Dangerous Compassions

the ideal woman

the ideal woman

Hola!  I’d like to tell you a story about a keychain depicting the ideal woman.  Gender power violence is something we’re asked to swallow every day.


When I was a kid in high school, there was a boy in my journalism class.  He was white, rich, conservative, in AP classes, and considered very smart.  Kinda opposite of me.

“Look,” he said in journalism class one day.  He had a keychain: The Ideal Woman.  It said The Ideal Woman and had a picture of a creature who was all breasts and vulva.  He showed me the keychain to disturb me.

Well, it’s been almost 30 years, and I’m still disturbed.  With no head, no mouth to speak with, and no legs to run away.  It’s true.  Like many dudes, he was not interested in engaging a whole person sexually.  To him, we were parts for his own pleasure.


I’m sorry, any woman who encountered him with love in her heart, willing to give.  Hopefully the beginning-charm would not dupe caring women.  Hopefully he grew up and learned a lot about people, gender, power, and relationships in a way that’s helpful to the world.  My wish is that he became caring, learned that love is fun, and realized he’s on earth to give as much as to take.

But many boys don’t grow up and learn to love.   It’s actually not necessary, right?  That’s the problem–men can get by not knowing how to love for their whole lives.  We’ve created a culture where that’s possible.  Deception is everywhere, so violence is the norm.  I see it all over the place, an emergency.

But it’s hard to call 911 for that.  I would say, “Please help–there’s an emergency.  My culture is dysfunctional, with gender power problems, and emotional skills are nil.  Send help, quick!”

What would that help even look like?  There are marriage counselors, peer counselors, and regular therapists, who can help people navigate relationships.  But mostly they don’t seem radical.  For a long time I’ve found therapy potentially helpful, but sometimes it reinforces the status quo.

The dispatcher could send a painter who painted pictures of love, like Mary Cassatt.  Or the dispatcher could send a musician who sings songs of love.  But these ways of learning don’t seem to solve the problem.

mental health

Emotional crises turn into mental health crises.  Once emotions are strong enough to interfere with someone’s ability to work 40 hours a week and act like a regular person, they get diagnosed mentally ill.  Once something is an illness, medication is the norm.

So they start the longass process of tinkering with themselves, becoming a living social / chemistry experiment of drugs, moods, insurance companies, pharmacies, side effects, dosages, compliance, and losing agency.  I know too much about this, as someone who’s been diagnosed with multiple psychiatric “illnesses” and considered non-compliant for speaking up too much.

Putting someone in a locked ward or psych hospital where they will lose their freedom is the main way our culture handles people who have emotional crisis.  Even when the responses are totally legit, considering the harm we’ve endured.


When I received a ton of violence as a child and young person, then reacted in a reasonable, normal way, I was considered a problem.  I was diagnosed bipolar 1 with psychotic features and heavily sedated.

Nope, I wasn’t thanked for pointing out the failures of culture, brought out into the light, given affection and support, validated, and honored as a brilliant visionary.  I was told to shut up and take my medicine, in as many words.

That whole experience of “getting help” was one more thing to feel shame about, one more reason to hide out.  Now I was not only scared of people, from a lifetime of being mostly violenced.  But I was also bad and wrong, reliant on pills to sedate myself into being palatable for a dysfunctional culture.

the ideal woman

Wow, how did I get from my classmate’s misogynist The Ideal Woman keychain to why I need radical mental health?  I guess because it’s such a good example.

This was one small three-minute interaction in 1994, but it’s still bothering me.  My memory is too good, and my feelings are too big.  It was not a crime, for this classmate to show me the keychain.  If he had continued and escalated it, I guess that could be called sexual harassment.

But mostly, that was normal life.  Normal life is filled with this type of violence.  We’re expected to react in a mild or neutral way, when we’re told we would be the ideal woman without a head, legs, arms, power, voice, or volition.  We’re supposed to experience violence like this, take it quietly and with good humor, and go about our lives.

Of all the horrible ways I’ve been violenced by men who are considered smart and valuable in my society, this is a tiny sliver of near-nothing.  A drop in the bucket.  The harms accumulate.


I’m sorry that these things have certainly been done to you also, dear reader.  I hope you could feel your feelings right then, and move it through.  Back when I was a kid, I was not at liberty to feel my feelings.  I was trapped in situations where what I actually needed was irrelevant.  So a lot got stuck.

And I have a memory problem–I remember too much.  The pains lodge in me and make trouble-mischief.

But I dance, ride trike, walk, do yoga, make noise, emote, and tell the truth now.  So we’re making progress.  Thank you for witnessing me as I change.

Psychiatrists have turned me into this ideal woman over and over again, taking away my power, volition, and voice.  Culture says this is what’s best for me and everyone.  Can we please make a functional culture now?

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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