is flattering. But slightly beneath the surface is the implication that because we are different from other women, we’ll be treated differently from other women. We are seduced into believing that we’re special, that we’re the exception, and that we can change them.
One of the most powerful women I know was the victim of domestic violence: a well-known and sought after academic who was (and is) exceptional in the truest sense of the term, who every evening drove back to a violent home.
And we don’t just believe we’re different because others tell us so. We imagine that we cannot become the victims of domestic violence, and that our friends could not be victimized, because we’re strong independent women. Because we’re well educated, and we have supportive friends and family. We can afford to leave a bad situation, and we know all the hotlines to call. So then we tell ourselves that if we’re not leaving, it must be because it’s not really so bad, and thereby convince ourselves to stay even longer.
I had a friend once who kept a calendar specifically to track how often her boyfriend made her cry. She asked me once how many times a week should be the deal breaker, and I told her that buying the calendar should have been the deal breaker.
We get so caught up in our own fairy tale: people who tell us to not be with the other person just bring us closer together, because it’s us against the world; ex girlfriends who talk shit about the person we love are villainous; the fights we have prove our passion and staying together in spite of them proves our commitment. We lose the objectivity which allows us to identify danger.
I once allowed myself to believe that a guy loved me despite that he seemingly couldn’t remember any detail about my life, any detail about conversations we’d had, would disappear and ignore me for months – neglecting birthdays and holidays, and never once kept a promise to me. Because I constructed a narrative around it: a tragic story of star crossed lovers. I took the words “I love you” at face value, and ignored the fact that they were never supported by action.
The hard truth is that there’s no exception to the rule: that if he did it to her, he’ll do it to you. It doesn’t mean that you’re not exceptional. It doesn’t mean that you’re not special. It doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve better. It’s just to say that the women who came before us didn’t fail to inspire better behaviour by failing to be sufficiently special. We should pay more heed to their warnings.