Updated: Dec 27, 2022
When setting a boundary comes off as “overreacting”
Recently a video of me going braless and embracing my natural boob-jiggle went viral among pages of men dedicated to objectifying and sexualizing women.
Obviously, the video was created for my female followers to see what body acceptance, neutrality, and liberation can look like, not for men to ogle. It was also accompanied by a caption about how women in our culture are taught that our boobs are so potent and dangerous that we must never let them be seen in their natural state… along with an explanation of why I was breaking the rules. 😉
Over the next 24 hours I got hundreds of comments and DMs from men ranging from so-called compliments like “nice tits,” to bids for attention like “hi I want to be your friend,” and all the way to straight up unsolicited dick pics.
I got slut-shamed, gas-lit, called bitch and whore and other names, and a lot of these guys just told me to shut up and “lighten up.” (Honestly the whole thing sucked, and perfectly highlighted why women don’t feel safe in our natural bodies, although that’s not what I want to talk about today.)
What I want to talk about is boundaries.
I responded to a lot of the men with clear and direct boundaries, saying things like “hi, I’m actually not interested in nor do I welcome comments on my body,” or “I’m not interested in chatting with you.” I thought my boundaries were pretty straight-forward and unemotional.
But do you know what the #1 response from them was?
“Oh, sorry to have offended you.”
I found this interesting. At first I was confused because what part of “I actually don’t welcome comments on my body” made me sound offended??
But then I started thinking about it, and how this kind of comment serves to protect the man from dealing with the consequences of his own actions. By acting like a woman is “offended” he makes her look like she’s being crazy, irrational, or overreacting, which immediately takes the spotlight off of whatever inappropriate thing he just said.
It’s classic gaslighting. It invalidates the woman’s entire experience, including her original boundary, and shifts focus onto her reaction, instead of staying focused on his behavior.
It’s kind of the perfect plan, letting him off the hook while reinforcing the idea that women are overly emotional, irrational nutjobs.
Anyway, I often responded (hella calmly) to clarify that I wasn’t in fact offended at all, I’m just not interested in hearing people’s opinion of my body. Most men went silent after that, and a lot of them actually blocked me– a fact that I find very funny.
But there’s something else afoot here too. This used to happen on tinder constantly.
A man would message me to say something like “hey babe” and I’d respond with “hi, it’s nice to meet you but I prefer not to be called pet names please” and they would get all OH I DIDN’T MEAN TO OFFEND YOU, GEEZE.
Every time, I would think: “but I’m not offended. I’m really not. I’m not mad. I’m not insulted. I don’t think less of them or think they’re bad people. I just don’t like pet names. Why can’t they say “oh ok cool, got it” and then we move on to getting to know each other?”
I started to wonder if maybe this is just a misinterpretation, based on experience with people who did “overreact” or blow up at them about something small.
After all, I’ve definitely been there. In an effort to avoid conflict and keep the peace, I would avoid establishing any kind of boundary with the people around me, until I exploded in a rage of irritability and resentment over basically nothing.
Perhaps you’ve been there too?
If you have then you know how, even as you’re snapping at someone to just put their fucking shoes away for once in their goddamn life, some part of you is like… shit, I’m being so crazy right now.
My friends and I used to call this “crazy girl mode” (because the patriarchy had convinced us that women are irrational and overly emotional) and we would feel guilty and ashamed after it happened.
The thing is though, it’s actually a totally reasonable response to having your boundaries violated over and over until the feelings about that happening all pile up on top of each other and tumble out all at once.
Granted, the person we blow up at often had no idea they were stepping all over our boundaries, because we didn’t express it. Which is where early and frequent boundary-setting comes in! By expressing exactly how we do and don’t want to be treated the first time (and every time after that), we can avoid the build-up of an emotional dam, and also teach the people in our lives that they cannot minimize or invalidate our experience.
Boundaries are pure magic, both for the person expressing them, and for the person receiving them, but they only work if you’re willing to speak up the first time, instead of exploding on the 100th time. 😉
One more thing.
Boundaries are, at their core, about holding other people accountable for how they treat us, instead of holding ourselves accountable for how they treat us.
For a lot of people who were socialized as female, this is nothing short of a revolutionary act.
In a world of victim-blaming and shaming, where dozens of men told me I shouldn’t post pics or videos of my body if I don’t want to be sexualized, commented on, and sent dick pics, we desperately need to stop holding ourselves accountable for other people’s bad behavior.
If you’ve ever struggled to speak up or set a boundary because you didn’t want to make someone feel bad or guilty, think about it this way: those bad feelings and guilt don’t belong to you.
Those feelings belong to the person who created them (for doing something inappropriate, or that you’re not ok with), but that person is counting on the fact that you’ll hold onto them so they don’t have to.
By speaking up, you’re handing that garbage back to it’s rightful owner and saying:
“hey I’m not gonna hold this for you anymore. I’m not offended, it just doesn’t belong to me.”
What are your thoughts on boundaries?
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