few years ago I was sitting around in a friend’s fabric shop doing a little tatting. A regular customer, let’s call her Didi, came in to chat with the owner, Anne. Anne was busy with a vendor, so Didi sat down and began telling me about her plans for the day.
She would leave the fabric store and go to the bank, where she would try to look inconspicuous while she cased the place. Her new boyfriend was sending her on a sexy mission, and she didn’t want to get caught. Didi explained in detail which door of the bank she would go in, how she would look around and wait by the corner. When she was sure nobody was looking she’d sneak over and take a deposit slip. Her boyfriend wanted the routing number for that bank but she doesn’t have an account there.
Didi was approximately 65 years old with pink and white hair. She wore platform shoes, a miniskirt, and a jean jacket with bright flowers embroidered all over it. She did not seem to own an inside voice. I felt like it was good that she wasn’t actually doing anything illegal because she’s impossible to miss. There’s a reason burglars don’t traditionally dress like Jojo Siwa.
I told Didi the bank would just give her a deposit slip no questions asked. The bank’s routing number was no more secret than its street address. They would give it to her over the phone. She pretended not to hear me, babbling on. One great thing about tatting is that you can look at your hands the whole time you’re doing it.
The vendor left and Anne joined us. Didi retold the story of her heist plan, this time standing up and sneaking around the couch, doing the motions of looking, ducking down, and grabbing the thing they would just fucking give her or anyone. I began to think of her dozens of clanky bangle bracelets almost like a bell on a cat — next time I hear them I know to run.
I had stopped saying, “Mm-hm” even before Anne approached, and voila, Didi didn’t notice or care. Anne didn’t seem to grasp the actual story she was being told, or maybe it’s just that my diplomacy skills are deeply remedial.
Anne pumped Didi for more information on the mystery man.
This is a wealthy guy who Didi has slept with twice. She met him at a Best Buy and they had sex in his truck in the parking lot. Then she showed up at the marina and blew him on his boat. Now he’s sent her on this knucklehead mission to pretend she’s stealing a copy of a deposit slip so he can move some money around.
Anne played right along like a champ and Didi came alive. She looked like a teenager, twirling around describing her new romance, doing fashion poses and giggling.
Before walking out the door Didi gave Anne a little curtsy and then kicked her leg up like a Radio City Rockette.
“I’m glad I didn’t see her vagina just now,” I said, looking up from my tatting.
“I have seen it!” Anne laughed.
“What the actual fuck? Where?”
“Here! At the store! Almost like just now, except I was walking her out the back door. She told me she never wears underwear. She turned around, pulled her skirt up, and showed me her puss.”
“In what context?”
“Complete surprise. I never imagined anybody getting naked in my shop before.”
Toxic masculinity has a female corollary: histrionic personality disorder.
The histrionic shares her sexual impropriety as though the rest of us are as thrilled and uplifted as she is by it, as though it liberates us all. I’m not a psychologist, so I’m just guessing about both Didi and my mom when I go with a field diagnosis of vivacious histrionic.
According to Wikipedia, vivacious histrionic is the seductiveness of the histrionic mixed with the energy typical of hypomania. Some narcissistic features can also be present.
Personality traits: Vigorous, charming, bubbly, brisk, spirited, flippant, impulsive; seeks momentary cheerfulness and playful adventures; animated, energetic, ebullient.
After many years of reflection, I do believe my mom would be diagnosed as a vivacious histrionic narcissist should she ever submit to psychological evaluation. Don’t worry, she won’t. My mother is Teflon-coated for negative feedback at the Joe Biden level. She always judges first lest she be judged.
My mother openly identified as a feminist.
She would say many girl-power sounding things all her life. But when I got raped, her one and only response was to scream in my face and threaten me until I stopped crying. In real life, she’s an icon of rape culture. She’s the white people MLK warned us about. Remember that every narcissist is living a lie that they desperately want to believe.
What both Didi and my mother live for, their psychological oxygen, is male attention. Ideally, it would be approval. But my mother would adopt a “rebel with a cause” attitude anytime she wasn’t appreciated. She’s always right and deserving of approval. Mom would date any goofball that asked her until he didn’t want or couldn’t take any more.
The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM 5, defines histrionic personality disorder (in Cluster B) as:
A pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention
- interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
- displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
- consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
- has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
- shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
- is suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances
- considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are
My mother’s and Didi’s sort of faux sexual liberation seems to me like an inevitable outgrowth of boomer culture and its toxic masculinity. It’s the old, “women fake orgasms because men fake love.”
Within toxic masculinity, women are nothing but a man’s rib given voice.
This is exactly how my mother treated me, as merely an outgrowth of herself, like a wart. You’re not human to such a person and you never can be. My dear friend Shelby, who had stayed with her abusive loser long past the point anyone could understand, confided in me shortly before her death: “I’m just an accessory to him, something to make him look good.” Nice girls like Shelby don’t even win that game.
So histrionics, who are in the Cluster B personality disorders, retreat from the grim shared reality of the man’s world in which we live, and into a fantasy world of narcissism.
Narcissism is about denying negative reflections of oneself in favor of an imaginary ideal. Histrionics are as phony as the phony men whose approval they so desperately need. Men reduce them to sexual objects, and histrionics define that as winning. They can thus gain the male attention and approval they so desperately need while still feeling like they have agency.
In other words, please wear panties to the fabric store.
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