Battle Fatigue

My manuscript project is nearing a close–the scribing part, at least. There will be marginalia, glossing, and book-binding–but the longest (I hope) part, the copying of the actual text, is almost complete. It’s that point in the project where I’m starting to feel the battle fatigue.

A quick internet search reveals that the term “battle fatigue” is obsolete, a linguistic relic of the second World War. What was “battle fatigue” then is now “post-traumatic stress.” We’re familiar with the stories, the examples, the tales of young soldiers coming home to find that they’ve changed in ways that no longer allow them to occupy the spaces they left behind when they deployed.

There’s something about the term “battle fatigue,” though, that is deeply evocative, that seems to suggest something that “post-traumatic stress” doesn’t. It’s a term that’s worth reclaiming, if in a different context.

What “battle fatigue” evokes that “post-traumatic stress” doesn’t is a bone-deep weariness with the machineries of harm. This weariness is not reserved for battlefields in the traditional sense, though I imagine that soldiers at a certain point are sick nearly to death of the grind of war, the thousand little aggressions that accumulate beneath the skin, in the folds and wrinkles of the mind, in the dark corners of the psyche. Though I don’t know what it’s like to stand on a literal battlefield, to live in terror of a sudden explosion, I can empathize. To be female in this world is to inhabit a battlefield. There are the moments of terror, the moments you hope you’ll never have to experience–but more prevalent and in some ways just as deeply damaging are the accretions of small injuries, little earthquakes, the things that undermine us daily. And they come from all sides. As a woman, you’re just as likely to come under friendly fire as fall to an outright attack.

I once listened in disbelief as a male friend–a college-educated, PhD holding, liberal husband of a strong wife and father of two fierce daughters–told another man that he was “hitting like a girl.” I called him on it. I was cool about it. He was cool about it. He’s a man I consider an ally, one of the “good guys.” But it wore me out. Why, in the twenty-first century, do I have to explain to an ally that it’s not cool to perpetrate stereotypes of women as weak? The weariness stems from the fact that, as women, we are constantly on the battlefield of proving our worth. If I called out every sexist comment and action I encounter on a daily basis, I’m not sure I’d get much else done. Sometimes, as a woman, you just try to get through the day.

As a woman, you are always on your guard, even in the presence of allies. The aggression, the devaluing, are so deeply ingrained that none of us can ever totally escape them. Misogyny is everywhere. I often wonder what amazing acting I’m missing out on because Hollywood casts only women of a certain physical type in most roles. Is it really possible that all the best actors just happen to look a certain way? Do women with a certain physique really sing better than other women? Why are most characters in most of the books and TV sh0ws my kids consume male? I actively seek diversity for them, but it should be easier–if half the world’s population is female, half our fictional characters should be, too.

I’ve gotten called out by more than one friend for objecting to portrayals of women in the media. I’m a hater, not open-minded, or I just don’t get it, I don’t get that no harm is intended by these portrayals. But the thing is, they’re all accretions, no matter how small. I’m not sure anyone consciously set out to belittle and offend indigenous Americans by selecting Native mascots, but the harm is done all the same. There’s concrete evidence to prove that Native American mascots hurt Native youth. How is it possible that the constant barrage of sexualized (and physically impossible) female bodies in our entertainment doesn’t have a cumulative effect on our psyches, on our self-worth?

The interwebs have exploded recently with indigenous critiques of J. K. Rowling’s appropriation of Native culture in her new film; with LGBTQIA backlash against VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), a major library journal; with Black responses to the tide of deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

Sometimes I’m weary of it all–of the hurt, the outrage. But my own weariness at ambient misogyny reminds me that I’m speaking from a place of privilege. It reminds me that a lot of people have it a lot worse. That we can all do better.

I’m tired of calling out sexism, tired of being told that I’m taking it too seriously, that I’m somehow being closed minded when I question why a superhero needs visible cleavage. I’m tired of calling out allies for problematic and hurtful remarks and attitudes. I’m tired of the fact that the default representation of women in our culture is not only demeaning and objectifying, but is actually killing girls and women, via eating disorders, suicide, domestic violence, homegrown terrorism of the disgusting and terrifying sort constantly weathered by brave women like Anita Sarkeesian. I can understand why so many black people are fed up with explaining for the thousandth time why black lives matter and why #BlackLivesMatter matters. I can only imagine what it’s like to be a black woman confronting not only sexism but racism, where the formula is not sexism + racism, but sexism x racism.

These thoughts are dovetailing with my manuscript project. I’m working on a section in which a woman writes about her own power, a power she herself devalues because she has been taught that women don’t have power. It is strange to write from a perspective that I simultaneously resist and deeply understand. How much of the ambient misogyny have we all bought into? I’ve often heard it said that all people are in some way racist, and I wonder if we aren’t all sexist, too. Perhaps this voice speaking out of a forged manuscript from an imagined ancient world is more relevant than I imagined.

4 thoughts on “Battle Fatigue

  1. So well thought out and written, Brenna. I was just having a similar conversation with my 17 year old daughter about how happy I am that she’s happy with her body. She has a beautiful, strong, dancer’s body – but she’s 5′ 11″ and has a weight that’s extremely proportional to her height and strength and I can’t believe that I have to have conversations about this… I told her that when I was her age, Kate Moss was the person girls aspired to be. A waif of a young woman whose body type is unattainable for most girls as they just weren’t born that way! And how sad it is to confess that is wasn’t until my 30s that I stopped the madness of looking at a damn number on a scale and instead focused on being strong and appreciating the body that I have. Ugh. We are all subject to these small (and not so small) accretions piling up and at risk of being buried under the weight of it all. I am SO happy that you, despite battle fatigue, are still out there fighting the good fight. And having read some of your kick ass YA female characters, I’m anxious for THAT image of young women and their power to be out there in the world helping to lessen this battle fatigue. Last comment: “sexism x racism” yes.

    1. Thanks so much, Barb–for your thoughtful response, for your honesty, and for being an awesome mama to your girl. I was just commenting on your recent blog post that I would love to hear more about parenting as kids grow up. 🙂 It took me until my 30s, too, to start really loving myself as I am. And I’m still working on it. We imbibe so much crap to the contrary. I am exhausted by it, but I have no intention of shutting up until every woman I know understands what she is worth.

  2. This is going in the “Share Widely” category. Thank you Brenna for sharing this so fluently. And thanks for continuing to find your strength to keep calling out the bullshit. (And I will add to the third sentence of your last paragraph that women are taught that they “shouldn’t have power”. I think there is a weird mix of acknowledging that women and girls DO have power, but that it should be muffled and packaged up and not used to its full potential.) Thank you for being so strong and powerful!

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