I’m Your Ally
Updated: Jan 25, 2019
I was at Amy’s bakery today and ordered soup. The counter person brought it out and didn’t register my disappointment in the bowl being only 2/3 full. After getting my change and being asked if I wanted other items I said, “Only because I’m really hungry… would you mind filling up the bowl?”
She brought it back to the cook and must have told them what happened. The cook looked at me - the squeaky wheel - I half smiled an apology. When the counter person came back I rationalized my request, “It’s just that it’s such a cold and rainy day out there I really need a bowl of hot soup to warm me up.”
“Of course,” she replied.
I’m sixty years old, an educated, affluent, white male, a person (on paper at least) for whom this society was made. It took courage to ask for a full bowl of soup. “Don’t be a pain in the ass,” was the phrase my parents taught me and now I repeated to myself. I know it may not seem so to others as the stakes in my case are so low but I ask you why would this same society expect it to be any easier for a girl of fifteen after being subjected to an attempted rape?
The #MeToo movement is nearly one year old. Aside from celebrating the light that shines on the darkness in our culture I’d like to add another perspective.
When the Weinstein story broke I was astounded at the number of women I know (or am acquainted with through social media) who signed onto it. My wife and a few close friends spent weeks educating me to the horrors of growing up, coming of age sexually and being a target for predators, players and perverts.
This led to me doing an exhaustive search of my own sexual history to see if I was culpable in any way. I spoke to other men around this time and heard similar stories of introspective worry and borderline anxiety—when the next shoe drops may it not be in my house— was our unspoken prayer. The worst judgement that I could come up with was that I had behaved selfishly at times. Alcohol had a role in blurring my (and others) judgement but some of my behaviors were while quite sober. As I examined the break-ups and brush-offs that occurred it seemed that the women I dated concurred but selfish or irresponsible was the worst I’d been called. I eventually agreed with those judgements. In cases where it was needed I made an honest attempt at amends.
For a while this past year it seemed like all the men and women I socialized with * walked on egg shells around these issues of sexual politics. Speaking for men, we were worried, for every day there was a new revelation. When it befell someone I thought of already as awful—Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly—I saw it as justice. When it was someone I respected—Louis CK, Charlie Rose, Al Franken—I felt empathy for his fall from grace. Eventually the soil settled and any more revelations went back underground. Until the dubious dance of Kauvanaugh and Ford came onto the Senate floor, with background music supplied by Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas.
Before this week a too-easy-to-come-by-settled feeling endured in my consciousness. I wonder how many men have come to any personal realizations in the past year? I wonder what is the percentage of men who have sexually abused, assaulted, or raped? What percentage would admit it in any forum (i.e. the therapist’s office or the confessional booth, or gulp, social media)? Do we, as a society need a truth and reconciliation commission for our sexual misconduct? If admissions were made and contrition shown will immunity be given? These are dangerous times. In case it’s not clear: I’m not advocating for the sex police.
One interesting side note in #MeToo was the remembering of my own experience of sexual abuse. I reluctantly share it now because it palls in comparison to what so many of my sisters experienced.
I was seventeen and he picked me up while I was hitch hiking in Arizona. He was a Boy Scout leader, in full uniform. He manipulated me into posing nude for photographs for a “life studies art class at the University.” He shot two or three rolls of film and then encouraged me to become erect. I refused. Our photo session ended. A short time later he left me by the side of the road. It could have gone a lot worse. That was forty-three years ago. Aside from my wife I’ve never spoken about it.
The two headlining articles in the NY Times today were about Bill Cosby’s jail sentence and Brett Kavanaugh’s defending himself. Is there some kismet in this time of reckoning? Those two narratives seem like the same story just being written about at different times: one at the end, the other in the middle.
When I see these white, male, Republican senators question the motive or veracity of victims of sexual abuse it makes me sick to be a man. They look like talking fossilized tools left out in a patriarchal rain. When I hear white middle-aged women defend the actions of alleged abusers with the tired and untrue “boys will be boys,” it makes me want to vomit.
When I see the Predator-in-Chief ask why she didn’t report it to the authorities when she was fifteen it feels like the carousel is speeding up so fast I can’t even imagine jumping off it. This admonition, came from the same man who has allegedly attacked as many as fifteen women and who bragged about it in front of a camera and THEN was elected President of the United States of America.
Is it really any wonder that women don’t speak of these things? It’s a frickin’ miracle that anyone, anywhere at any time reports anything. Just look at the reception Ms. Ford will be given in Washington for speaking out. The world will watch.