I’ve been in a nest of men lately since my recent divorce after a 30-year marriage. Some of them are married to friends, or in a committed relationship. Some are single, and have never been married. Some are divorced. Some are friends. I’ve dated a few.
And more than a few are good men. But as a middle-aged woman who is single for the first time since her 20s, I’ve been reminded personally, all too often, that sexism is ageless. A few die-hard mysogynists have flown by.
But I’m now like a fine-grained whetstone. As an older woman, I’ve noticed that my feminist edge has been honed over the last three decades. My whittle-down skills are fine-tuned. And comparable to a 59-year-old slab of good old Wisconsin cheddar – I’m sharper with age.
It’s a given that men’s behavior towards women is as disparate as stone and cheese. But my little slice of change is that I have no use for the stinkers among them – to those who believe that masculinity means mysogyny. I no longer bother to slice through the bad parts to get to the good. I toss them – every bit of them – without pause.
It hasn’t always been this way. I would take the verbal, physical and emotional abuse personally when I was in my teens and my 20s. I had a what-did-I-do-wrong approach. Let me slice through your layers for you! I want to help you understand who I am – how smart I am.
To any man that would diminish me, whether in the workplace, or in my personal relationships, I figured it was smart to be coy. I would try to see his side. This hen didn’t want to ruffle any rooster feathers. I smiled. I played the game. I would give in. And eventually give up. I figured I must be doing something wrong. Let me fix me. Because that would fix them.
When one man in particular would yell “I am woman!” in a condescending, mocking voice, every time I spoke my mind, I would instinctively knock myself down a few pegs. My own in-my-head demand – Stop talking, Lois! – would shut me down.
And often, I fell right into the stereotype – I cried like a girl.
As for cat calls, hoots from men, and behavior from some that reduced me to body parts: Oh! They think I’m beautiful! That’s what I’m supposed to be.
I felt I had no tools to handle it any other way. It was uncomfortable. I knew I deserved better. But I took it as the norm.
Because, back then, to me, to survive as a girl meant to play with the boys. They ruled.
So, dare I write this – I’m feeling a change in attitude beyond my own. I see the tolerance meter towards sexism shrinking among women. And men.
There is a plethora of online platforms which allows women to reach a wide audience. They are standing up to the abuse, the misogyny, the dismissiveness, and the cluelessness in a way that I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.
So bravo to the female journalists, like ESPN anchor Hannah Storm (who is 52), who are “driving the story, providing a perspective that their male counterparts simply cannot” on the Ray Rice assault on Janay Palmer, and the N.F.L’s subsequent sloppy handling of it.
To quote Jonathan Mahler, in his article about Storm for The New York Times: “The proliferation of female broadcast voices covering this story is a testament to the progress women have made in a profession that was once a male bastion.”
He continues to ask if this is a “watershed moment,” or ” … just the temporary effect of a news cycle.”
No matter – a layer has been removed. More men are listening.
And kudos to the 20-somethings, like college student Emma Sulkowicz, who has tirelessly dragged a 50-pound mattress around the campus of Columbia University and has pledged to do so until her accused rapist is expelled from the same school. She has helped to blaze a path of awareness, straight to Washington, to legislate against, and shut down, the rape culture on our college campuses.
Thank you, Emma Watson, for your eloquent, “game-changing” speech to the United Nations that defined feminism as a theory, not a rally cry against men.
I have no doubt that every single woman, from 18 to 80, has experienced, at some point in her life, sexual harassment. She’s been diminished, groped, humiliated, physically abused, verbally bashed, emotionally dismissed, laughed at, or all of the above.
Every. Single. One.
And I have no doubt that, like me, many women of my generation felt it was amiss – wrong. But fell into line because that was the wisdom of the day for those of us who were less resolute, and were not as self-assertive, as the feminists of the 19th and 20th centuries, who cast that first stone, and whittled, piece by piece, through the mess that is mysogyny.
Because no matter how you slice it – it stinks.