Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘misogyny’

Boys to Men

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“Boys will be boys.” This primitive rationalization is reactivating long stored, sometimes barely remembered wounds in women and men.

When I was a teenager, my family didn’t have much money. Mom was a single parent to three expensive kids. As a teenager, I wasn’t very forgiving nor understanding of my mother’s struggles to keep me in clothes, clothes that my friends were wearing, and clothes for special events. So when I had an opportunity to go to a winter formal fraternity, I wanted a new dress. I had applied to this university; in my mind, it was important to make a good impression. So I pestered Mom.

She bought a dress for me. It was soft gray with a slight Japanese-flavored print of a bird on a limb floating across the long skirt. The top was gathered into a modest vee-neck. Why do I feel the need to defend the neckline? I have a vague memory of standing before Mom, twirling around with my hands spread. Both of us were smiling. I felt beautiful in the dress. The dress was carefully packed and I tootled off with friends to the university. The car ride moved along highways flanked with bare trees but nothing dampened my excitement.

Saturday night, I put on the dress and went with my assigned escort to the winter formal. My long hair was pulled up to show off another gift from my mother, a pair of dangling pearl earrings from my namesake aunt Trudi. The night was cool and I draped a swirl of ruffled material around my shoulders.

This is where the memories become strobe-like. I remember drinking with my escort. He seemed nice and quite gentlemanly. We danced – I loved to dance and he was willing to have fun. We laughed at nothing in particular. When the formal party was finishing, he said he would take me back to the dorm where I was staying with my friends but did I want to stop by an after-party? Sure. We walked into the frat house. The room was silent but filled with a group of boys, men from eighteen to their early twenties. I watched my date look at a man a few years older than him sitting in a chair. I had an urge to throw up. I remember feeling so small in my long party dress. My escort turned to me, reached to touch me, and I punched him. He went down and stayed down.

(The summer before, an older friend taught me how to lift weights and how to throw a punch. I will always thank him for those lessons. I wonder if he knew.)

Trying not to wretch, I looked at each boy, young man in turn. “Anyone else want to try this?” I asked. The boy, young man in the chair got up and left. The others followed him. To this day, I have no idea how I had the strength to do this.

Somewhat drunk on alcohol and high on adrenaline, I ran back to my dorm. My beautiful dress and my aunt’s earrings stuck to my body with sweat, I banged on the doors to have someone let me in. I don’t remember who let me in.

Before getting in the backseat for the drive home on that Sunday, I told a friend what had happened. He asked, “Are you sure? He seems like such a nice guy.” Continuing to stare at him, he said, “Boys will be boys.”

I didn’t say another word for the six-hour drive home. Grabbing my bag, I burst into my home, dropped my bag by the stairs, and looked for my Mom. I was proud of myself, terrified of what I had escaped, and confused by my friend’s response. I have a distinct memory of saying, “Mom, I punched a guy. Knocked him out.” Mom looked at me with her mouth open as I demonstrated my fighting stance.

“What are you doing?”

With that question, I picked up my bag and stumbled up the stairs to my room. Unpacking, I threw the dress in the corner.

At school on Monday, I kept my mouth shut afraid if I opened it that I would start screaming or throw up. After school but before anyone else got home, I took a pair of scissors to the dress. I sliced it into pieces so small that no one could have told what it had been. I ripped apart every seam. I shredded every bird. It took hours. The room was dark when I finished. The earrings were locked in my jewelry box.

A couple of years later, the disbelieving friend asked me out. The memory of that dress flooded in and I stood him up. I’m not proud of my behavior. I wish I had told him why I couldn’t go out with him.

“Boys will be boys.” No. This statement infantilizes males. This statement scares women into evasion and collusion. For thirty years, I have been a therapist helping people heal horrific experiences. Then things, people, events occur reactivating the traumas. The 2016 political campaigns have opened old wounds, wounds that we thought had healed. Wounds like mine.

Not Joking

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Sitting at the coffee shop with my friends, I asked, “Should I write something funny or sappy in my blog today?” I was thinking that I had the themes for both types of posts.

“Funny,” said my friend, the quintessential Southern Belle.

Her husband just smirked across from us.

“You couldn’t pull off sappy for more than a second or two,” she said with a cock of her eyebrows.

“Well could you?” I asked not knowing if I should feel complimented or vaguely insulted.

She laughed. Her husband laughed.

I looked around our group. We are a motley crew. Meeting most mornings for almost twenty years, we are direct, honest but usually kind. As far as I know, no one has gone to jail or caused bodily harm to another person. We call each other on our faults.

“When I was a teenager, the women told my mother to teach me Bridge. It was the only acceptable outlet for my wit and intelligence,” she said.

“Where did you grow up?”

“In Atlanta during the 60s and 70s,” she said.

Now this is a woman who can wear handmade shoes, stark silver jewelry, and all black outfits, maybe a midnight sweater, to a pre-8am coffee klatch. She is gracious and kind with a kick-ass sense of humor and intelligence that runs circles around 99% of people, men and women.

I thought about how women are told to behave. The Orthodox Jewish women are told to shave their hair and wear wigs. Only God knows if men can contain their lustful behaviors after seeing female hair. I think of the Islamist head and body coverings to shield women from men’s eyes. We are told to dress and act modestly to avoid rape. But we … must … be … beautiful. Just not too beautiful.

I remember my encounter as an undergraduate in pre-med classes.

“You’re bright. You should go into pharmacy,” said the pre-med advisor.

Fuck you, was my first semester thought but I couldn’t keep up the fight against the covert and college sanctioned hazing. The male students with their not-so-nice jokes, their watching to see if I would cry or throw-up, their exclusions until I knew that I was not wanted in the field of medicine. Except as a nurse.

Even worse was my shame – I couldn’t make it in that environment. Their jokes and exclusions hurt me. Then came the many statements of “You did the right thing” when I dropped out.

I still hate them. I still hate their judgment of my abilities based solely on my chromosomes. I hate that I bought into it. And I am glad my coffee friend did not accept it. She went on to get multiple degrees in Engineering and taught her daughter to go after her dreams. She never learned to play Bridge.

2016 is not the time for pleasantries. This is my year for gracious, defined as generosity of spirit, indignation.

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