I am confused about women. We laugh that this is the basic condition of the male of the species, but the recent unpleasantness has brought this to a more disturbing level.
We have been assured by our next leader that women are putty (damn autocorrect!) in the hands of men, at least men who are stars, and that there are pretty much two kinds of women to notice: Those who look hot but are totally cool with being putty and those who look hot but are chill enough to allow themselves to be putty. Marital status of putty or putter is irrelevant. When one woman spoke up about not being cool or chill, but added that she was hot with anger when he bothered her, he did allow that there is a third kind of woman. That third kind is the liars who don’t meet his apparently universal standard of beauty to make them worthy of groping in the first place.
So, now I have a problem. Some women I know have been vigorous on Facebook in support of our star putter for telling it like it is and further pushing this country on the right (well, far right) path. How do I greet such women when back in meatspace with them again? If I don’t grope immediately, am I insulting their appearance? Signalling that they are too old, too fat, too thin, too unattractive? Am I suggesting that they are too cantankerous, not chill as a worthy woman should be? Or am I short-changing myself, perhaps undermining my own status by not assuming star privilege?
If I don’t grope like we are told a star would, will the women I coach every year in the beginner’s running clinic take me seriously as an authority? Will they know to trust my advice if I’m not confident in myself enough to reach out to them?
And if I happen to think there are more kinds of women than those three, should I reassure any I meet that not groping them in no way reflects negatively on their attractiveness or personality or my own level of confidence? More important, should I reassure them that not all men live out or permit “locker room talk”?
I’ve been in locker rooms and they are most certainly not meat inspector-free zones. “Nice pair,” “Hoover action,” “your mama so …” Penis assessment away from the counselors at youth church camps. Boys being boys. College friends of mine used to gather at a bar and laugh about the “Wuw,” the world’s ugliest practitioner of the world’s oldest profession. I didn’t join in, but I didn’t stop them either. I did once write about it where they and all the university community could see. They may have backed off a little, at least when I was around. So, talk happens. But it’s NOT acceptable. It certainly shouldn’t escape (or in fact survive) the closed spaces. It MUST NOT BE ALLOWED to be a call to action or a point of pride!
Do I need to assure the mothers of the high school girls (young, healthy, happy — in the simplest sense naturally attractive) I help coach that I will not impose myself on their daughters, nor do anything that intrudes on their own marriage? Do I tell the boys I help coach not to try to be a certain kind of “presidential,” or even a certain kind of “star”?
Should I meet the next president, do I immediately tell him my wife is not to be groped? If I do, will he look at her and say she’s hot and I am not powerful enough to stop him and his security team? Will he look at her and say she’s not hot enough for him to bother and he’s sorry I’m not star enough to have done better? Will he look at me and say, “That was just some talk to help me get elected and of course I’m not that way now that I am married for the third time”?
I asked a fairly ordinary, nice older lady whether I should ask women any of these questions so that they wouldn’t be insulted by my behavior or lack of it, and she said I certainly should not even bring the topic up — it obviously isn’t fit for public consumption! (We don’t have irony here in this town.) She did allow as how it was mighty suspicious that “those women” waited 10 years to complain about a putty press. The cop show on in the background had a prosecutor begging a rape accuser to testify despite fear of the suspect’s power, wealth and position. (The local cable provider doesn’t carry an irony channel, either.)
Yes, ladies, we have problems. We men do like to look at you and touch you, and most of us limit ourselves to one. We don’t generally like other men to look at and touch those of you in our circles of influence. You like to be looked at and touched, mostly limited to one, and not any and everyman. You generally don’t like other women to be looked at and touched by the men in your circle of influence.
But beauty and propriety are fluid concepts: Years ago in hospital post-operative recovery, a friend brought the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue thinking it would be pleasant viewing to cheer me up. Suzy made him take it away as smut. I rested in the middle. We’ve been at this a long time: In the ’80s (late ’70s?) I worked at a newspaper where a young sports columnist wrote a “Welcome girls!” piece celebrating the midwinter arrival of that year’s sunny edition, and one of the women I worked with on the copy desk was upset because it was instead an exploitive, non-athletic photo album. Back then, I pointed out that after all women were doing the posing and showing of skin.
I’ve changed (matured?) some since and figure it’s allowable to be beautiful and desirable — but it’s quite reasonable to be offended by leering or groping or the sight of skin. We have to work out the personal boundaries among ourselves, but there are some lines we ought to draw in open space.
“Locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” are NOT acceptable, particularly to the extent of “you know you really want me to grope you” or “please don’t interrupt his promising athletic career just because he raped some woman.” Women’s lives matter — no, that doesn’t mean men’s lives don’t! It means “Also,” not “Only.”
“Slut shaming” and “she was asking for it” by the way she dressed or drank are also NOT acceptable. Sure, if you’re not part of the floor show, a bikini in a fine restaurant is not appropriate, but it is no more an invitation to assault than having a penis is a permit for assault.
I guess that brings us about where we started: I am confused about women. Natural, really, because there’s a lot of living packed into our relationships and they aren’t simple. On the other hand, a lot of the confusion goes away once we admit that our relationships are with persons, not stuffed skin trophies.
Ladies, some of you appeal to my eyes, some to my mind, some to my emotions. I am pledged to one of you. I was once pledged to another who still feeds memories of love and regret. Some of you do not appeal to me, in those same aspects. Be that as it may, I do not presume open access to your person or even clearance to air my thoughts about your person, whether in a locker room, at the water cooler or over the gossip fence. I am a lucky husband and many of you have lucky husbands as well, and that is integral rather than irrelevant to our relationship.
At one time, I thought it “need not be said” that I am not out to grope you, but — our next leader be damned — times have changed.
Basic human decency, common courtesy, even much-mocked political correctness are not signs of weakness. Indeed, all of those actually demand that we stand up to bullying pigs.
With your permission, I will accompany you as we navigate these newly mean streets.