Him too? An International Women’s Day thought experiment

March 7, 2018

I’ve been so busy the past couple of months that I missed the news for days on end, sometimes. Often it took an overheard conversation to catch me up on the latest firing or resignation over sexual impropriety.

“What? Him too …?”

But then after a moment’s thought: “Well, yeah. I’m not surprised …”

So I’m responding here to what’s in the air — not to the facts I only half heard or to the opinion pieces I skimmed, but to the discussions that happened because of them.

It looks like men are losing their jobs over as-yet-unproven — perhaps unprovable — allegations. Maybe they’ll later be proved untrue, but meantime, a career can be ruined by something a woman says, about something that might have happened years ago. That might never have happened at all.

Scary! It’s an erosion of due process!

Except that we can’t even begin to talk about due process in a society where some people’s bodies and lives and words and time are worth so much less than other people’s. And if — in what’s called due process — women aren’t believed.

Anyway, at least those men got to have careers.

We can talk about a man in a position of power, and all the good he did and all the good he might some day do if that woman hadn’t gone and ruined his career, but what about the careers that didn’t happen — not just because of a grope or an insensitive remark, or worse — but because of the pervading atmosphere of fear and wariness?

How many women stood at the door, took a look around and then backed out again?

But that’s victim-thinking. Women should not blame others for our choices. We should realize we have resources and resilience and learn to use them.

Absolutely true.

Except that — for artists, anyway — a close acquaintance with vulnerability — sometimes even too close for any possibility of comfort in this world — is an advantage, last I checked.

What voices with potential to rearrange our minds and our world are being lost because the ability to stand up to abuse has become a prerequisite to success?

So maybe the requirement for toughness is more relevant in politics or business than it is in the arts.

But maybe not. What if people could bring their vulnerabilities with them into all sorts of workplaces? What if the women who rose to power didn’t have to cope with years of combat? I guess we could say, in that case, that we actually had women in positions of power. And what kinds of leaders would they make? I wonder.

But enough about women’s vulnerabilities, there are men at risk here! Good guys, who might find themselves passed over for opportunities because of a scandal that might — some day — crop up. Women might get chosen instead! Scandal might become — well — the new pregnancy.

That might indeed happen. And I feel sorry for those good guys, whoever they are.

But it might not take too long for things to change. Imagine if it were a prerequisite to hiring, for a man to have a track record of actively and visibly standing up for women, actively and visibly taking steps to help them advance? Taking steps to combat the climate of fear that asphyxiates our creativity? What if not being a proven rapist were no longer enough?

I know a lot of accusations are taking place on social media. That makes me nervous. I am not on facebook and follow twitter only sporadically. How much good, I wonder, can be achieved through a medium which is designed to commodify us.

Except that women have been treated as commodities for a very, very long time. And we’re not being believed through the usual channels.

Years ago, I spent too long in a relationship with someone who hurt me a lot. When I tried to talk to him about it, my words would get twisted around. Inevitably, I’d end up apologizing.

I’d come out of those sessions feeling so damaged, because it was not just a question of winning a particular argument. It was my sense of reality, my sense of being able to trust my feelings, that would be undermined.

And that feeling remained with me long after the relationship physically ended. And that was my fault, too. I was concentrating on a man instead of launching my writing career. I was being a victim. Giving in to my fear.

But once in a while, I’d go to a funny movie or have a great evening with a friend, and I’d have the refreshing feeling of coming back to myself again. Trusting what I felt. There would be a wonderful sensation of being in clear air before plugging my nose and plunging back into the toxic fog where my reality was questioned and everything was my fault.

And the recent outburst on social media feels like those occasional moments when I’d be able to say, clearly and simply: “I was expecting you at 9 and it’s 2 a.m.” or “I don’t want to have sex when you reek of beer,” not fearing what came afterwards because it just felt so good to say it.

It seems to me that this is discussion about women having power. Women taking it in whatever way we must. There seems to be a terrible fear that women will abuse that power.

And maybe we will.

But women having power is not something we have a lot of experience with. Maybe it’s time to give it a try.

One thought on “Him too? An International Women’s Day thought experiment”

  1. “the new pregnancy…” Well stated. Thank you!

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