This piece started with the desire to portray something about the battle of the sexes. It’s hard to be a human and not encounter some misunderstanding and frustration with the opposite sex. I decided to explore this theme when my husband was annoying me enough that it brought up an age-old attitude to which I am no stranger. It’s the “men are a bunch of jerks” outlook. It’s easy to intellectualize my way out of this feeling. I can reason that it’s not a useful attitude, that men can say the same thing about women, that it’s over-reactive, over-generalized, and melodramatic. But sometimes I succumb to aggravation and fall into the habit of blaming half the population for being different than I am.
I chose the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird as my animal for a few reasons. At first glance they are delicate, lovely creatures—feminine and flowing in movement and line. But anyone who has a feeder knows that they are also territorial and aggressive. And another thing. Unlike most flock birds who help each other by flying in formations, tiny hummingbirds migrate 600 miles alone across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America in every kind of messy weather. They are considered the macho species of migrating birds. I chose to portray the male hummingbird in my painting, with its bright red neck. As is the case with many bird species, the male is the prettier of the genders. All of these incongruous and opposing traits touch on contrasting ideas of masculine and feminine.
I chose a football uniform as an obvious suggestion of masculinity. I picked the jersey of Dan Marino, of Miami Dolphin fame, because it has pretty colors that look good with the hummingbird’s head. (I obviously used a girlie means of choosing the jersey.) Also, the number 13 has so many connotations that it’s loaded with ambiguous implications, but notoriously reminds us of bad luck.
Even if a viewer knows nothing about the hummingbird or Dan Marino, a cute little bird in a football get-up should register as odd enough to suggest my main point, that misunderstanding between genders can be confusing and complicated. The pink bubbles contribute to the tension with their suggestion of sensitivity. They are delicate and easily popped.
As mentioned, I started this piece with a bad attitude, a familiar one I wanted to explore and understand instead of continue to propagate. When I think men are a bunch of jerks, I feel angry and trapped. I’ve categorized us both—perpetrator and victim. The perplexing part for me comes from having dealt with this tricky item for so long I don’t have much objectivity.
The truth about this problem is: it’s more about me than it is about men and women. Because our historical entanglements are passed down through the generations, we are trained by family and society to have challenges with it, but my only course to better dealings is to put away the argument and be the best individual I can. To do this I start with being honest about how I’m seeing things.
It’s uncanny how when I get annoyed at a man in my life it always seems to come on the heels of me opening my eyes to something I’d rather not see about myself. I get embarrassed or scared or guilty, and the next thing you know I find a huge fault with the man in my life—seemingly much bigger than my problem. A scapegoat is a wonderful alternative detour. A great big bunch of attention and emotion can be thrust in another direction, with no time or room for looking at my own unruliness.
My aggravation with men can also happen when I forget the pesky little fact that is true about all people: he can do whatever he wants. Sometimes when I feel insecure, I want other people’s lives to fit well with mine. I want them to perform in a way that gives me confidence, makes me happy, maybe even solves my problems. I expect them to be polite, fair, and somewhat tidy. And there they are, living their lives, being themselves, making decisions and acting in ways that don’t entirely revolve around me. When I don’t like it, I’m forgetting that each of us has the right to do our own thing in our own time. They have every right to be in a bad mood, make poor decisions, do things I wouldn’t do, or get in tangles with other people. And I have a right to take care of myself based on that information. If I can’t stand watching it, I can turn away. I can get busy making my life how I want it. I am choosing to be a victim, a meddler, and a judge when I decide to focus on someone else’s faults instead of taking care of myself.
Now it’s true that sometimes individuals of the opposite sex can be downright harmful. If I’m very clear about my situation I can determine if there’s behavior that is intolerable. I can state my position, but even then I must remember that the other person still has every right to make their own choices. And he may not choose to stop being harmful. My healthiest path from there starts with being honest with myself about the situation, learn to accept the reality of it, and then take action based on what I’ve accepted. Until I accept the reality of it, action is not a smart idea. If I do something without the solidity of understanding and knowing what’s going on (whether I like it or not) I may be reacting hastily and out of emotion. Then I’m not doing myself any good, and usually I’m making things worse.
After I’ve gained a clear perspective, I have some choices, and they are many. In addition to ignoring the other person and focusing on myself, I can run for my life. I can also choose to set boundaries, and consequences for breaking those boundaries. This is a much talked-about subject, so I’ll keep it simple. For me, my heart must be in a place of confidence with myself and how I see my circumstances before boundary setting does much good. In fact, boundaries and following through with enforcing them come fairly naturally if I’m clear about my needs and know I deserve to have them.
Forgiveness is a much-tossed-around word that means, in many circles, letting someone off the hook for something we think they’ve done wrong. This perspective is akin to having the victim and perpetrator trade places. Now the wrongdoer feels bad and the victim gets to feel in charge and superior. I’ve found the only meaning of forgiveness that sets either party free is the idea of letting go of the hurt. If I’m the victim, absolution is something I have no authority to grant. The only thing I’m in a position to do involves exclusively myself. I want to feel better. I need to make choices that lead to healing for me. I always end up feeling very different about the other person after I’ve taken the slow path toward letting go of my resentment. I may not like what they’ve done (and I don’t have to) but I will view the situation with much more equanimity when I work toward letting go of my own pain.
Why would I hang onto my pain? Why would I want to keep blaming? Sounds pretty stupid. It is unless I’m scared about the alternative—the unknown alternative that lies out there when I drop my entitlement to being right. That unknown might contain responsibility, taking charge of my own life, taking risks and stepping out. It might require me to find creative solutions for living with another imperfect person. I might be left with a lot of space, time, and energy on my hands. It might mean feeling a little selfish for having so much fun and following my own impulses. These things may be scary, but they are ultimately better than the other well-known, familiar option: thinking I’m right and being mad.
Basically, the battle of the sexes is just another manifestation of the battle inside ourselves. In my case, as with most of us, I come by my issues with gender differences honestly. I saw an argument in my home, in the people around me, and in our culture. If I want to step out of the dispute, I have to clear aside the rubble of old perspectives to reveal the place and part of me that never argues and never has a need to. And I have to be willing to imagine the possibility that I, and we, can be in that place a little more often.