‘Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did – she just did it backwards and in high heels.’ — Ann Richards
Maybe this sounds familiar:
Scenario 1: You (a woman) are sitting around a table in a conference room in an office with people you mostly know. Everyone’s throwing ideas around. You think of something and, perhaps after pausing to consider if it’s worth mentioning, you go ahead and say it. Before you even finish speaking, someone talks over you and the conversation moves on.
Then five minutes later a man proposes the exact same idea you did. The table erupts. Everyone looks at him in awe and gratitude. He might even get a back slap or two. And you? You look at everyone and wonder, did they hear me?
So the next time, you speak a little louder, be a little bolder. And the same thing happens again. Different room maybe, different man, but the same thing. Once more, he’s applauded as if he’s just divined world peace, found the cure for cancer and saved the planet from an alien invasion. And, once more, you are entirely ignored.
Or this – scenario 2: A man is trying the seduction dance. You know, where he acts as if he’s being attentive, asking things like ‘are you cold? shall I close the window?’ but all he’s really doing is constantly interrupting you, which means he’s not actually listening. Then he tries to demonstrate how deep he is by reading out the preface to some book you had on your school syllabus when you were 14 and found utterly dire. You notice he is congratulating himself for believing he’s impressed you. Then he leans in. When you back away and say oh no no no, he gives a (definitely rehearsed) speech about how we should all live in the moment, and isn’t this moment really beautiful? Why don’t you let yourself live in the moment? Why are you being so uptight?
Now, you could slap him and stomp off. But, damn it, this is someone you have to work with, and so you handle it with decorum. You become the adult in the room. You say: let’s be friends and nothing more. You help protect his fragile male ego so that he’s not uncomfortable the next time you see each other.
But, whaddayaknow, the next time you meet he acts as if you’re invisible.
Or – scenario 3: In company – at work, at a dinner – a man has a tantrum, throws his weight around, or just thinks aloud without any self-editing (and lord, that shit should really be edited as much as possible). And you act as if everything’s fine, ignoring his lack of propriety/humility/maturity while discreetly tidying up the mayhem in his wake.
Here’s what just happened: the man vomited and you mopped it up.
If you’re assertive, you’re viewed as ‘shrill’ or ‘aggressive’ (in a distasteful, confrontational way, of course) whereas a man doing the same thing is seen as ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’.
If you want something and go for it, you’re ‘greedy’. If you don’t like something and say so, you’re ‘a bitch’. A man in the same positions is admired for being ‘straightforward’ and ‘upstanding’.
‘Nag’, ‘hysterical’, and ‘bossy’ are also pejorative terms flung at women, and never used for men (they get ‘persistent’, ‘logical’, and ‘leader’ – said with admiration).
When you ask for something, you have to modulate your tone, temper and manner so as not to be viewed as threatening. Otherwise it’s just too emasculating for men. And you don’t want a man to sulk. That’s how wars get started.
When I say this to (even seemingly enlightened) men, they’re actually amazed. They don’t want to believe it. But this shit happens all the time, everywhere, in all walks of life. Think of Hillary Clinton having to share a stage with the orange baboon and act as if it was normal that they were regarded as peers. All this nonsense about how she seemed untrustworthy and evasive was because the whole time she couldn’t declare her true thoughts. Which I bet were: ‘how is it that I am quantifiably more qualified, intelligent, experienced, and sane, and yet you are going to end up President?’
I might as well clarify that I am not of course gathering up all men to the firing line. I had a party recently and a friend pointed out that most of my friends are men. So they are, and they’re absolutely lovely, each and every one of them. But you know what I mean when I say ‘men’, right?
I don’t think the answer is for women to be more like men – that is: oblivious, self-centred and steered by the reptilian brain that delights in stupid behaviour. I want men to be more like women who are – largely – considerate, generous, gutsy.
I don’t care if we’ve all descended from apes and are essentially still walking around the jungle growling and sniffing at each other. I don’t care if man’s nature is inherently violent and competitive and ridiculously fearful. Progression is a good thing. Genuine acceptance of the Other (all Others) shows we’re civilised. Let’s be civilised, people.
Women have been oppressed for centuries; it somehow rankles more when there’s a veneer of social equality when underneath it all is some prehistoric male fear of being shown up for not being the kings (dictators?) they want to believe they are.
I don’t want decent behaviour in the name of political correctness. I want decent behaviour because, well, it’s decent. Because we all live with and around each other and we have to strive to be our best, kindest, most generous selves for the sake of humanity.
There is some truth to the quote (attributed to numerous people): men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them and women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them. It explains why men will do anything including aggression to thwart dissent and instill obedience. And why we women go to lengths to appease and make pretty. On the surface, it comes across as wanting to be liked. Deeper down, it stirs up our own prehistoric fears of being violated and, you know, murdered.
In the mean time, though – and this could be age talking here – I’m kinda done. I’m done with putting up with an unnecessary amount of discomfort so that the dude can feel good about himself. I’m done cushioning my words so he doesn’t lose his shit. And I’m definitely done with biting my tongue when someone’s being an asshole.
Remember Uma Thurman in Henry and June? Henry Miller throws stuff around a room in an impetuous rage. And June turns on her heels, flings her scarf over her shoulder and walks away saying, ‘I hate your violence.’ I’m going to be like Uma.
‘If you are gracious, you have won the game.’ — Stevie Nicks
In a recent episode of This American Life, Eleanor Gordon-smith spoke to men in her hometown Sydney, Australia who thought when they catcalled or slapped a passing woman’s behind that it was given and received as a compliment. She said to the men: ‘So here’s a thought that I think maybe hasn’t occurred to you. There’s quite a lot of violence against women, right? … And so something that we do, something that we’ve learned to do, is to not reject men. One of the strategies we adopt is laugh, smile, be collegiate, be appeasing, be non-confrontational. Right? So I want to suggest to you that it’s possible that a lot of the smiles and laughs that you see on the faces of the women who you slap or compliment are ways for them to get out of the situation rather than ways of thanking you.’ Listen to the full podcast here.
‘[Mariah Carey] is referred to as “a diva”. This is a word that is only ever used about women and gay men and, as far as I can glean, it means someone who demands to be treated as a heterosexual man in their position would. It is applied with notably especial enthusiasm to black women. Know your place, black ladies! Plenty of heterosexual men have a thrillingly inflated sense of their self-worth and never apologise for it. After all, Elvis Presley once flew his private jet from Denver to Graceland just because he fancied a peanut butter sandwich. John Lennon had a refrigerated room in his apartment for his fur coats. Yet not once have I heard either of them sneered at as “divas”.’ Read Hadley Freeman in The Guardian.
Read this excerpt from Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please where she gives a frank account of the shit women are thrown and how we often, against our better judgment, respond. It starts: ‘Once a woman turns forty she has to start dealing with two things: younger men telling her they are proud of her and older men letting her know they would have sex with her. Both of these things are supposed to be compliments but can often end up making this particular woman angry.’
Madonna received Billboard’s Woman of the Year award last week. In her acceptance speech, she said: ‘I was of course inspired by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Aretha Franklin, but my real muse was David Bowie. He embodied male and female spirit and that suited me just fine. He made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules – if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl. … If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness.’ Watch the full speech here.
When women working in the White House found themselves being interrupted and unacknowledged by men in meetings (I told you this happens everywhere, all the time), here’s what they decided to do to change it.