I find it interesting and sometimes perplexing how other women view their own aging. Some years back I was talking to an older woman, who was missing a front tooth. She said the only reason she would get it fixed was so as not to scare children. She acted resigned about her appearance. She said, “If you can’t be the best, why bother at all.” I was too surprised to respond but thinking about it, I know I appreciate it when other women (and men) take care of their appearance, no matter their age.
For the most part I’ve been just watching as the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have unfolded. Watching and thinking. I haven’t yet said anything here. There’s something about it that doesn’t quite sit right with me and I’ve had to figure out for myself what that something is.
A “Not Me” movement would be more illuminating. Maybe a few dozen women would sign on because, um, what woman hasn’t been harassed or mistreated at some point in her life because she’s a woman?!?!? Am I missing something here?? This. Isn’t. New. I just don’t believe any cognizant human being, male or female, thinks women have had it fine and dandy, or they do now, no worries! I believe anyone who doesn’t know willfully doesn’t know.
I do think these recent movements are good if they make women feel less alone, less ashamed, less afraid, or if it helps them to connect with other women. I don’t want to suggest nothing positive is happening. I would like to think things might change as a result of the movements but the truth is, I really don’t. Because, again, this just isn’t new information. Maybe I’m too jaded but when I take into account the whole scenario, all the factors that go into my viewpoint, I tend to think not.
We have a culture that has a long history of undermining women. In this country, women, similar to slaves (albeit with more status & privileges), were historically owned by their male family members, as was their property. She went from daddy to husband, if all things went according to plan. Autonomy and women weren’t bedfellows. Relatively few stepped outside those prescribed lines for doing so meant risking social acceptance and security.
It wasn’t that long ago that the law did not consider a man forcefully having sex with his wife rape. For all I know, it still isn’t called rape in some jurisdictions.
Rapes and sex crimes on whole go underreported. There are backlogs of “rape kits” that have yet to be processed. Of those reported, a minority go to trial. Convictions are dicey. Rapes and sexual harassment between acquaintances devolve into he said/she said. Women are maligned – she wore the wrong thing, was in the wrong place, sent the wrong signals, had too many drinks, imagined it, made it up, agreed to it, or is vengeful that consensual sex didn’t lead to a relationship, etcetera. Even when men are convicted, there’s the matter of prisons being overcrowded, those convicted often don’t serve the length of their sentence. Rehabilitation is rare.
So, okay, the system is messed up, right, historically and currently, but we can change mens’ attitudes yes? Enlighten them so they understand that what many have traditionally considered “harmless” behavior – a whole array of acts on a continuum – isn’t in fact? That sounds nice. But um, when the President of the most powerful country in the world, maligns women, jokes about harassing them and taking advantage of them, talks vulgarly about their body parts, has alleged affairs — and this is the just stuff we happen to know (there must be a lot more where that came from) – how do you get the average male child, the average guy, to think otherwise?
When “entertainment” frequently shows women being beaten, raped, tortured, and killed, how do you convince people that we don’t really mean that? That we actually respect women? Or should?
Who doesn’t know that a generation of children are being raised on video games where life, particularly, female life, is cheap? Why is this okay? Consciously a child may be able to separate fantasy and reality, but who is to say what is unconsciously taking root in a developing brain? Psychologists and social scientists DO show connections between what we view and how we act.
When children, mostly female (but certainly not all) are far too often subjected to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in their own homes and communities by the people they should most be able to trust, how do you align that with the “Time’s Up” movement? You can’t deal with one issue and not take on the other as well.
Part of why I’m a bit uncomfortable is that movements of many stripes in this country tend to be passing. “Me Too” feels trendy, one step up from the “Ice Bucket” challenge, something people are paying attention to this week, this month. Weren’t there laws against harassing and abusing people already on the books? If they aren’t enforced, what use are they? If the people in authority who are supposed to help, don’t, what’s the point? If a woman takes the risk of speaking up only to see nothing really change or worse, faces retaliation, why bother? I just don’t think you can address one without the other. The way a woman is treated after being harassed or abused is every bit as important as the abuse itself. Too often she is dismissed or made to feel like she has to defend herself all over again.
The average man is not an abusive jackass. Or an entitled narcissist who uses his power (in whatever form it takes) and physical strength to take advantage of or harm women. But I just don’t believe the men who ARE will be moved by the outcry from women (and supportive men). Yes, it’ll be great if “borderline” types, men who maybe make harassing or inappropriate comments to women but don’t touch them against their will for instance, start to think and act differently. If good men (continue to) talk to their sons or to their friends and associates about how to treat women, that would be great. That still leaves a wide swath of men who are going to go right on doing what they’ve been doing, and unfortunately, probably using the backlash to further justify their anger and hatred toward women. I don’t think you can weed them out and I don’t think you can change them.
The culture has been too lenient with malignant men for too long. The die is cast on the hard cases. There is such animosity directed at women; it permeates our culture. Women are often desired – and objectified – but frequently not respected, not liked, not taken seriously. It’s done in such an unthinking way, that’s what’s most insidious about it.
Younger men, who you’d like to think have been raised by modern women, women who’ve been on the receiving end of mistreatment themselves, don’t seem a lot better. “I’d hit that.” “I’d do her.” “I wanna get me some of that.” This is the common speech of many young men. And far, far, worse. Watch an episode of TMZ, an entertainment news show seen at the dinner hour. The way women are discussed, almost entirely in the context of how they look and whether they are fuckable, is abysmal. Even the women on the show weigh in as if there is nothing problematic about picking apart other womens’ bodies. Watch enough of this type of fare and you may find yourself thinking the same way. I’m referencing TMZ here but it could be any number of mainstream sources that have normalized a peculiar blend of sexualizing and dehumanzing women.
Women who gain power are perhaps the most maligned of all. In a certain mindset, even the lowest of men thinks he is superior to the woman in high reaches of power and status. I don’t mean all men, don’t get me wrong, I mean the ones who have absorbed a certain belief system and are unwilling to change it.
Men who despise women and wish them harm used to live in isolation to an extent but with the internet they have found and can encourage one another. The dark corners of the internet are breeding grounds for discontent and malice.
So you see, I won’t be saying “Me too” anywhere. I’m just going to stay here, keep watching and keep thinking. This isn’t one little problem to be cleaned up, a few men to be stopped and taken out of their jobs or dressed down publicly. It’s a culture that is historically steeped in a particular attitude, one that hasn’t gone away but has morphed into new shapes over time. “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” are scraping the surface of a much deeper problem.
NOTE: I may not be able to respond to comments for a day or two but I look forward to them.
Queen Bees generally don’t like me. Not because I’m a Queen Bee – I’m not – but because offering unquestioning admiration, agreement, and allegiance (to anyone) has never been my strong suit. I have a pesky way of thinking for myself, even when the outcome of those deliberations is contrary to popular opinion.
(I was thinking about writing this post for the last week and today I (serendipitously) saw a similarly themed post on Vanbytheriver.)
When I was a teenager, I specifically remember reading in a girls’ magazine the recommendation that the reader stop making facial expressions in order to prevent wrinkles later in life. Even then, I was shocked by this “advice” and readily dismissed it. What a thing to tell impressionable young women.
Can you imagine a boys’ or mens’ publication making such an absurd suggestion? Boys, stop smiling, raising your eyebrows, and frowning now if you want to be hired for jobs or get women to have sex with you later in life.
HIM (a man in his 30’s trying to seduce me): “I’ve got experience! I’ve had sex with lots of women.”
ME (thinking): And that’s a selling point?
Bonnie Raitt’s ode to a “Real Man” has been around a long time. She sang,
“Don’t want nobody with no problems.
I don’t need a man with a monkey on his back.”
I’d think, YES! Me too, Bonnie. I also don’t want nobody with no problems. Rock on.
Except it wasn’t true. With the clarity and kick-in-the-pants that time can offer, I now suspect a man with problems must’ve been just what I wanted, if unconsciously. That unconscious is a bitch, isn’t she? (I think Freud said that.) It’s not a happy realization that either a) I was indeed looking for a man with problems and or b) having found one, I did not excuse myself and move on down the road. Rather, I dug in – at least for awhile.
Women, especially educated and/or accomplished ones (of which I can claim the former), often get criticized for being too picky when it comes to the opposite sex, for dismissing men too readily over superficial, unimportant issues – height, income, car, job, potential, education, little habits, etcetera (ergo that’s why they’re alone goes the complaint). I want to be clear that I’m not talking about these sorts of things, but actual problems, the twisty kind that interfere with life and relationships.
I didn’t wake up one day and BAM! realize all this and start fresh. No. For me these kinds of realizations come in waves, in stages. First, when I saw problems in the men I became involved with, I took note and stopped moving in closer and trying to solve them; instead, I stayed alert and held my ground. I was helpful where I could be and where it did not come at cost to my well-being. I did this despite the manueverings or agenda of the other person.
See, that was always part of the equation; I succumbed to pressure, subtle and not. I pressured myself even. I took on more than my share. That was my modus operandi (one familiar to many women). At some level, I thought I HAD to invest in a man’s problems – even when HE didn’t – that it was my job. And when I didn’t do that, I met resistance even from men who I’d only recently met, men who had no reason to have these sorts of expectations from me. (I think the “universe” always has a way of testing to see if you really mean business or are just flapping your gums.)
In part, for a time what I see happened was that I was still drawn to, and drawing, men with problems. What was different was how I related to them. It was a tremendous relief, I felt less burdened. I was re-working my role and seeing that – addressing problems – wasn’t what a voluntary relationship between equals was about, or what I wanted MY relationships to be about.
Other people’s problems no longer hold the questionable “allure” they once did. I see somebody toting a rucksack-o-problems – problems he isn’t addressing – and I may linger, I may talk, I may be a friend, or I may enjoy knowing him at some level – but I will not sign up for a relationship, I will not pitch my tent. I have changed. And I like it.