“Express yourself, don’t repress yourself.”

We all hear songs differently at our different ages and stages. Being a young teen when this song came out, I was not in the relationship or self-help headspace yet. So it was more a focus on the “express yourself” part, not giving much thought to the second line. Things have certainly moved on. The expression/repression dichotomy has become infinitely more significant. Being able to express ourselves seems such a personal thing when actually it requires a social permission slip. In many places, girls and young women have literally zero rights, even to speak. And it wasn’t that long ago that even in the places that we think of as free and open were quite repressive and disavowed, neglected or ignored the voices of girls and women. It’s not that girls have had nothing to say, it’s that we weren’t listening. Now with the likes of Malala, Emma, and Greta, we are forced to listen and we’re better for it.

The most fiercely feminist and powerful public statement of the past few weeks was when Anita Hill essentially said she does not forgive Joe Biden. No one is owed forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a requirement. It is an idea used to twist you around and make you actually more repressed by the person who you’re meant to forgive. Patriarchy in its various forms is the system we live under, and it has marketed forgiveness to oppress women since ever. Men want women to forgive them. Why? So they can carry on how they like. And women readily provide this forgiveness as they have been trained to do. Forgiveness has become so deeply ingrained in society both as a thing that must be achieved for social acceptance and as a sign that you are “okay.” We congratulate women on forgiving because we have forgiven and don’t want to be alone in our subjugated suffering. It is the cool thing to do. Mothers teach daughters to forgive fathers and sons, etc. The cycle perpetuates itself. Forcing acquiescence and letting the wrong stand is what hurts us, deforming our sense of self. Forgiveness was invented by men who wanted to keep getting away with it. True release is letting go of having to submit, of having to give anymore of yourself to those who have already taken freely.

And back to the song, second best IS never enough because whoever that is will ask your forgiveness time and time again for their unchanging behavior. You will be forced to change who you are, what you feel is right and good and acceptable so they can feel better, comfortable and righteous. That isn’t love, that is control. Feminism means something different to everyone. But at its core it is about men and women being equal, no one inherently better or more powerful than the other. For me, it also means holding everyone accountable for their actions. This is a subversive act because the system relies on you to forgive. It will keep on abusing until you disrupt it. But you can shed the notion that you must be nice. Women do not have to be nice. There is no place for politeness and manners when dealing with people who have harmed you. Show them your pain, tell them you will never forgive their behavior and that, when appropriate, you will share your experiences to guide others. The point is behavior change. A forgiven person never learns how to be better. Forgiveness gets nothing done. It does not move humanity forward. It keeps us mired in a tar pit of self-blame and shame. Stop believing in forgiveness and it will set you free. “You’ll do much better baby on your own.”

-Ashley E. Remer
Founder & Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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