Thursday, February 3, 2011

Taste Aversion

I stared at the slushy machine. I watched as it spun the frozen cherry goodness around and around in a way reminiscent of multi-colored laundry in the clunky coin machines down the street. I lick my lips. I can already taste the sickly sweet syrup sliding down my throat. I tug on my mother's sleeve, "I want cherry." My mother obligingly pulled the lever while I held my cup beneath it. "Careful, Mommy! Not too much!" I hold my cup like a chalice filled with gold coins. I am careful not to spill as I strut back to the car.

My father and brother are waiting for us. I grin hugely when I see my brother. He glares enviously at my prize.
"Where did you get that!?"
"Mommy." My voice is thick with smug satisfaction.
I sip away, but inevitably am unable to finish my drink. I offer it my brother who polishes it off. The car ride home seems longer than usual. My stomach begins to churn. I ignore it to the best of my ability, playing a lonely game of I Spy with myself. I like that I always win, but I am careful to not make the game too easy. My head starts to hurt. I mewl just loud enough for my brother to hear me.
"Are you okay, Megan?"
"No, my tummy hurts." My mother glances back with concern etched on her face. She turns to my father and asks him to pull over. I exit the car enthusiastically, nearly making it completely out before I vomit all over myself.

Flash forward 6 months

"Would you like a Popsicle?" Our class is having a spring picnic and my teacher is offering me a treat encased in slick, white paper.
"What kind is it?"
"Cherry." I instantly feel ill.
"I'm allergic..." While this is not the total truth, it is an easy explanation that my teacher won't challenge.

In psychology, a scenario like this is referred to as a taste aversion. Basically, we eat something, our body reacts negatively, we develop a strong distaste for the food. It has also been determined that when we "get our feelings hurt", a very similar part of the brain reacts as if we had been physically injured. How do these two relate?

One of the topics of discussion in my gender/communication class this week was reclaiming derogatory words, to empower victims. For instance, feminists taking the word cunt as their own as illustrated in Eve Ensler's, Vagina Monologues.

In class we discussed the word bitch and how its meaning varies by who is using it. The spectrum goes all the way from a term of endearment between assertive women, to an insult hurled in an attempt to emasculate someone. One of my classmates talked about a sense of pride that came from being called a bitch when she stood up for herself. A word is only as hurtful as you think it is. If a word has a neutral or empowering meaning to you, it can't be an insult. With this in mind, how easy is it to reclaim a word?

I'm a third grader. I'm a know-it-all, I'm a teacher's pet, I'm also a devoted Christan. I'm independent, I'm insightful, I'm honest, and friendly, and like a lot of the kids, I don't feel like I fit in. The last helps explain my excitement when I see the girl coming over to me at recess. As much fun as I'm having sitting in the grass alone, I am eager for companionship. I smile at my classmate as comes closer. She returns my smile and sits next to me.

"Hi, Sarah!"
"Hi, Megan."
"Thanks for sitting by me." I smile bigger, showing all the teeth I can. She shrugs.
"Hey, my friends (she points to a group of giggling girls,) and I were wondering. Are you a know, like a dyke?" I just stare at her. I don't know what either of these things are.
"No! I'm a little girl...umm...I'm a Megan!" I smile hopefully, seeking her approval. I want to know if this is the right answer.
"Well...we think you're a dyke! That's why you are always alone. You can't like girls if you're a girl. That's why no one likes you, 'cause you like girls. You're a dyke."

When I go home that day, I don't tell my mom. I don't remember who I asked, or when I found out what the words dyke and lesbian mean. I just know that I remember the tone of the girl's voice. Whatever she was calling me was a very bad thing. I was a very bad thing for being one. That was the reason why "no one liked me". This is one of the earliest memories I have of being bullied at school.

I like the idea of reclaiming a word. I think that it can be a wonderful thing to take something insulting and make it a compliment. I have not succeeded with dyke. I have never had a problem with lesbian. However, dyke, makes me squirm when I hear it. I can feel myself getting protective when people use it casually in conversation about other girls. I want to rush to their aid. I know that a word is just a word. The only power it has over us is the power we give it. Maybe it's just a taste aversion.

"That girl is such a dyke!"
"Hey, don't say that."
"Why not? She is."
"It makes me nauseous."

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