I remember the first time I was assaulted because I was not paying enough attention to the opposite gender. I was in primary school and this boy kept pulling my hair, saying horrible things to me and tugging at my clothes. I was so upset, I reported it to my teacher but she did nothing. So at home, I reported it to my mother. My mother came to school and she spoke to the teacher but I remember the teachers response to me was “Ah it’s because he likes you!”.
That was my forced entry into the world of girls’/womens’ mandatory likability. The weird world we live in teaches us that in order not to be judged unfairly, it is important to be likable. But for women, this often means accepting (with a smile) other peoples unrequited feelings and disregard of your boundaries. The male gaze is thrust upon little girls very early and I soon learned that while it is beyond my selection, I must like it or risk being deemed difficult. And nobody likes a difficult woman!
The next time I remember being assaulted was in college. I was on a camping trip and this guy had been trying to chat me up inspite of my best attempts to politely avoid him. That night, while we were around the campfire, he sat next to me and put his arms around me. At that point, I had enough. I pushed him away, got up, and proceeded to walk to my tent. It was dark and suddenly, someone grabbed my backpack from behind and tugged me hard! It was the guy from moments before. He started to shake me while yelling that I pushed him. I was terrified and I started screaming. People gathered and he eventually let go.
The mantle of likability is a double bind thrust upon women which makes her both terrified to speak up for herself (so she forces a smile and accepts the uncomfortable ask), and makes her equally deserving of punishment (nay violence) if she dares to reject it. Women face such onslaught on a spectrum from cat-calling, to negging (where men repeatedly put women down to stir their insecurities) to non-consenting rough housing and/or sexual assault. Imagine having to choose between your personal safety and likability at every turn, everywhere from the home to the workplace. Thats life for one too many women daily.
I often asked myself why either boy/man thought he could put his hands on me in the first place and I used to play devil’s advocate for them. Now I know that they violated my space and they were wrong regardless of their reasons. The likability complex is not something I’m completely over yet. But for me, knowing is half the battle and now I can smile on my own terms.