The 2020 election is rapidly approaching. It’s my civic duty to participate in the discourse. Later this year, my TV will glow with debates between candidates. My phone will bloom with updates on candidates, thought pieces on who is a better fit for office, and scandals regarding each potential leader. Inevitably, there will be cheap shots. The 24 hour news cycle will gladly devour public officials whole through this process. We, the people, mirror this behavior. We grow carnivorous when threatened. It’s not ok. We need to do better.
Cheap shots, or belittling/ inappropriate comments, intimidating/ bullying behaviors, and the general practice of intentionally making another person or group feel inferior/ reduced/ hurt is beneath every last one of us. But we do it. We do it when we’re threatened. We do it when we’re defensive. We do it in a scarcity mindset when the world wilts into a Hobbesian State of nature and we just want to save face.
Some cheap shot’s I’ve experienced are:
- Being accused of sleeping with male co-workers when someone else in my workplace wasn’t a fan of me. This person couldn’t critique my work product or performance so they targeted my reputation.
- People I’ve loved have weaponized my vulnerabilities– contorted my traumas and mental health into evidence that I was unworthy. What I survived became their exit signs when they wanted to leave but lacked the courage to say the words. You can exit another person’s life without bruising them on your way out. You don’t have to scorch their sacred ground in gaslighting to illuminate the route away. It is enough to say we’re done (as friends, partners, colleagues, etc).
Cheap Shots I’ve Made:
- I used to gossip about other women A LOT in middle school and high school. I was so profoundly unhappy that I perceived another person’s existence as subject to my judgement.
- Recognized another person’s insecurity, and pressed as hard on it as I could rather than walking away.
- I made passive aggressive comments rather than saying, “I don’t feel like a priority here, and I want you to love me a little louder”.
- Using my presence to intimidate rather than to hold space for other people. There’s a special kind of malice in recognizing your power in conjunction with another person’s vulnerability and preying upon that as opposed to allowing the other person to feel just as powerful.
- Making an off-handed comment to appear clever because I was actually insecure.
If you’ve even glanced at any of my social media or met me for five seconds, you know I live my life out loud. My truths are largely on public display. I made this choice deliberately. Not for attention, but because I felt like there were all these things nobody was talking about. In embarrassed whispers, people were shuffling through mental health, eating disorders, life, sexuality. There’s this big, giant mess club where every person alive is a member, but you can’t see anyone else until you speak up. It frustrated me until I remembered that I am somebody, and I can talk about all the things. I write like my keyboard is on fire– the words rapidly escaping onto the screen. My mouth is a broken dam where all the words gush out. I know people talk about me. I know they roll their eyes because I am a lot for some. I am just enough for me, which is what matters. My truths lack a mute button. They demand to be heard, and the more they are heard, the quieter it is inside my head.
The downside to radical vulnerability is that it gets yielded against me. When people’s real thoughts are too prickly to say aloud, they spike my past back to me. I’ve had my abandonment, my hospitalization, my abuses, my eating disorders launched at me as the why. It was never the why. If I’ve slayed a dragon, you cannot haunt me with its shadow. I’m not ashamed nor damaged by the events I’ve weathered. I’ve healed. I’ve grown. I’m not the worst things that have happened to me, and I won’t be reduced to that when someone is uncomfortable. Yes, it hurts. It stings every time someone who claims they love me stoops that low. Their cheap shot isn’t proof of my damage, but evidence that they were hurting. They could have been brave and vulnerable and opened up about that. Instead, they cowered into the easy out.
I’ve learned that when people feel threatened, they seek the lowest common denominator because they know it will cause pain. It’s an attempt to level the playing field. People take cheap shots when they are hurting because they know it will hurt. This isn’t an act of power. It’s the ultimate sign of weakness. We become opponents instead of two people who need to meet each other in a brave space and see one another as the flawed beings they are.
Women have been perpetually dis-empowered in this way. Look to any female public figure from Serena Williams to Hillary Clinton– there’s a trend of harping on their appearances, reducing them to one-dimensional stereotypes, and zeroing a scrutinizing lens to behaviors male counterparts get away with all the time. The cheap shots are how we keep women “in their place”. By hitting women where it hurts, they’re rendered perpetually vulnerable and stifled from ascending to their full potential. The viscous cycle hits because women are socialized to bond through pettyiness, gossip, tearing themselves and other women down. And so, the patriarchy has creating a self-sustaining mechanism to keep women down. The patriarchy slut shames women, and women slut shame each other. The patriarchy critiques women. Women critique each other. The patriarchy reprimands us for speaking out and reaching too high, and internally, we do that too. Of course, it would be irresponsible to ignore the other marginalized identities subject to the same essentialism: race, ability, religion, culture, education level, etc.
If a candidate is the best candidate, they shouldn’t have to rely on below-the-belt tactics to win. Their policies, platforms, and public service record should be enough. As people, we don’t need to sucker punch people in the gut when we feel threatened. Our truth is powerful enough to stand in. I know my words are idealized. I know this won’t always be the case. And when someone takes a cheap shot at me, I acknowledge that it hurts. I keep going. I don’t internalize or repeat their behavior. Because I want to be better than the candidates on my screen or the scandals on my phone. Life isn’t an election cycle. Nobody has to lose for everyone to win.