Last night as I laughed with people who are dear to me, we were happy and uplifted. But the evening turned ugly when one of them showed me a facebook feed adorned with sexualized ass, guns, cars and fast food. He joked and said ‘it’s all a man needs’. But I didn’t find it funny. On the contrary, I was so appalled and angry that I had to leave, overwhelmed by what appeared to them all to be an oversized reaction. The evening was tainted, coloured by what I’ve tried so hard to eradicate from my life. What I’ve hated so hard in Trump’s campaign. The punchline of what was meant to be my friend’s throwaway joke, was the objectification of women.
My affliction is called weltschmertz; the german term for ‘world-pain’, a deep gushing sadness at the bigotry and evil so normal in our humanity. I cried when I left, I cried when I went to sleep, I cried when I woke up, I cried in the shower, I cried as I cooked lunch, I cried as I shared everything I could on facebook to show the strength of my opposition to Trump and what he stands for. Until last night I stayed the rational side of the Trump debacle, emotionally untouched by the madness that unfolds on the other side of the Atlantic, I’ve shared my views in reasoned and dispassionate logic believing that surely good will prevail. I’ve laughed at the irony of a Trump supporter who says he upholds the American ideal of respect for women as he proudly wears a t-shirt saying ‘Hillary sucks, but not as well as Monica’. I’m not laughing anymore. I’m crying because what this farce of an election has done, is to uncover evil in my own home, in my own friends and yes, also in myself. It has torn the veil off those relationships I believed were rock solid. Not because my world or social circle are anything like as extreme as Trump, but because extreme or not, his vile behaviours–like the objectification of women–are so commonplace.
Today I grieve. I grieve that my friend who shows kindness, who shows me respect and whose kids play with my kids, has been socialized, as we all have been socialized, to let slide and even buy into this kind of common objectification. It’s not my friend looking at sexualized imagery of women which sparked my outrage. But at the clear insinuation, by his joke and the juxtaposition of the imagery, that these women are tied to the status of cars, guns, and hamburgers, that they are things to be used and discarded when they have served their usefulness. It hurts more because he is my friend and I cannot vilify him as I do Trump. My friend is a good and decent man. So I cannot deny that there is evil all around me. It is no longer a laughing matter–if it ever was–and in the current political climate I cannot accept a joke that I might well have brushed aside because these micro-comments are symptomatic of a pervasive and despicable problem.
Trump’s ethos is overt and ugly. He is a caricature, a cartoon buffoon. All decency forbids most people from showing such vileness. We might acknowledge in private that we too have acted out of fear and ignorance at one time or another, but we certainly do not glory in it. We do not brag about it. And now for me at least, even throwaway jokes are off limits. Because I know what dread feels like and I felt it last night.
Objectification is part of our nature, it is not only a learned value. It is a survival mechanism. We instinctively seek to fulfil our needs using whatever we have to hand with only the neo-cortex to regulate what is otherwise one of our most powerful ways to spread and multiply. It’s part of who we are. If I could cut myself in half to tear away this side of us, of me, I would. I have given birth to two amazing children who will be objectified and who will objectify in their turn. The very idea causes me pain. Pain that overwhelms my rationality. I have been on both sides of the coin, heavily objectified and objectifying, albeit in ignorance. I see Trump’s ignorance and what I have forgiven in my past self and in my friends I now condemn. I have no compassion, I fight ruthlessly to be aware of it, but awareness is a moving target for all of us. So I also grieve at what seems like the inevitable tragedy of our existence. That we will do literally anything our minds deem appropriate to survive. And one of those things is objectification.
Where can I go from here? How can I accept the ugliness that exists in all of us? I cannot escape it. I cannot escape the hypocrisy which is what creates this schism of abhorrence splitting my soul. There is nowhere I can run to, although I’ve done my best by living in one of the most liberal, gender equal countries of the world and on a carless island away from consumerism. As I cannot flee further, I must fight. I will go against my survival mechanisms which warn me to preserve my intimate relationships. I will cast them away if that is what must be done to ensure morality in the world I prepare for my children’s generation. But in doing so, am I myself becoming what I love to hate?
Back in the days when I was better at French, I once read Moliere’s Le Misanthrope and couldn’t understand the bitter creature who insulted those around him, and who disliked the hypocrisy of his world so much, that he refused to be a part of it… preferring, it seemed, to live and die alone. I am a social creature, like all of us. But today I act the part of the misanthrope because I finally understand him. I’m filled with contempt for what we do, and how we act. I weep for him and for me. I weep for us today, away from the world and in isolation.