This latest wave of feminist uprising has gotten me thinking about my own life, my own choices. I'm still trying to figure it all out.
I have not been treated badly by men.
Even my father, whose words, “You’re no good, you’ll never be any good,” were pounded into my dear little ear, were somewhat offset by the three or four times he had my back. I understood when it was a little late to offset the impact that he was actually trying to make me want to do better. He was a child of the 30’s. That’s how it was done in his day. He treated my youngest brother, the musician, much the same. I was the oldest, my brother was a boy. He expected more of both of us. Positive reinforcement was not in his tool kit.
My first husband loved me. I divorced him because I didn’t want to be married. I married my second husband because I got scared being single in Chicago in the late 60’s. I divorced him 10 years later because I didn’t want to be married. I didn’t make that mistake again.
I used the married man I had an affair with as much as he used me, and I was rather relieved when he took up with a friend I introduced him to.
I turned down the unmarried boss who did want to have an affair with me, purely because I wasn’t attracted to him. There were no repercussions, although I felt a little awkward around him after the proposal. I suspect he was actually in love with me.
The man who turned me down for a promotion at the Field Museum, (“It is against museum policy to promote secretaries above their station.”) barely knew me. It was Museum policy, run by lots of men, to keep secretaries in their place. *He* didn’t treat *me* badly; *they* treated *us* badly. I knew that, even then. My most blatant interaction with institutional misogyny.
I made my second husband nervous. He was a rebel when I met and married him, but even before the wedding he cut his hair and shaved his beard for his mom. I almost didn’t go through with the ceremony. It was 1969, and I was a nascent Midwestern hippie. He still has the wince I remember from the time I told his boss, the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, that I didn’t know what who Teddy Kennedy was sleeping with had to do with morality. Long story. I think his second wife makes him nervous too. He’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and doesn’t deserve the pain I inflicted on him. Long story.
There was the biker boyfriend who ran off with a beautiful waitress. I couldn’t blame him. There was the philosophy student boyfriend who took me across country on his Harley, but who was never happy with anything. He wrote me beautiful letters, but didn’t have much respect for my little opinions in person. I loved him with all my heart. Then I left. Go figure.
Another biker boyfriend – the first and almost only one who was physically abusive. He knew I was going to leave him, and couldn’t handle it. Jack Daniels was involved. If that sounds like an excuse, it’s because I knew every negative thing he ascribed to me was true – I didn’t love him, I thought I was smarter than he was, etc., etc. I didn’t. I did. I left.
The hippie boyfriend in Seattle with a dog named Merlin was verbally abusive. It didn’t help that he was verbally abusive to everybody. I was new in town without a job (we lived in his tent in the back yard of the 300-pound crazy man). When I got enough money, I moved out. He treated me very kindly after that, but the flame was out.
The bartender boyfriend was probably the worst. Before too long, he reminded me of my father. I didn’t know the term “gaslighting” then, but he was a master of it.
The first Deadhead boyfriend was jealous and controlling. Took me over a year to get rid of him.
The second Deadhead boyfriend was the best of them all. I should have loved him more. I still do, in a big-sisterly kind of way.
The old friend boyfriend was crazy, and I had to ask him to leave when he cried because I told him he had to get a job.
I was overly impressed with his friend who had a job, but didn’t realize for several months that he was also a cocaine addict. My luck was really running out, but I escaped with my life and health, if not my bank account, intact.
And here I am today. Almost 75. Home alone and loving it. It hasn’t all been bad. I can’t think of a single thing I would willingly have missed. But I don’t know that my future self would be so zen about it all. I don’t think she should be. I doubt that I advanced the cause of women, writ large, in any meaningful way.
You see, to me it was all adventure. Experience. Material, if you will. Always stepping over the line, but just a little bit. Rarely going into the muck much higher than my shin.
You might notice, in my litany, the numerous times when it was I who was using the men in my life to provide me with sex, adventure, stability. What I hope for the me of the future, for all the women marching today, is the ability to find all of those things on your own terms, with or without men who support them. The culture I was raised in was steeped in the necessity for a man in one’s life, and because I was such a pretty little thing, I found it to be an easy road. I chose men who promised an adventure I wasn’t brave enough to tackle on my own. It was nearly always a disappointment. I always left.
What I wish for the women of tomorrow is the courage to make their own adventures, to follow the path they find more interesting, and to find the friends and partners along the way who will support them and be supported by them in turn.
I have not been treated (too) badly by men. They all made good stories. Was that what the whole thing was all about?