This Male/Female Thing

I’ve been thinking about this male/female thing that’s so loud and pervasive right now in politics, and I realize there are a lot of things in my life that I have just recently “heard” even though they were spoken decades ago. I am thinking of my Uncle Hank, the gentlest, most handsome man in the whole wide world.

His mom died when he was three. He was raised by aunts and his older sister. His dad was working on oil rigs in Oklahoma and that’s what Hank did, too, until the war. He joined the navy and in Washington State, Seattle, he met my Aunt Jo. He fell deeply, passionately and permanently in love with her. Theirs was a great love and it suffered the vicissitudes of life. Towards the end, when they were still in their house, before they were moved to “the home,” they sat together in the living room, each in their recliner, holding hands.

Hank was raised to respect and honor women and this was clear in everything he did.

He raised my cousins to respect and honor women. In fact, in the family (I lived with them for a while and visited frequently for most of my life) they talked about it a LOT as if it were something exceptional. I didn’t hear all of this because respect for women wasn’t exceptional in my family. I think I had only one uncle who treated women (including my aunt to whom he was married) disrespectfully. It really was the “code of the west” (as I had been told it was) not to cheat on your girl, not to hit your girl, not to take advantage of any female in any way because women were special. Women were a paradoxical combination of fragility — their feelings were softer, more tender, more romantic and more vulnerable — and hearty farmwife who could take care of everything. “Nothing stronger than a good woman. Look at grandma.” Men and women were helpmeets and partners, different but equal, complementary.

Why did the men in my family discuss this (sometimes vociferously) at the supper table? Sometimes explaining that women ought to be treated almost as if we were another species, much to the consternation of my unmarried aunt, Martha, who (rightly) argued there wasn’t much a man could do that a woman couldn’t do just as well? And how important it was to be good to your girlfriend, sister, cousin, mother, aunt and grandma because she WAS a girl or woman? That her being female was WHY a boy or man should care for her gently and generously? “Don’t be mean to Martha Ann. She’s a girl and she’s your cousin.”

I think, now, the men in my family knew men who were NOT like that, who did NOT respect women, who did not “get” women’s special abilities and who thought women were creatures who should be humiliated, abused, belittled and beaten. Maybe there were — literally — two “camps.” Men who respected women and men who didn’t.

I’ll be straight here. Men scare me, categorically. Once, they didn’t. What changed? Being beaten, kicked in the crotch, gaslighted, cheated on — really the whole litany of abuse (except by the men in my family I am very happy to say) began when I entered the dating world and marriage. I have men friends but my radar is always up when I’m out in the world for signals that a stranger might be dangerous to me. Did all this happen to me partly because I grew up around men who devoutly respected women and I entered the world not knowing there was any other kind?

26 thoughts on “This Male/Female Thing

  1. I think this shit happened to all of us. Because abusing or assaulting or raping women has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power. I have to remind myself of that a lot too. You don’t have to be beautiful or young or sexy or dressed sexily. You just have to be female and a man who is “like that” will behave that way. Because on some level or other, the only way he knows how to have power as a man is to do something bad to a woman.

  2. No. I think you just came into the dating world with higher standards than those of us who saw men belittled, abused and thought of as cowards or worse. My mother’s mother (my grandma, whom I barely remember, she died when I was 4) was a misandrist in full flower. She LOATHED men (wasn’t gay…one wasn’t gay in 1930 at least not in grandma’s circles), this loathing came about because my grandfather was an abusive drunk. He routinely embarrassed Grandma (who came from some ‘fine stock’) and abused her until she got fed up enough to divorce him. One didn’t do THAT either in 1930 in Utah. One stuck by her man. Grandma was a bit a head of her time. Grandma taught her three daughters that men were suspect in everything, only after ‘one thing’ and would mess a woman over given half a chance. They were to be ridiculed and thought of as ‘bad creatures.’

    My point is that my mother didn’t respect men, and I never learned to. I thought it was standard operating procedure for them to return the sentiment and therefore I was in a lot of very bad relationships over the years. So I don’t think your gentler upbringing ill prepared you for the realities of life. You simply took the same chances we all did (do) and got a bad result. IMHO.

    • I suspect a lot of things enter into the choices we end up making. I idolized my dad. My mom was a secret alcoholic and I was her unwitting enabler. I think that became part of my model for a love relationship.

  3. My mother was the one who would launch into a screaming rage over what I considered trivialities. Her paranoia was profound. She completely alienated everyone on my father’s side and many on her side of the family. It was so over the top that if she had anything useful to tell me I would ignore it. I was a stupid lazy good for nothing and would never amount to anything. She used to attack my bottom with a yard stick on a regular basis. When I turn 12 I finally took it away from her and told her, “Never again!” And it stopped.

    Didn’t stop the verbal abuse. Combined with the teasing and bullying that I got at school I had zero self esteem.

    She was such good preparation for basic training that nothing the DIs could do phased me.

    My father was a very quiet, mellow man. I guess he really got into it with my sister when she came home with a wrinkled and soiled dress but I never saw that. Anger was rare until mother dearest pushed him too far and then they’d argue. I’d cover my ears and hide in my room. Or run into the forest. He developed alcoholism which spontaneously disappeared when she passed away. And I did not mourn for an instant.

    But it is all water under the bridge. I don’t – and shouldn’t – allow the past to contaminate the present. I made sure to neutralize the emotional content of those memories. She was just a sad person, not something to carry along with me my entire life.

    • My mom was so good at hiding what she was that no one in the family knew about her drinking until a month or so before she died at 74! Consequently, I wasn’t able to contend with her or her behavior toward me (a lot like you’ve described your mom) until I was in my forties. But, I did contend with it and no. I never mourned her passing. I did the job I had to do, I had good help from my family and therapist to work through the realities of my life that were sprung on me at that late date. Unfortunately, until we know what’s going on, we tend to try to work through these mysteries in our own lives and not always in the best ways. She sure as hell did not like me or she was ashamed of the way she used me; I’ll never know (and don’t care).

  4. My dad was a good man. I didn’t personally know bad guys until I had romantic relationships and I never really had good ones. I’m just done. The stuff I see in the news horrifies me even more than my personal experiences.

  5. What a blessing to have grown up in such a lovely family! I love your stories. My husband and I discuss this a lot as we have teen daughters. We’re leaning toward a downward shift in all of society being behind a lot of today’s ills. There are bad men. And, there are bad women, too. If we don’t want to join them, we have to drag our feet like crazy in every venue, not just the political one. Still working on HOW to do this. 🙂

    • It really was a blessing. I miss them all a lot.

      I wish I knew the answer to evil, but so far all I’ve come up with is “It’s going to surprise you when you don’t expect it. Beware.” 😦

  6. Indeed a great question. Perhaps you did expect all men to be as your family men were, respectful considerate. It’s still an eye opener to me that there are those who respect and those who don’t and unfortunately, as seen recently, the don’ts seem to be winning. It’s as if we’ve stepped back over 100 years and all we fought for is gone. When men get away with the bs that’s happening, it sends a clear message to boys and girls…girls, watch out don’t trust and your vulnerable and not worth much, while boys get the take what you want you deserve it and woman are nothing message. It’s tragic and hateful and divisive to our community, cities, world.

    • I’m disgusted by the Democrats right now for pulling a play like this that couldn’t possibly win. They’re so fucking stupid. It’s like they don’t realize what’s at stake. It’s not the time to alienate voters on the Right who might not like Trump.

      The male/female this is incredibly complex, I think. So many men feel women have some mysterious power over them and that makes the men assholes. Only cowardly unattractive exploitative men with no moral center act this way.

    • Both sides left so much bad taste in my mouth I don’t know where to begin. I want to vomit.

      If the Democrats had serious dirt on Kavanaugh, they had an obligation to bring this up as soon as they found out. By waiting until the last minute, they maximized the divisiveness of the battle. The GOP might have quietly backed down if they been presented with this earlier. Because of the late hit, they were too heavily invested in him to quit.

      The evidence was pretty weak. Thirty years ago at a frat hose party, a guy she didn’t know pulled her into a room. He then climbed on top of her with his hand over her mouth and then they fell of the bed and that was that.. She learned his identity later. He claims no memory of such an event. Depending on the amount of alcohol involved, *both statement could be completely true – or both false*.

      What I didn’t see was any coverage at all of his history as a judge. What important cases did he see? How did he rule? What is his opinion on the meaning of various legal principles? How does he feel about “stare decisis”? It had to be in there somewhere but the media ignored it.

      Instead we got a stage managed version of the nominee who was told “he wasn’t showing enough emotion”. The GOP thought of this as a reality TV game show with winning the objective and truth irrelevant. Just like the Democrats.

      The Democrats knew they couldn’t win if the GOP didn’t back down but defeating Kavanaugh was really secondary. They didn’t want the GOP to back down so they wiated to the last minute. They wanted to fan the flames as hot as they could. You get more donors and higher rates of voter turnout in the next election. A line-for-line do-over of the Clarence Thomas hearings was exactly what they wanted.

      The two parties and the media all conspired to get this man confirmed while making sure the political landscape would be left a flaming shambles. I hate them all! A pox on everyone!

      • I hate them too. I sometimes think if people would just stop paying attention and allowing themselves to be manipulated by this bullshit, it might stop. But it works. It reminded me of the whole Clinton thing where people talked about oral sex when the real question was perjury. That was dirty politics by the GOP and the reaction was equally nasty. I hate them all, too. Unfortunately, they are a pox on us. 😦

      • I get what your saying, definitely. My concern (although a Canadian) is his end goal. Take a look at what he’s fighting for. It’s all over the news here. Scary crap.

        • His end goal is my concern, too. And every time he throws up a distraction that titillates the purulent interests of the people in my country, I’m scared a little bit more.

          Meanwhile, I’m trying to focus on my dogs, the beauty of this season, my story and my friends because that’s where I really live. ❤

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