Thursday, November 1, 2012

It’s not me…it’s you.

I read a blog post today that launched a challenge. At the end of this post, I want to issue a challenge of my own. But first, a rant:

This post introduced to a quote today by celebrity-author Jenny McCarthy. Let me preface this by saying that, while I seldom agree with McCarthy's take on the world, I do believe that she is a genuinely intended person. However, this quote stirred a lot of strong feelings in me, and it took me a little while to process what it was that I was reacting to. While I often have opinions on just about everything, I very seldom have emotional reactions to any given topic unless it directly relates to my emotional experience as a human being, so I was surprised to find myself so upset. 

McCarthy, in an article entitled Haters Will Be Haters- Or Will They Have An Awakening, states:

I learned about something called “projected identification.” This is the medical term that shrinks use to explain why people say mean things. According to this theory, when you feel bad about yourself and you don’t know what to do with it, you project it on to other people so you’re able to see it. I’m sure you’ve heard some guru say, “Everyone in your life is your mirror.” This is one of the best laws of the universe. When you say something negative, you are talking about yourself. When you say something positive, you are talking about yourself. Whatever emotions you’re experiencing in your own life, that’s exactly how you view the world. Love yourself and you love what you see. Hate yourself and you hate what you see.”

While I can certainly appreciate that this is probably true in some situations, I take issue with McCarthy’s overly simplistic rendition of a very complex psychological theory, which is still very theoretical in nature and much more specified than she would indicate above.  For a brief introduction at Projective Identification Theory, including some limitations and distinctions that are very important to understand, please see this article.

Before I go into my total reactions to McCarthy’s statements, I’d like to recount a brief anecdote from when I was about 14. I had been invited, along with my father, to spend a week with my brother and his family at a cottage on a lake in Quebec.  I had a wonderful time with them and met many kids about my age who were all ‘regulars’ there.  We played together, almost incessantly for the week and when my time with them was over, we exchanged phone numbers and addresses, and promised to keep in touch. I thought that I had made friends for life.

My father and I were supposed to head to Montreal to spend a week trotting around his childhood city.  This sounded ever so boring to my 14 year old self, so I begged and pleaded that instead we would return to the lake and I could spend another week with my newfound soul mates.  My dad conceded, which was shocking since he had been really looking forward to our Montreal experience.

Upon my return, my friends were less than jubilant to see me. In fact, they seemed to be outright avoiding me. They ignored calls,  and when we ran into each other it felt forced and awkward. After a few days, I tearfully asked my sister why they were being so mean to me.

She answered very plainly: “They aren’t mean. You know that. You like them very much. They just don’t like you as much as you like them. And I think they’re trying to tell you that you overstayed your welcome.”

I was shocked. I had come to her for support and commiseration, not to be told that I- the victim in all of this- was to blame!

And then I started to really think about it. And I knew that she was right.  These were old friends who probably looked forward to spending their summers together. While it may have been nice to have a stranger join them for a few days to change up the dynamic, they were really mostly interested in spending time with each other.  And, in their shoes, I would probably feel the same way.

And I realized then,a lesson that has stuck with me my whole life:

Sometimes, it’s not them. It’s me.

Getting back to my original point, I take issue with McCarthy’s claim that “when you say something negative, you are talking about yourself”.  Don’t get me wrong- this is hardly a new or innovative stance- and McCarthy is far from the first to “go there”.  But it’s an attitude that I really fundamentally disagree with, and one that I believe has led to great ills in our society.

At 31, I have witnessed trends within my generation and the one that follows it that genuinely frighten me.  As an employer, I’ve witnessed turnover rates that would blow your mind.  I’ve received phone calls from parents yelling at me for terminating their (adult) child, who had failed to show up for three shifts in a row.  I’ve been told that certain types of work and salaries are “beneath” people, and have witnessed the rise of an academic ‘elite’ that seems to think that it is somehow better to be unemployed than it is to work in a field where you have to pay your dues and slowly rise to the top.

We were told, as children, that we are all special and unique snowflakes that should be cherished. This is absolutely true. There is no other hand that bares your fingerprint, no other voice that lilts in quite the same manner as yours. But what we failed to remember was that this is equally true for every single person that you meet.  You are a beautiful and unique snowflake in a blizzard full of beautiful and unique snowflakes. You are one part of the sum of society. That’s it, that’s all.  And you are far from perfect.

When we forget this, we tend to get narcissistic.  We tend to err on the side of “it’s all about me”. We find ways to explain why others feel, think or act differently. And when we don’t agree with them, we find ways to blame our discomfort on them- as if somehow their right to be an individual with opinions, beliefs and values of their own is only in relation to how it makes you feel about yourself.

McCarthy’s quote highlights this self-centricism perfectly.  She goes on in her article to say: 
“When people come up to me and say mean things, I become sad. Not because what they’re saying is mean, but because I know they’re hating themselves somewhere in their lives right now and I’m their mirror.” 
What she is really saying here is that the ‘mean’ person’s opinions of her are invalid, and they must be unhappy, sad and miserable in their own lives to allow themselves to be negative in the slightest.

This is a false sense of zen that has perpetuated itself through modern psycho-analytical babble.  And while there’s a certain truth to it, I’m sure, it’s so overly simplistic as to be downright offensive.

First- what do we even mean by ‘mean’?  What does this word represent today?  Like ‘nice’, it’s an empty word, used to describe situations that are so vague or boring that more powerful and descriptive adjectives would feel out of place.  

I was called ‘mean’ when I fired a thieving employee. I was called ‘mean’ when I said that feeding your three-month old baby a pizza might not be the best decision for their health. I was called ‘mean’ when I stated that I was voting for a political party that held some unpopular opinions (that I disagreed with) because I placed more emphasis on the policies that I did agree with.  I was called ‘mean’ when I stood by my right to religious freedom, and called ‘mean’ when I equally stated that my religious rights do not (and should not) trump those of others, including the right to not believe.

Over the years, I’ve been called ‘mean’ a lot. And sometimes I am. But honestly, it’s usually a word that is used when they don’t have a better argument to make against me…like deeply personal out-of-context insults such as ‘bitch’, ‘slut’ or ‘whore’,  ‘mean’ seldom really means anything at all.


There are many times when I’ve been called arrogant.

There are many times when I’ve been called judgmental.

There are many times when I’ve been called callous.

There are many times when I’ve been called elitist.

And there are many times I’ve been called ‘mean’ aside from the aforementioned.

In fact, there are many times when I’ve been called countless pejorative terms.

And, though it pains me to admit it, in many of these situations the person in question was absolutely right. I was in fact being arrogant, judgmental, callous, elitist, or mean.

Here’s the thing. I’m not perfect; far from it.  There are times when, despite my best efforts, I find myself behaving in ways that are really unlike the person that I want to and strive to be. 

These are the times when I have to take a huge step back and ask myself: What am I doing?? And how could I have done it differently?

Now, the kicker with these kinds of situations is that, many times, if no one had ‘called’ me those names, I wouldn’t have had any impetus to look at my own actions. I would have remained oblivious to my behaviour and its effects on those around me.

Was the person calling me a name being kind? Not usually. Were they acting beneath themselves as well? I would venture to say yes. Could they have framed their words better? Decidedly so.

But they were, nonetheless, 100% right. And they were, nonetheless, 100% justified in expressing their feelings as they see fit, just as I am justified in expressing my feelings when I am upset and/or hurt.

I could postulate that some of the triggers that led them to reacting in this way were ‘mirrors’ into their own insecurities.  This is quite possibly the case.  But frankly, that’s irrelevant. They were still in the right, and I was still wrong.

Let’s not be obtuse here.  If I said something cruel, and they reacted by saying “Wow, you’re really cruel”, they aren’t “mirroring behaviour” by calling me cruel. They are responding to my behaviour, which is the one that caused the initial conflict.

Let’s try a more direct example:

Zita hits Person A in the face. Person A responds by saying “Wow, that bitch Zita just slapped me in the face! She’s a bully!”

Now, unless Zita is actually innocent of slapping Person A in the face, she really does not have the right to turn around and play the martyr saying “How dare you tell people that I slapped you in the face! How dare you call me a bully! YOU are the real bully! You are obviously so insecure that you need to attack me.”

This is a classic case of blaming the victim.

If we need another, more extreme example: Man rapes woman. Woman accuses man of rape. Rapist says “She had it coming because she’s a slut who dresses provocatively. She's just being whiny.” 

Again, here- the Woman accusing the man of rape is defending herself.  She is standing up for her rights.  She is being strong in the face of adversity. 

She did not ask to be raped. Nor is she projecting her hatred, negativity, cattiness or gender issues on the rapist.

She is responding to an attack. She is the victim here.

You see, one of the critical components of Projective Identification is that the identity being ascribed has to actually not belong to the person it is being ascribed to. 

Otherwise, it’s just called being honest and factual. 

(See, this is why it’s really important to understand terms before you throw them around in articles.  But I digress…)

Recently, a group of women and I took issue with some wording, optics and undertones of an event that appeared to be forwarding age-old concepts of gender-discrimination in the work place.  These discussions, for the most part have been great. They’ve been animated. They’ve been balanced. Both sides have been represented fairly equally, with men and women weighing in on other side of the coin.  They were, by all accounts, really good debates and I- for one- was actually initially even more motivated to go to the event in question in order to experience these discussions in person.

I’m not interested in wading too deeply into that story, as others have simply done a better job than I could.  (For more on this topic, I highly recommend reading Brittany's ( post here or an almost full transcript of one of the discussions captured by Allison ( here.)

What I want to address instead are the allegations that were made that those who opposed the event were simply "overthinking the issue" (Cue Scarlet O’Hara voice-over: Oh, I’m sorry that my pretty little head was busy being full of big bad thoughts…How awfully unbecoming of me…I sure wouldn't want my background in Socio-Political Science to get in the way of being a lady”).

I want to address the allegations that we are just being ‘catty’, ‘negative’, ‘malicious’, or have “gender issues” and can’t “see past the penises”.

I want to address the idea that, somehow, my concerns about not propagating gender stereotypes, striving towards gender equity, and my commitment to building bridges between the sexes is somehow antiquated or unnecessary since these disputes are nothing but rehashing the gender wars of the “1990s”…(yes, this was actually a criticism made by one of the panelists. I’m not kidding.  ) 

More importantly, I want to address the underlying belief that just because I disagree with you, your opinions or your event, somehow that means that there is something miserable, unhappy or broken in my life.

I'm going to be pretty damn blunt here: my life kind of rocks. I have a spectacular marriage to a man who is patiently proofreading every word of this feminist rant. I have an awesome kid who is pretty much the most easy going toddler in the world. I have boatloads of friends and family members who add deep value, texture, love, and excitement to my life. I have a great job that I love. My husband and I are completely financially stable. We have a perfectly healthy baby on the way, a beautiful home and everything you could ask for in life. Also, we have lots of sex. Tons in fact. No voids that need filling here.

I am far from miserable.  

Believe it or not, I just don’t agree with you. It really is that simple.

The only “mirror” I’m looking at right now has a bunch of powerful, opinionated, beautiful women, pretty damn pissed off that we’re being told our voices and our opinions don’t matter.

We wrote comments. We voiced concerns.

You SILENCED us. You CENSORED us. You TOLD US that our voices are irrelevant and that WE ARE MEAN PEOPLE for thinking differently from you. 

So yeah...we're pretty freaking pissed. And understandably so. 

There’s no “projection” here. There are only facts. You are accountable to your own damn actions- stop trying to blame us for your mistakes.

I’ve said it before, in this discussion and in others, and I will say it again:

The greatest trick patriarchy ever pulled was convincing women that we are each other’s enemies.

And now I’ll add to that by saying, the greatest lie we’ve ever told ourselves is that we are not accountable for our own decisions and our own actions.

I am far from perfect. I am fully prepared to admit that. 

But this one's not on me. It's on you. And I will stand by that come hell or high water. 

So here's my challenge: Are you able to admit when you made a mistake? Are you able to admit when you are in the wrong? Are you able to look at the situation at hand and ask yourself FIRST what you could have done differently instead of pointing a judgmental finger at everyone else? 

Because if you're not, take your challenge and shove it.