The outrages and allegations flash through my brain like a nasty, ludicrous slide show of twisted male power. Harvey Weinstein and his potted plant. Charlie Rose and his flapping bathrobe. Roy Moore and the cowboy-booted mall trolling he denies. Louis CK and his humid phone. Matt Lauer and his Bond-villain door bolting. Al Franken and his giddy grabs.
I’d like to scrape up some sense of triumph over the fact that many courageous women have raised their voices. But I don’t feel triumphant. I feel humiliated and angry. They hate us. That’s my immediate thought, with each new revelation: They hate us. And then, a more sick-making suspicion: They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.
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No, not all men, and not even most—but enough. Regardless of our intelligence, wit or perseverance, we are still judged by our faces, breasts and asses. By the amount of energy it would take to assault us: Is she worth the trouble of the bathrobe trick?
Women in the workplace. It sounds like a retro Richard Scarry book. I can picture Mother Cat in her ’80s lady-blazer, mentoring us on multitasking: Ladies, in addition to doing your jobs, you must devote brain space to dealing with Men in the Workplace. Dear Mother Cat: My boss cupped my ass during a holiday selfie. Should I just avoid him? That would mean fewer assignments, career stagnation. Damn. Dear Mother Cat: A man who I thought was my mentor came on to me. Does that obliterate everything he said about my work? That would mean I can’t tell good guys from bad guys. Damn.
How are we still here? Male entitlement, sure. Power, absolutely. But it all boils down to this: America values women less than men. Don’t call me shrill. Or do. Women have shrill voices for a reason: to sound the alarm. The facts: President Trump was elected despite his public braggadocio about his skill at sexual assault; the Republican National Committee is throwing down money to get Roy Moore elected, despite that whole child-molestation thing. The Internet is toxic with slut-shaming and body-shaming, rape culture and revenge porn. Female techies in Silicon Valley are terrorized for using their voices. Threats to women abound. We are underrepresented everywhere, underpaid by everyone and underestimated all over. We are not the People; we are subjects of the Patriarchy.
I look at my daughter (and this is how aware women are of our otherness—I immediately wonder whether a man would write about his kids), my fearless, vibrant 3-year-old daughter, and I worry about whether she’ll be crushed by this world. I look at my sweet 7-year-old son and wonder how to ensure that he grows up a thoughtful, decent man like his dad. I actually spend more time worrying over my son: sexual harassment is, after all, a men’s issue. The fact that this seems like a novel idea—men should lead the charge in figuring out how not to rape us during lunch break—would be hilarious if it weren’t heartbreaking. Yes, men (and predatory women; I’m betting the first woman will topple before year’s end—equality!) need to do some introspection and work.
What’s not going to work is taking our cues from those who think the answer is to segregate women—men who see us as a sexual risk or, worse, the enemy. That’s called discrimination. And it’s not going to work to keep allegedly abusive men in power—not any of them, whether it’s Moore or (break my heart) Franken. That’s called status quo. What might work is thinking about how we raise our men-to-be.
My son recently asked me, “Why aren’t there shirts that say BOY POWER?” I could have talked male entitlement and the male gaze, the wage gap and Weinstein. But I thought: If the myriad GIRL POWER shirts are meant to encourage female strength and confidence, a BOY POWER shirt might make male empathy and respect dynamic. There were no BOY POWER shirts, so I had to DIY an iron-on. Now, there’s at least one.