Rules of the Game




Today’s Tuesday and it’s time to wake up. The alarm goes off and your ears rejoices at the sweet sounds of silence – or maybe the sounds of cars rushing through the streets or of the garbage collectors (may whatever god you like bless those men!). Anyway, you get ready for the day, meaning it is time to get dressed and look presentable to the world. You’re about to leave your place, but your eyes, as usual, meet your reflection on a random mirror you’ve placed there yourself because, you know, interior design is a big deal these days. You look at yourself and you like or dislike what you see; the hair looks nice, but you feel bloated, etc. Whatever, you get the point, we are always obsessing over some features we are not too fond of.

Now you are at school/ at the office/ running errands. At this point, there are no perfectly placed mirrors you can look at, but only two other ‘tools’ through which you can get a physical perception of yourself: one is your own swift reflection of a glass window; the second are other people.

People, yes. We are human beings who strive for social interaction because it is through the others that we are also able to perceive ourselves. Our actions, looks and words shape us and are being shaped and categorized by others – your neighbor, a cute stranger, a cashier. Some would say, “Darling, not everybody seeks this sort of validation from the outside; never heard of mindful meditation and self-criticism?”. At this point I might have slapped you in the face already – and then apologize for my poor manners. My impulsive reaction is not related to anger management issues (or, is it?), but to the annoying idea that everything is either black or white. Vanilla or chocolate. Rihanna or Beyoncé. External or internal perception of the self. Damn, if I could choose I would argue in favor of both the external and internal self, while chatting with Riri and Queen B, surrounded by vanilla and chocolate ice cream. These dichotomies are just constraining us into thinking in strict terms and, I don’t know about you, but I aspire to complete flexibility and openness of the mind. Openness and flexibility… very cool, empowering terms, but in practice? A shit-show. Because as social animals, in order to fit in, you must play the rules of the game. You may have the most equitable, inclusive ideas in your entire office, but if your opinions challenge or even slightly argue against the mainstream idea – SBAM, you’re out darling.

And this bring us to the thoughts that have been endlessly wandering in my mind. So, let’s start from the beginning (ha, this is one of those trivial-sounding statements I like to much, because in their obviousness, they are just so clear and straightforward). Anyways. In the last four months, after moving to another country to pursue my Research Masters, I had several encounters with the mystical, other sex, i.e. dudes. One ghosted me (damn you), with two of them I stayed good friend, one was a one-night-stand, with another I went out four times to realized he had an annoying personality and finally, Edwigo. Of course, Edwigo is a fake name, because to a friend of mine and me he looks like Harry Potter’s owl – but its name in Italian is very feminine, so that’s why Edwigo. Anyway, Edwigo was giving me, and still does, give me a hard time. So, being the good social animal that I am, I looked for a different, external perspective on my life from a friend. Well, holy shit, just let me tell you that that night, I cried my eyeballs out. The conversation with that friend went, more or less like this…

“You know, the impression you are giving is that you are just taking anything that passes in front of you… I don’t know if you do this for entertainment or what…”

She clearly saw that I was upset and for two days I couldn’t look at her because her words, her perception of me hurt so much. I was like, oh shit, who have I become? A superficial, insecure, needy girl who needs guys’ attention to feel worthy? The existential crisis went on for one hour, when I was feeling so ashamed for everything I’ve ever done in my life, from having sex to eating too much bread. The next day, I woke up and I felt like a different person. My mind, my internal perception was not focused on me, but rather, on the outside. Why did I feel ashamed? Why did my friend basically tell me I was acting slutty?

Well, welcome to the game of life, where – if you have a vagina you did not even ask for, your life is ruled by a series of numbers. No, I am not talking about math and chemistry – after all, I study political science, the science of social interactions. I am talking about the number that represents your age, thus your maturity; the number of guys you can go out with; the allotted period of time that you are allowed to use to interact with said guys (again, days and weeks are numbers too). Numbers, numbers and numbers. But also frequency: don’t go out with too many guys in a short period of time, or you will give a certain impression. Don’t be too sensual during the first dates, because otherwise the guy will inevitably create a certain perception of you, as a person, and of your intentions too. So far, nothing new, right? Boys and girls have been playing this game for so long, we all know the rules. Look pretty, be smart, but not too bright, don’t flirt too much and, most importantly, forget about sex and any biological impulse you may experience as a human being – because in this game, you are expected not to act as one. Okay, do I sound bitter? Horny? Frustrated? Pick the adjective you like the most and attach it to me, because I do not care. Something else I actually care about is, who is that motherfucker (*sorry, I do swear a lot in Italian too) who has set up all of these damn numbers? Who is really deciding, for me, what is the right amount of guys I can go out with in a given period of time? Like most things in life, add this one question to the list of unsolved mysteries of the universe… 

“The Patriarchy, you fool!”

Okay, calm down, but what or who created the ‘patriarchy’ in the first place? Quick comment, back to the conversation I mentioned earlier – I am Italian, the friend I was talking with is from Eastern Europe and now we both live in the Netherland. In such a diverse and mixed environment, who is dictating the rules? Are they actually universal or time and space related? I have no idea, but one thing is sure: these rules are stupid. The idea of living according to this sort of spoken/unspoken social rules is just nonsense to me. And not simply because they constrain us or shame us, but because they are unfair, as well as damaging people’ internal and external perceptions of themselves. Indeed, instead of relying on these superficial norms, we, both women and men, should look for something better. “Communication is the key to success”, another of those trivial-sounding statements. But it’s true, if you think about it. If we want to free individuals from this tendency to compliance for normalcy’s sake, I think we should strive for honesty and acceptance of ourselves, of our intentions and of the others. Following the rules of this game can benefit us in the sense that we can conform more easily. No one wants to be called a slut or a player, because these words – and these are powerful words, carry negative, damaging and constraining connotations that are in no way, constructive. I am looking forward to living in a world where, as citizens of this damn world, people can accept and be accepted for their healthy, critical and well-thought decisions. Instead of thinking, “oh, she’s too chubby” or “ugh, he’s not trustworthy because of all the girlfriends he’s had”, say instead “She has a great, strong body and I can see in her eyes she’s a good friend” and “I want to get to know that guy, because I’ve seen he is always very nice and patient to anybody”. If we change our perspective towards the world and embrace diversity, then we will grow. Then, we will live in a society where people think, with their own minds, before opening their mouths. We wouldn’t have to slut-shame anybody, boy or girl, because we would really listen to their experiences and minds, instead of translating them into meaningless, hurtful numbers.