Today I listened to an entry on NPR’s This American Life called Five Women by Chana Joffee-Walt, and I thought it was as tragic as it was instructional, and very well done. It’s got the strong language (bleeped out in the linked version), or you can avoid all that and just read my tips below 🙂
In this episode, we follow five women through the experiences with one real piece of work, Don Hanzen, their boss at a Left-wing blog called AlterNet. Well, he was. He’s out, swept out on the tide of #metoo, the phenom that I hope brings some sanity to this insane situation.
I don’t to talk about him nor what he did. I’m going to replace his name with knuckle-dragger because that’s where this behavior comes from – our lizard brains. There is learning in the NPR story, and it’s so compelling it’s worth suffering through the horrid details. However, this is a family-friendly blog, so I want to pull out the three things that I think can be learned, things that I want my kids, and especially my daughter, to learn from this story, sans the harrowing details.
1. You define normal – In the story, they talk about the mindset, either theirs or one that’s told to them, that “men are just that way” or “Of course you’re going to be sexually harassed, you’re a pretty nineteen-year-old girl!”. One woman shrug’s Knuckle-dragger abuse as the semi-pathetic flirting of a middle-aged man. “That’s just the way it is,” another woman says, echoing Hornsby’s mournful song about racism.
This is NOT the way it is. Most men cherish women, not abuse them, having learned how to be civilized shortly after we left the caves of Africa (okay, maybe after Women’s Sufferage was over in the early 20th century). The point is, don’t let other people define what your normal is. In each of these five stories, the women sense intuitively that something is wrong. Trust that instinct. And do not let the knuckle-dragging men in your life set the stage.
2. Try to retain control over your environment – Don’t let knuckledraggers intimidate you. There are people who are going to yell and scream, and even break things. This used to be cool, or acceptable. This “man” in this story would throw fits, and scare the women into acts that they wouldn’t normally do. Overaggressive and more powerful – these young women were doubly disadvantaged. They did what they thought they had to. No judgment. My point – you have some control. You have power. This story does come to an end when the last woman takes a stand, bonds with some of the others, and they take Knuckle-dragger down in shame.
3. “If something like looks is all that gives you power, then it’s a fake power” – This is a quote directly from one of the women. She’s right. Beauty, especially feminine beauty, is as magical as it gets on earth. But it is ephemera – fun, but temporary. Invest your time in something that lasts, and then work to make sure people care to see those parts of you, especially those who seek to love you.
That’s it for now. Honestly, I feel incomplete in writing this, like there ought to be more, a secret, some strategy, to deal with predatory knuckledraggers. But if there’s one thing that emerged for me, its that this topic is as complex as any human behavior. There is no one story. Each experience interacts with multiple layers: career advancement, sexual attraction (one lady dated the knuckledragger), a perception of the status quo, and the personal belief systems of those involved. The sexual revolution of the 60’s is an easy target to blame, but I’m pretty sure men are men of any age, and were heroes to many even now, e.g. John F. Kennedy.
I’ll be doing some soul-searching on the topic, but I’m not the rabid predatory male, at least I don’t let that atavistic function control me. Don’t get me wrong, I’d gamble to say that all hetero-men have knuckledragger impulses, but we’ve learned to control them. It’s easy to slip into predator mode, but it’s short-lived and shallow. Having been married for two decades and with a daughter, my appreciation for the opposite sex has only strengthened. It is the men who think they are better than others, who have achieved power, who likely have done so by stepping on others – these are the folks that should be doing some long overdue soul-searching, followed up by deep, personal transformation into true modern men. As a father of two boys, I will ensure that my men will know how to treat a lady.