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Freitag, 25. Januar 2013

Somewhat off topic: Insults

I started writing this blog post in October, inspired by a post by Katrin of Reizende Rundungen (a German fashion blog) about verbal assaults and how to deal with them. As it’s such an endless topic, I never thought it to be actually finished so the following musings started to become one of my many desk drawer inhabitants.

Now, it’s really impossible not to stumble upon the question of assaults and body shaming and similar things every once in a while, like... everyday. Wether you read a newspaper or a blog or go out on the street or talk to friends – it’s literally everywhere. So, today, this time induced by You don’t have to put on the red light* (*you’re fair game anyway) by Becky Busts4Justice, I try again.

On the question of how to react to insults, Katrin of aforementioned blog Reizende Rundungen wrote some very empowering and touching things about how to overcome the feeling of being hurt and humiliated by loving yourself and not taking insults to your heart. Still, I feel like there are some things missing. In this post I’m concentrating on insults coming from total strangers, as Katrin also described in a follow up “Verbal assault on the open street”. There is by the way, another topic you might think of, about haters on the internet. But this would simply go beyond the scope of this blog post… it's too long already, sorry!

Thanks to my flatmate for creative assistance in an hour of need. ;-)
Some general thoughts on insults...

First of all, insults are something that can happen to everyone. Nevertheless, the probability to some degree depends your position in social hierarchy. It’s therefore much more likely to become a target if you’re a woman, black, queer, disabled or whatever. Bullies will perceive you as the perfect device to acchieve their goal: feeling better themselves. They look for someone they can humiliate who is not very likely to fight back.

But, and this is crucial, that does not mean that being insulted is your fault because you appear weak. It’s not that you are too fat, too black, too queer or simply too provocative. This also means, and that’s really important to understand and accept in all consequences, you cannot avoid being insulted by keeping your head down and following some secret rules. There is no justification for verbal assaults. It’s your right to be what and who you are – regardless what other people think. And they can think all they want as long as they keep it to themselves and their mouth shut. 

Unfortunately there is always someone who cannot follow this basic rule of intersubjective relations; perhaps because they can’t distinguish between thinking and talking, there is simply no filter in between. So they blurt out the first thing that comes to their mind. And most of the time it’s nothing you wanted to hear. 

The real question is, why they do it and the answer is pretty obvious: because insulting you makes them feel better. Objectifing someone allows the perpetrators to increase their low self esteem and imagine themselves as some kind of superior beings. This only works, of course, if the victim stays on the receiving end of the aggression. As soon as you start fighting back, the desired effect changes to its opposite.

This is not only the case for the aggressor but also for the victim. Some kind of reaction to a threatening situation is neccessary to get it out of your system. Classically this would be a choice between fight or flight. But then, in the case of an insult, the harm is already done. You cannot escape the attack since it already has happened. So you have only two options: 

Possible reactions to a verbal assault:

Reaction one: Ignoring it.
You imagine yourself as impenetrable and let the insult simply drip off you. This means you are in a position that allows you to see the offense as something fictional that does not penetrate your armour of self-confidence. You know that the aggressor is nothing but a pitiful creature and the insult bears no meaning whatsoever. This is a very enviable state of mind and I’m pretty sure there are not many to master it. To acchieve this, you need a black belt in serenity.

Much more likely you feel hurt and humiliated and attacked and it will take hours, days even to get rid of the impact of the insult. It will nag at you and you will catch yourself at pondering over ways to change yourself in order to avoid similar attacks. Maybe you’ll consider a diet or a more modest and unremarkable choice of clothes, perhaps even cosmetic surgeries. People go to great lenghts to pass at something that attracts less attention: homosexual men delve into heterosexual, even macho stereotypes in order to avoid being seen as “poofy” and many women hide themselves in colourless bags, hoping this will make them invisible.

A dear friend of mine recently confessed to being concerned about her appearance and outfits because she was labeled as a lesbian on a regular basis. She thought that maybe growing her hair might do the trick or choosing different clothes, that were less ‘butchy’ and more ‘femme’. We talked about it for a while and pretty quickly arrived at the conclusion that probably this would not help at all, she’d only have to renounce herself and her individual traits to fit some stupid male sterotype – and worst: she’d react to the attribution as if it was an insult in itself. And being a lesbian certainly is nothing to be ashamed of, even if you’d preferred not to be put in a box by first impression and labeled something you can’t relate to. 

About sexual harassements...
However, the discussion led to shedding some light on the actual implication of the labeling - the challenge of “proving otherwise”. Being called a lesbian can be a very crude way of trying to hook up with you. Like “if you’re not a lesbian, what’s your excuse not to… have a drink/kiss/sex, whatever.”

The border between a pick-up line and an insult is often very thin and sometimes not existent at all. Ever been in a situation when you asked yourself if this was a line that worked with anyone? When it was simply unbelievable anybody would fall for an approach like that? Yeah, it’s real fun sometimes… (irony)

I write this of course from the perspective of having large boobs which gets me a lot of comments, ranging from ridiculous to pretty nasty. But in the end it doesn’t matter what it is, people and male persons in particular always tend to find a weak spot, they can abuse.

However, I do not want to drift of into a rant about my own experiences. I just wanted to mention that stupid pick up lines and sexual harassements work in the same way as “ordinary insults” in the way that they boost the speaker’s ego/feeling of “uber-subjectivity” by objectifing a woman.

Reaction two: Mirroring the aggression
As mentioned above, there are two options to deal with insults. First one = ignoring it and the second one would be to mirror the aggression you encountered by giving it right back. Someone comments on your body? Then tell him, he’s ugly, stupid, whatever comes to mind. It does not have to be witty (though it’s nice if you can think of something funny/intelligent). The very first thing you’ll experience is surprise. A bully rarely counts on resistance. And then he’ll probably be angry because you’ve dared to turn the tables. And this is the moment that is priceless and will allow you to go your way, whistling cheerfully instead of hating yourself for hours.

In a nutshell: Fighting back works wonders. No more being annoyed at yourself and others. Reflecting the insult means you can close that file immediately after and have a nice day.

Of course, you have to consider if you feel safe enough. It’s not the best of ideas to provoke an angry mob or challenge someone in a deserted surrounding, possibly at night. But then, most insults happen in broad daylight on the open street and the perpetrators are not 6ft 6 nazis who count street fighting among their dearest hobbies. 

So, I said what I originally planned on saying. Allow me some last amendments:

My advice about fighting back might not work for everybody. I think of situations of sexual assault and the way victims blame themselves and – worse – are blamed for not having said No! more firmly. That’s not what I wanted to imply. I just like to encourage people, especially women, not to shut up but retort, to fight back.

I have to admit, that in my life I also practice quite a lot of "flight strategies": I wear headphones a lot when walking through the city, I avoid certain locations and even groups of male adolescents. A part of the flight strategies are also "stealthy tactics" like choosing non-feminine clothes. (As I’ve been told that the number of stupid lines increases drastically when wearing a skirt for example.)

Personal level: And then, insults and verbal abuse is something you might get from people you actually know and even like. I suggest confronting the person about your feelings. A “I feel hurt by” sentence usually works quite well as it establishes a personal level that enables the other person to think about the implications of their words. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they have a bad conscience and learn from it. ;-)
So, having said that, I think it’s really time to stop here. 

Maybe you want to share some ideas on how to deal with insults?
Would love to hear what you think about it!

Hey, ich bin george und schlecht darin, mich kurz zu fassen. Ich tummle mich mit multiplen Persönlichkeiten im Netz, einige kennen mich vielleicht unter meinem Terry Pratchett-Pseudonym. Zu meinen Hobbies gehört Nörgeln, Kaffeetrinken und Prokrastinieren. Mehr Persönliches gibt es im Jahresrückblick 2013 und auf meiner Vorstellungsseite. [x]

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