I was trying to agree with Ani: We shouldn’t have to turn every scar into a joke. We shouldn’t have to be witty or backtrack or second-guess ourselves when we say, this shit hurt. We shouldn’t have to disclaim—I know, I know, pain is old, other girls hurt—in order to defend ourselves from the old litany of charges: performative, pitiful, self-pitying, pity-hoarding, pity-mongering. The pain is what you make of it. You have to find something in it that yields. I understood my guiding imperative as: keep bleeding, but love.
The wounded woman gets called a stereotype, and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.
"Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain", Leslie Jamison
This is the essay I’ve been waiting my whole life to read and never knew I was waiting for it. So often I have been caught in the dilemma Jamison describes - I’m having a hard time with this, and I’m ashamed of having a hard time with this. The first half of that admission is usually the only part that registers, and then your audience is tuning you out, remembering the last time you had this conversation.
One of the best things I ever did was to begin to allow myself to simply say, I’m having a hard time, and leave that sentence to stand on its own. There’s nothing wrong with pain, and there’s nothing wrong with discussing it. We don’t get to choose whether we get hurt (to clumsily quote John Green), and other people can’t take that pain away from us, even if to them it seems trite or petty or unwarranted.
Of course we all hurt, we all have wounds, and we all deal with those wounds in our own ways. I have been that girl crying into my Solo cup at a college party, throwing up in a bar bathroom, offering up too much detail and watching acquaintances walk to the punch bowl and never come back.
But I have also ended friendships over lack of empathy and accusations of being what Jamison terms a “wound-dweller.” I live in my skin and I can choose how to dwell in it and design my external projections. Jamison’s essay is a brilliant and moving examination of some of the psychological infrastructure that shapes women’s pain and the portrayal of that pain. I see myself in this essay, and I’m encouraged to know that my reflection matches other women’s as well.