Today in What We Don’t Talk About Out Loud, family edition. I know I said I would write more about women and the patriarchy, but that’s not what I want to write about at the moment. I may get back to it at some point, but we’ll see. This post is about praying at the altar of faaaaaaamily and how we’re supposed to revere it above all else (while also not doing anything to support it). Fortunately, in the last several years, there have been more people speaking out as to the problem with this mentality, but it still seems to be the default. There is something the matter with YOU if you are estranged from your family or low contact. There are several reasons for this so let’s dive in.
The first is the same as in my post about women and the patriarchy–holding up the status quo. For people who are invested in doing what they’re supposed to do, it can be a kick in the posterior to have others not doing the same thing. It reminds me of an old letter on Dear Prudence (they run old letters on Sundays). The letter was from someone who had spent the past several years (from when the letter was written) taking care of their deteriorating and abusive mother. The Letter Writer (LW) mentioned that their brother had cut off the family once he turned 18 due to the abuse he suffered at their mother’s hands. The crux of the matter was that the mother had come into a large amount of money. The LW was seething that her brother would inherit a portion of it despite walking away. The LW wanted to know if they could somehow get their mother and other relatives to cut the brother out of their wills because he hadn’t “manned up” and taken care of the mother in her late years. The LW glossed over the abuse, barely acknowledging it existed in their rage against their brother not doing the right thing (according to them).
This was Emily Yoffe and I hesitated to read her response because she was all over the map when it came to her answers. She had a stubborn streak of misogyny especially against sexual harassment victims. In this case, she was spot on. She rightly took the LW to task for being pissed at their brother for doing what he needed to live his best life. She astutely intuited that perhaps the LW was mad because they had made a different (and not healthy) choice to stay in contact with their abusive mother. This is the point I wanted to make. The LW held up the status quo because it’s what expected in our society. They did what they thought was their duty and was resentful because their brother didn’t do the same thing. In other words, misery loves company. I understand why the LW felt bitter about it, but she was directing her ire at the wrong person.
It reminds me of a metaphor I heard of relating to this topic. A dysfunctional family system is like a leaky boat that is rapidly taking on water. Or rather, the abusive person is the leak in that boat. Everyone on board is frantically bailing out water with equally-leaky buckets, trying to keep the boat afloat. At some point, one of the bailers realizes it’s futile and jumps overboard. They manage to swim ashore at great detriment to themselves. Everyone left on board, instead of being impressed and perhaps inspired that someone made it out alive, they become enraged at that person for escaping the situation. Why? First, because it leaves the ones behind with more water (abuse) to bail out (deal with). Second, because it busts the illusion that there’s nothing to be done but bail out the water (put up with the abuse). It can make the left behind people feel like they’ve wasted their lives up to that point. Third, and this is where the analogy falls apart, it’s difficult to be angry at the abuser because you know the abuser is not going to change. It kinda fits. The boat isn’t going to fix itself in the analogy.