I’ve debated whether I should add to the “me-too” lists enumerating the atrocities women have experienced from the Harvey Weinstein-type men of the world.
I’ve tried to sort through my feelings on the topic. I have my own lengthy list of bad experiences, but I don’t feel outrage, even though it’s justified. Instead, I feel sad for my former self, for the girl and woman I was.
My mother never offered any useful advice about dealing with unpleasantly aggressive men. She obliquely offered wisdom through her own dating anecdotes, implying that a woman’s best defense was a wily ability to dodge unwanted advances. “That’s how men are,” she said, thereby absolving them of responsibility in managing their impulses. That became my unconscious world view.
She spoke about the type of man who would “chase anything in a skirt,” perhaps unaware that she had married one herself. After both parents were dead and gone, I learned that my father was “shacking up” with another woman while he courted my mother. (She wasn’t willing to “put out” until they were married.) I will never know whether my mother had the misguided notion that she could change my father, or if she had been suckered by his charm. He still chased skirts as a married man, though if my mother were aware, she never let it be known.
For his part, my father blurred the lines between women in general and the women of his family. They all were subject to his gaze. He seemed unaware that it was inappropriate to kiss his sister’s neck like a vampire. As his daughters matured, he regarded them with the same seamy attitude that he directed at waitresses, the high school students he taught, and women colleagues. That was confusing.
He felt his job was to keep his daughters’ suitors at bay, proffering such wisdom as “A stiff prick has no conscience.” He warned boys, “You fuck her, you take care of her,” implying that we were his sexual property until title was transferred to a new owner.
I was taught that my sexuality wasn’t necessarily mine, but it was my job to preserve it from assaults. I was confused by male advances and had no notion how or if I should fend them off. I was unsure whether I should be flattered or offended by verbal or physical overtures. I doubted my inner compass, and until mid-life had no ability to distinguish good men from cads.
I admire the women who are sharing their stories, who are appropriately outraged by outrageous behavior. I’m glad that there are men who are appalled, though I wonder what realms they inhabit that they’re surprised at the breadth of female experience. I count myself as fortunate to have sorted much of this out in my middle years, but I’m still haunted by the dark male beings whom I encountered, who left me feeling ashamed and confused about an aspect of my being over which I have sovereign rule.