A few female friends and I were talking recently and we realized that all of us had the same story. We had all been in friendships with (straight, cisgender, white) men who left us once we became Too Much of something: Too Feminist, Too Opinionated, Too Strong, Too Unwilling to Take Their Shit. Too Human.
We are the disposable women, the women men use to bolster their own self-esteem for a time until we become Too Much for them to deal with. We are accustomed to being unfriended, unfollowed, and blocked for a time once we hit the breaking point. We’re used to friendships having breaking points where our real selves come into conflict with who we’re imagined to be.
We are the audience for male opinions, the associates sitting and listening to long angry monologues and quietly nodding our assent. We can push back, some, as long as it’s only in the spaces these men already know.
We are convinced, tricked, by friendliness, by guile, by our optimism, that these men are really our friends, that they really actually care about our lives. But they really only care inasmuch as they are required to in order to gain and keep our friendship. The cracks begin to show after a short time – the distance that grows when you express frustration about something and they remain silent. The silence you feel when you want to, for once, decide on the topic of conversation. The subtle and yet deeply felt re-centering of their own feelings and behaviors in the conversations you do have.
And then the cracks become chasms, and you find yourself at the other side of a broken friendship, wondering how you didn’t see it coming. In time, we disposable women see the red flags. We learn to be wary of any man who wants to just “ask some questions” about feminism or progressivism or any of the topics you hold dear. It never stays at one conversation. This desire for usefulness, to learn about our lives as women and to use our stories to bolster their own credibility, never stops at just one coffee date or one Skype conversation.
We become the living textbooks, the walking libraries, with recommendations, affirmations, and “no, it’s okay, you’re one of the good ones” at the ready. We take up our role in stroking their egos, helping them learn, hoping we’ve done a good job helping to create an ally for our cause.
But a human – a woman – can only live in the second dimension for so long. We will eventually forget to coddle their ego, we will begin to expect more from them than they are prepared to give. We suddenly leap into stark relief, no longer their teacher, their educational resource who was convenient when it was needed. We become the burden, no longer the quiet audience for their lectures but rather a loud mob, with opinions all our own, begging them to just shut up and listen for once.
And the thing about these men is that they really believe they’re one of the good ones. They would never treat women this way deliberately. And they never see it when they actually do. Those former friends always have some bone to pick with the world, some unrestrained anger that forced them into disgrace, these men say. It is never legitimate anger at having been used – we are, after all, the disposable women, meant to provide without taking for ourselves.
And we are saying no more. No more we will be used by men who only want our friendship so long as we remain docile and two-dimensional and “nice.” We exist not to better your reputation, but to fight for justice. And sometimes, that means fighting you.