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  • Which Kind of Narcissist Are You?

    Because guess what, we’re *all* narcissists! Seriously. “Are you a good narcissist, or a bad narcissist?” Creative Commons 2.0 image by Insomnia Cured Here on Flickr Calling someone a narcissist is like accusing them of being a carbon-based life form. Duh. I tend to roll my eyes when people talk about the ‘narcissist’ in their life or past, except for experts. I sometimes read Dr. Sherri Heller, a therapist who specializes in complex trauma and narcissism who writes extensively about genuine toxic narcissism. She’s an eminently more informed source for diagnosing it than the average layperson. Everyone else? Not so much, unless they have something new to say (they mostly don’t), or describe what sounds like a genuine malignant narcissist, or to learn more about the psychology of people who think they’re narc detectors. If you were to ask them if they themselves are narcissists, you’d almost certainly get a negative, if not outraged response. If you can’t even recognize the narcissist you see every morning when you brush your teeth, how can anyone trust you to recognize narcissism in others? Someone’s narcissism article caught my eye and it taught me something about narcissism I didn’t know — it’s not a character fault, it’s a spectrum, rather the way we now understand autism as a brain development condition with a wide variety of symptoms people experience universally, without regard to our identity labels. Some of us fall in the socially skilled range; they’re popular and well-liked, and others falling further down the spectrum are socially challenged and unable to function well with others in countless different iterations. Narcissism, as it turns out, isn’t much different. The question isn’t are you a narcissist, but what kind of narcissist are you? The article referenced an intriguing book: Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists by Dr. Craig Malkin. Snagged it! Malkin says psychologists and psychiatrists have begun to look at narcissism as something that evolved in us as self-preservation, and it’s a healthy psychological trait in moderation. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 isn’t the best place to be. It’s the worst, maybe even worse (personally) than being a 10. Who’s a 10? I don’t know, and Dr. Malkin doesn’t say, and everyone has an opinion. I expect Donald Trump springs to mind on the subject of the über-narcissist, with some pretty good cases made that he’s a malignant narcissistic psychopath with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (without evaluating him personally). It’s not a unanimous call, either. I’d call Trump the gold standard so far, along with Kim Jong Un and possibly Vladimir Putin. The way Hitler is our gold standard of ultimate evil, but someone one day might prove worse. On the lower end of Malkin’s narcissism spectrum, echoist narcissists (also called introverted narcissists) are about a 1–4. They’re the ones without enough narcissism. They don’t like being the center of attention; they give too much but fear taking; they don’t feel special at all, but ironically, unappreciated. They’re happy to tell you how much they give, lacking the Trumpian bravado of I’ve done more for black people than any other President! The high-ranking extroverted narcissists are at 7–10. These are the ones people read and write about the most. The narcissists for whom it’s all about me me me. Public domain image from PxFuel The kind of narcissist you want to be is in the middle, the communal narcissist, at around 4–6. Maybe 6.5. Who’s at the lowest end of the spectrum? The 0–2s? Malkin’s descriptions reminded me of the very most miserable men about whom American psychiatrist and author Dr. James Gilligan called the ‘living dead’ he found in prison hospitals with inmates so bereft of self-regard, so completely and utterly shamed, that ‘living death’ was, “The most direct and literal, least distorted way to summarize what these men have told me when describing their subjective experience of themselves. Many murderers, both sane and insane, have told me that ‘they’ have died, that their personality has died, usually at some identifiable time in the past, so that they feel dead….They cannot feel anything…They feel like robots or zombies…one inmate feels like ‘food that is decomposing’. Human beings, in other words, who had zero or near-zero narcissism. Men who wished for death because, as Gilligan notes, psychological pain can be far crueler torture than physical pain. You can heal a wound; not as easily a soul. Other interesting factoids from Malkin’s book Narcissists can change, but like other compulsive addicts (narcs are addicted to feeling special) they have to want to change. How do you know who can change and who can’t? If they can’t display empathy, they may not be a ‘lost cause’, but Malkin points out it’s not your job to be their therapist. People slide up and down the narcissism scale; it’s not a fixed born trait. One person can be an introverted, at other times extroverted or communal narcissist. Often people in narcissistic relationships blame themselves because it’s easier than admitting s/he’s never going to change. If you do admit that, then what? Do you leave them? Do you strike out into an unknown world alone? What if they’re right and you’re nothing without them? Separating is painful. Blaming one’s self becomes a good excuse to stay. The problem isn’t him/her, it’s me. Malkin describes self-blame as a powerful fear that you’ll lose love if you ask for what you want. Here’s a thought-provoking nugget on the lure of the ‘bad boy’ for women and, for men, the ‘bad girl’, often described as ‘crazy’. “Why are all the crazy girls so sexy?” one male patient asks, which reminds me of what women often say about bad boys. The bad babes may be high-spectrum narcissists, and part of their appeal may be the high drama and unpredictable excitement that only wears thin after awhile. Something to think about with the guy who complains all his exes being ‘crazy’. He might be an abusive asshole who blames women for his inability to sustain relationships, or he might be attracted or addicted to ‘crazy’ narcissistic women just like some women dig narcissistic ‘bad boys’ they know aren’t good for them. Hmmm…women who complain all their exes are crazy… Photo by Flood G on Flickr Melody Wilding, an executive coach and Human Behavior professor, notes that one can exhibit narcissistic traits without being a genuine narcissist. In an article in Business Insider on alleged workplace narcissists, she points out how much complainers of ‘narcissist’ bosses and coworkers often fail to recognize how their own self-absorption may contribute to workplace stresses. She argues against ‘pathologizing’ people with an uninformed psychological disorder label, that it stigmatizes people with genuine mental disorders, and trivializes Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a very serious diagnosis that applies to less than 5% of the population. Where are you on the Narcissism Spectrum? “Where am I? Where am I? Where am I???” Exactly my narcissistic thought as I worked through the book. I wasn’t more than thirty pages in when I stopped and Googled Narcissism Spectrum tests to figure out where I was. I found short tests and longer ones and I tried to be as honest as possible. I scored myself in the communal range, which is exactly what you’d expect a supreme narcissist to do, right? Isn’t that where your off-the-charts ex would score himself? I took one of the shorter tests, but I also took a longer, more comprehensive one and came up with the same. I want to go back and do it again, and pay close attention to my answers, because it’s too easy to let your ego tell you what you believe about yourself, which may be different from how you actually rock and roll. It did force me to recognize the times in my life when I was lower on the spectrum, and higher. Lower? High school. Higher? In the ’90s, when I was writing for an alternative community newspaper and ‘putting people in their place’ when I thought they needed it, namely Republicans and Christian evangelicals. I cringe to remember some of the articles I wrote back then. It wasn’t what I said, but how I said it. All right, my fellow narcissists! Here are some good narcissism self-tests from respectable sources: PsychCentral’s 40 statements (PsychCentral is rated as High for factualism and Pro-Science by Media Bias Fact Check) Open-Source Psychometrics Narcissism Personality Inventory (Source cited in a number of journals) You can Google for others, and your mileage may vary. Are any of them truly reliable? Judge for yourself. If you search on your own, include the word ‘spectrum’ or ‘scale’ to find the ones that measure not whether you’re a narcissist, but what kind. Something to think about as you take inventory: Are you where you want to be? If not, how will you get there? Be honest. It’s hard. It’s why I want to set aside an hour to take the 40-question one again and make sure my narcissistic ego isn’t protecting me from the truth by telling me, Oh no, you almost never do that! Maybe once or twice. Under stress. Or something. People genuinely committed to being the right kind of narcissist will be more inclined to police themselves than others and make an effort to recognize when they’re veering off into the danger zone — which is likely acting a little narcissist occasionally rather than sliding up the scale. And, we can take a cue from Melody Wilding and ask ourselves how our own self-absorption contributes to narcissist drama. How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb? “Me? Change a light bulb? Why? The illuminating light of my supreme everlasting being and intellect is more than enough to push back the darkness, you plebeian.” Public domain image from Pxfuel This first appeared on Medium in July 2021.

  • Forget The Coronavirus; The Sun's Megastorm May Destroy Us All!

    This is just a taste of what we might get if the Sun goes all megastormy on us this year. By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center — Flickr: Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun — CC BY 2.0 Look, I don’t mean to panic you, I know you’ve got the coronavirus to worry about and stuff, but there’s a 12% chance a Sun megastorm could erupt this year, and it could be very, very bad for whatever part of the Earth is facing it. So said a Wired Magazine article from 2012 that didn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else except in one esteemed periodical like National Geographic, and somewhat a less esteemed source like UK’s Express, a nutty site that broke the major news story of a potential fairy space alien corpse in Mexico City. That’s according to Media Bias Fact Checker, which dings the site for being right-wing and factually mixed. If this goes down, you’re going to wish your biggest problem was a spiky little bastard that looks like a microscopic World War I landmine. It could be even more catastrophic than the last time, which was the 1859 Carrington Event, named after a guy named Carrington (duh) who happened to witness a mega-speedy solar flare that sparked beautiful auroras when it hit the Earth’s atmosphere, and set not-so-beautiful fire to telegraph stations. It also booted magnetic observatory recordings sky-high and made the scientists working there go all WTF??? Hawaiians and Chileans were all like, Ooooohhh, look at the pretty auroras! and New Yorkers were all like, Hello! I can read the New York Times by the light of the auroras alone! which is what Americans exclaimed until the far more modern Gadzooks! was invented in 1945. So, like, back in 1859 there wasn’t nearly as much of an electronic infrastructure as there is today. If the Solar Apocalypse hits us this year (Wired pointed out eight years ago it might happen ‘in the next decade’ so it might not be until next year, or the year after, or quite possibly at all), it will trash electrical power grids in a way that’ll make the Great Blackout of 2003 look like your drunk neighbor hitting the telephone pole outside your house. It’ll also hose up oil and gas pipelines, mess up GPS satellites and potentially destroy all radio communication on earth. But don’t worry, it won’t hurt actual people, animals or plants. I mean, we won’t get fried to a crisp like in a nuclear war. No, it’ll just be chaos and panic and doom and really annoying Jesus freaks on the street. Don’t think it’ll be all kum-ba-ya like it was during the Great Blackout because that only lasted a few days; The Great Blackout Of Like 202X will cost us trillions of dollars and last for an entire decade! Look, I’ll leave you and your overactive imagination currently on overdrive paying scalper prices for Purell and toilet paper, to speculate on just how bad the world’s going to get with no refrigeration, no functioning hospitals, spoiled food, and Gen Z going all Lord of the Flies on everyone without access to Instagram or TikTok. Greta Thunberg got downright stern and pissy in her media release about the potential impending doomsday. Greta Thunberg would like to have a word with you. Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license by Anders Hellberg on Flickr With brows knit together so tightly some reporters mistook them for two caterpillars fighting over the bridge of her nose, the teenage activist blamed everyone older than her, the oil companies and Donald Trump’s gross incompetence in failing to prevent this toasty nightmare, thundering, “How dare you! You have stolen my obsession with global warming and my heavily-exploited childhood with an even worse thing to think about than dead polar bears and banana crops in Canada! Entire social media ecosystems are collapsing! I can’t make a damn phone call! I’ll be nearly thirty before my ATM card will work again and I’ll have to run faster than the massive sewage blob chasing me!” Then she sent all world leaders to their rooms to think about what they’d done. Or not, as the case may be. So look, I’m just saying, you’re worrying about dying from something that most people recover from, and that can be washed away with old-fashioned soap and water, so you might as well worry about something that would wreak far more havoc than canceling tech conferences and the Summer Olympics. And which will probably never happen. And if it does, all the Purell in the world isn’t going to save you from F2F-phobic Gen Zs. This first appeared on Medium in March 2020.

  • Who's Really Blaming The Victim?

    I was my worst abuser. I’m not the only one. We all are our own worst enemy. Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash Blaming the victim? Oh, don’t talk to me about ‘blaming the victim.’ Been there, done that, got the toxic private journals to prove it. No one has ever been more vicious to me than myself, including Dan, my worst bully in high school. After my longtime partner dumped me out of the blue and I found myself low-valued in the singles market (over 30, quel dommage), I turned on myself. We women like to think it’s our unique female cross to bear, that we’re ‘socialized’ to blame ourselves, but I argue it’s human, and if you want to blame socialization, let’s point the finger at American culture, presided over, if you can call it that, by America’s most swaggering self-hater. I know plenty of self-hating men, including one I suspect is as vicious to himself as I have been to myself in the past. On the other hand we do love to blame others, who can and will commit cruel, heartless, or just plain thoughtless crimes and misdemeanors against us. Yet we soon turn on ourselves. Women tie their identity and value to their personal relationships; men to their jobs. When women lose a friend or a partner they think, What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I a good enough friend/partner? And when a man loses a job he thinks, Wasn’t I good enough? Why wasn’t I worthy of retention? When life goes tits-up, as the British like to say, a ‘post-mortem’ on what happened and what went awry is a terrific healing practice, but it can create new trauma. Every examination into what we might have done otherwise turns into a toxic dance of woulda-shoulda-coulda. Especially “WHY THE HELL DID YOU HAVE TO WAIT SO LONG TO DO/STOP/START/UNDERSTAND THIS?” Insight sucks. I’ve compared the descent into an abusive relationship as a spiral staircase where one makes decisions, conscious or unconscious, informed or uninformed, giving away a little of one’s power each time until one reaches the bottom where there’s none left. Within a few years of the partner split, I thought of it as a hole. There were key differences between myself and the woman at the top of the abuse staircase: I was the abuser, not some man. Every goddamn foot deeper I dug, I knew, consciously, I was hurting myself. I was making things worse. I was going through a bad time and saying the most vicious things to myself I’d never tolerate another human being saying to another within earshot. It sounded shamefully brutal when I thought of saying it to any other human being, including my ex, the person I hated most. I even wondered why I gave myself permission to be so vicious to myself. “Nicole, you worthless piece of shit, what makes you think a guy like him could ever be into you?” “This is your fault, you big fat lump of protoplasm! Who can ever love a fat piece of shit like you? You stuff your damn face and then wonder why no one wants to go out with you!” (I was overweight, but no Jabba the Hutt.) “You are so stupid. You put up with all of Jerry’s alcoholic bullshit and you were dumb enough to take him back! Now you’re over the hill and no one wants you and it’s all your damn fault! Why did you have to pick the Loser of the Pack? What does that say about YOU?” “Don’t even bother getting out of bed this morning, you stupid bitch. It’s Saturday. What do you have to look forward to except another day of nothing to do and all day to do it? Why can’t you just die? You’re fucking useless. You’re a fucking loser.” “I hate you. You’re ugly. You’re fat. You’re unlovable. Guys ignore you because they can get better-looking, younger women, you old fat slob. Judging a woman for growing older, for something we all have to do, is men’s fault, but you CAN do something about the rest of you, and you won’t, because you’re lazy and stupid and there’s no point because no man will ever love you again no matter what you do.” “You worthless piece of shit.” “You worthless piece of shit.” “You worthless piece of shit.” My favorite slam. I still made plenty of time for man-blaming and man-hating. When I criticize victim feminism (not representative of all feminists) for its misandry, I know whereof I speak. Been that, done that, made all the castration jokes. Just like there’s nothing worse than a reformed alcoholic or smoker, there’s nothing worse than a reformed misandrist. The difference was, my problems with men weren’t political or feminist, they were personal, served with a heaping side dish of romantic entitlement. But misandry comes from the same toxic spiritual waste pool; the belief others are more responsible for our lives than we are. As we’re fond of saying, the personal is the political. And, vice versa. I always returned to my favorite scapegoat, the worthless sack of shit calling herself Me. I dug deep down, then dug some more. Sometimes I reminded myself, “Nicole, you’re digging this hole and no one else will pull you out of here. The deeper you dig, the harder and longer it’s going to be to climb out.” So great was my self-hatred and self-loathing. Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay. The post-Jerry nadir of my world-class victim-blaming Olympic-level self-abuse marathon is what I think of as the Angry Drunken Bitch Years. The self-loathing in my old journals appalls me. Now, instead of wanting to beat up on that poor critically wounded woman, alone and rejected, I want to beat the snot out of the vicious bitch who tortured her at every opportunity. Who, when the hurt woman was feeling most down, laced up the spike-toed red-hot steel boots and kicked her some more, just to remind her what a worthless piece of shit she was. Victim-blaming? No one else has ever blamed me as much as I’ve blamed myself. I’m not alone. What we shoulda done, or not tolerated in times past, is a new way to torture ourselves once we move into healthier ways of managing our lives and anxieties. Our own personal Terminator doesn’t like it when we start to heal. It regards personal insight as a direct threat to its existence. In a sick sense, our worst abuser is a trying to protect us against further pain. I began digging out of the Angry Drunken Bitch hole four years ago, when I embraced Buddhist teachings and listened more to podcasts and YouTube talks than to my Terminator. Image by David Mark from Pixabay Now I think about that poor hurt girl and want to embrace her and tell her it’s okay, rather than kick her with the spiky-toed boots. The other bitch still exists, but she’s weaker. Still, she likes to get her licks in every now and then. Last year, when I was unemployed and crying, curled up on the couch, getting treated by hiring managers the way I once got treated by single men (and for the same reason — age), the bitch said, “Nicole, you have no marketable skills!” Now I have the presence of mind to respond, “Huh? No marketable skills after decades in the workforce, with a resume hiring managers once salivated over to realize I was versatile and could move from one damn thing to another I knew little about and get our sales team in the door?” Just as single people (not just men) often don’t know what they want in a partner, neither do hiring managers or their department heads know what they want, either. (Hey, nothing is all our fault.) The toxic bitch was wrong, as usual. Because I’m back to doing what hiring managers think I can’t do: Working with small to medium-sized businesses moving into the initial branding phase of selling their product or service and getting their foot in the door. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a Ph.D. in genetically modified AI-driven cold fusion-powered superwidgets or whatever else I’m flogging at the moment; in fact I only just learned they exist. I’m doing what I do best, and then I move on to the next shift. The bitch was wrong about me lo those many years ago, but it’s still hard to move on and not woulda-shoulda-coulda myself. “Nicole, why did you wait so long to realize the only person you can change is yourself?” “You described yourself years ago as a ‘Pagan with Buddhist leanings’. Why didn’t you just embrace it when you were so unhappy? Why did you reject the antidote?” “What if you’d lost weight sooner? What if you’d dyed your hair blonde sooner? What if you’d stopped digging in, say, 2009 instead of 2016?” “How many great guys did you push away because of the Angry Drunken Bitch thing?” I have to remind myself of the answers. Because I didn’t know. Because I didn’t believe I had to change myself. Because Buddhism didn’t resonate with me until the third time I read Tara Brach’s book, when I was ready for the message. Because I didn’t believe the antidote would work. Because I hadn’t yet read He’s Just Not That Into You. Initially, it hadn’t even been published yet. The thumbnail answer encapsulating all of it is: Because I didn’t know any better. And sometimes it was because I rejected the answers, or didn’t know what I didn’t know. Sometimes, the information wasn’t even available yet. Like what we know today about the neuroplasticity of the brain. I didn’t know I wasn’t a victim of my own history and experiences and could change my own brain. I can’t blame myself for that. Even as I castigate myself for not getting healthier sooner I think, “Well, better now than ten or twenty years from now!” I force myself to reflect on all the things I did, the decisions I made, right for me at the time, and if that doesn’t sit so well with my present self then tough shit, Bitch Nicole. We struggle through every damn day of our lives one day at a time, without ever having a clue what we’re doing. I beat myself up this past year for not striving harder professionally, getting stuck in a world where I did the same thing for too long, then remembered saying to my brother and sister-in-law, “I made the decision not to climb the corporate ladder. I valued my personal time too much.” Seems like a 20/20 bad decision when you’re on unemployment benefits and you’re not sure how you’ll survive and you beat yourself up over woulda-shoulda-coulda, but then I consider all the miserable people on LinkedIn posting hopeful positive-thinking memes, or inspiring messages about believing in one’s self and not letting others define you, and I wonder, who are they trying to convince? Me or themselves? I know everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Someone I once admired I know has been suffering a bad bout of it this past year. None of us believed a pandemic would shut down life as we know it. Yeah, we were warned, but no one believed. We didn’t want to. It seemed silly! Wouldashouldacoulda. I didn’t climb the corporate ladder, but I traveled because I had the time. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the old folks saying, “Why are you traveling? What will you have to look forward to in your retirement if you go everywhere now?” Uh, staycations because Quebec is a pandemic mess and the U.S. is so bad even Mexico has shut its doors to Americans? I became a belly dancer and have great tales to tell from those days. I spent my twenties going to medieval re-creation events, flirting outrageously, dancing during feasts, camping during the summer at events with battles, campfires and games. I dated Vikings, bards, samurais. I had a wonderful life. I read a lot of great books others didn’t have time for. I published several novels even though almost no one read them. I immigrated to a new country and live better here than in the now-Ignited States. I have far more friends than when I was an isolated hot mess in Connecticut. Now I’m learning how to become a personal development consultant and help women, and eventually others, claim or regain the power we give up, give over, and give to others because we don’t know any better. I still blame the victim. I still beat myself up sometimes. I push the message of taking responsibility for one’s life and people snap, “Don’t blame the victim!” and I’m beginning to understand why. It’s not because I’m blaming them for their traumas, it’s because I point out we have the power to learn from those mistakes, however unconscious, to move forward more fearlessly. Insight sucks. Did I mention that? Not everyone’s ready for the message, but for those still crying on the couch as they realize, “The only person I can change is myself,” and get up to take that first power-reclaiming step — those are the folks I believe I can help. I’m registered to take a course on becoming more assertive. It promises to teach us to learn how others manipulate us, and understand how we hold ourselves back. Most importantly, how we submit to being a victim, something we all need to work on in our finger-pointing, responsibility-abrogating, self-obsessed, self-victimizing culture. The hell with why I didn’t do what I woulda-shoulda-coulda. We enter this life screaming protest without a road map or a user’s manual. We’re always moving into the future semi-blind. The past is always much clearer. But fuck the past. The present and the future are what I can also change, besides myself. I don’t want to waste any more time just because my worst victim-blamer still exists. Fuck her too. Getting there. Photo by Filipe Delgado from Pexels This post originally appeared on Medium in November 2020.

  • My Life, As Interpreted By Victim Feminism

    If I was inclined toward victimhood rather than personal power I could have made myself suffer more than ‘The Patriarchy’ Image by PourquoiPas from Pixabay Life isn’t perfect, and neither are people. If you spend enough time in some quarters you learn the most imperfect people of all are men. White men are the worst, but really, all men are, like, phallocentric devils incarnate. Or something. As women in a world set up by men and for men, it’s inevitable we’re going to have some run-ins. How bad it is depends not only on the intention of the actor (usually a man) but how we interpret it. For all the suffering some women complain about from bad male behavior, they sure do seem to work hard to increase their own suffering by layering on some fairly narcissist narratives. You can blow off minor incidents and forget about them, or you can detonate nuclear blasts of oppression. Why be annoyed for only three minutes when you can engineer an eyebrow lift on the street to ruin your entire weekend? Obviously we’re not talking about serious incidents like overt sexual assault. But, to paraphrase Matt Damon, there’s a world of difference between a rape and a butt grab. After reading so many overblown victim-centered narratives of alleged bad male behavior, I considered minor incidents that had happened to me over the years. How could I have made them worse than they actually were? Scenario 1: John Revolta I’m out with some gal pals at a notorious pickup bar. A man asks me to dance, mostly by gesturing. He doesn’t speak English. Suspiciously from one of those countries where access to women is far more restricted, he proceeds to pull me close on the dance floor and jam one of his thighs between mine. I keep pushing him away and shaking my head No. He keeps doing it and I eventually give up, grab my purse, and head for the ladies’ room where I take like ten minutes to fix my face and comb my hair. The victim feminist narrative: It’s disgusting how in this day and age men STILL think we are nothing more than SPERM RECEPTACLES! That we’re good for nothing more than jacking off into, forcing us to hide from sexual aggression as women have done for thousands of years! His toxic masculine male entitlement depersonalized me as he violated my body and made me feel like nothing I’ve accomplished in my life matters, I’m nothing but a TOY!!! What I did: “Hey, did you see that bozo I was dancing with?” I laughed. “Speaks no English, fresh off the boat and hopes to bed a Canadian He looked like this, too, except shorter, stouter, darker, balder, and more poorly dressed, and with less smooth dance moves. Photo by Thank You on Flickr slut tonight. You know how those Canadian girls are!” “He waited for you by the bathroom for several minutes before he gave up,” one of my friends giggled. “What’s the first thing you do when you move to a foreign country?” I said. “Do you apply for a Social Insurance Number? A bank account? A mobile phone? Learn to speak English? Get a job? No, you try to GET LAID!!” We proceeded to laugh at him behind his back for the rest of the evening as he struck out with every woman at the bar. Scenario 2: I’ve fallen in love with you Shortly after I move to Canada I meet a guy in a shopping mall. He’s cute and I’ll admit his come-on line was unusual — he did a double take and claimed I looked like his dead friend. Okay, that’s original, at least. Takes me to lunch, love-bombs me and tells me after two hours he’s in love with me. (I wrote the full story awhile back.) The victim feminist narrative: He was a narcissist trying to charm and groom me for future abuse, mind games and gaslighting with early false promises of romantic love. He marginalized my need for emotional safety by flat-out lying to me to get what he wants. He had no respect for me as a person, he saw me as an object to be won by any means necessary, mostly to feed his overblown ego and excessive need for validation supply. What I did: I told him he was full of shit and that no one falls in love in two hours. “I did,” he says. His answers are so pat. I sit back, thinking to myself, This isn’t off to a good start and I tell him honesty is very important to me and that bullshit artists get nowhere. Scenario 3: Giving ‘puppies’ the slip Some men just don’t know when to give up. When I was much younger I was a belly dancer in the medieval re-creation group The Society for Creative Anachronism. I was highly flirtatious at any time but during the summer, at campout events, medievalist standards slipped and many of us wore American-style ‘cabaret’ outfits. I.e., body-revealing. It wasn’t uncommon for a ‘puppy’ to attach himself and follow me around, even after I gave off signals that the conversation has moved on. Puppies were harmless, and we called them that because, like baby doggos, they nagged you for attention. The victim feminist narrative: It is NOT acceptable to stalk a woman. It illustrates just how many entitled men delegitimize women’s agency with a pre-existing societal power paradigm that prioritizes their obsessive need for attention over a woman’s right to feel safe. They think they can use their ‘natural-born’ dominance to harass a woman until she agrees to whatever he wants. The fact that we were always in a huge crowd of people with a near-zero chance of my getting murdered DOESN’T REDUCE THE OPPRESSIVE SUBORDINATION OF THE FEMALE PERSON! This is rape culture at its most reductionist! What I did: I learned to give them the slip at events, melting into the crowd or behind a door until they found something to distract them. We laughed about them later and giggled as we warned other women that the new guy, Sir William von Wagsalot, is a ‘puppy’. Scenario 4: Subway Casanovas I can’t fault a guy for trying. Sometimes I think women should have their own ‘Handkerchief Code’ similar to gay men’s. One color could mean, “I’m okay with meeting strange guys,” and another could mean, “I don’t give dates to strangers.” I probably miss a lot because I always have my nose in a book, but a few times I’ve caught Subway Casanovas staring at me in a manner that would make some women uncomfortable. And I understand that. I don’t frighten as easily as some but I also live in a relatively safe city (Toronto) and I’ve never been seriously sexually assaulted or stalked. I’m also older and less inclined to put up with male persistence. The victim feminist narrative: This patriarchal penis monster completely objectified me, subjecting me to his male gaze, How dare you stare at my breasts, you patriarchal monster! Image by Claudio_Scott from Pixabay manspreading and taking up like three subway seats to show me his big ol’ entitled phallus so that I can, I guess, hop aboard as soon as I’d like, as though I was there merely for him to fantasize about and later wank off over. He had zero respect for me as a human being, thinking he had every right to just stare at me as though I was the Mona Lisa! What I do: Look up, meet his eyes, and dismissively return to my book. Or, in one case, just as I was about to get off the subway some guy caught my eye and lifted his eyebrows meaningfully as if to say, I like you. I shook my head a little and got off the stop. So did he. I was alert for being followed but he didn’t. That just doesn’t happen to me. Not even when I was younger. Except at medieval events. Scenario 5: Drive-by compliments So I’m in the grocery store last year and this guy walks up to me and says, “I just want to tell you you are a very beautiful woman,” and walks away. Drive-by compliment. My friend Thom said he’s done this. He tells a strange woman she looks outstanding and then turns around and walks away, making it clear he’s not hitting on her or wants anything from her. It’s perhaps the purest compliment you can get from a man. But some women, I know, are horrendously offended to be told they look beautiful, especially if they put a consummate amount of time into looking like they just stepped off the carpet at the Golden Globes. The victim feminist narrative: This was illocutionary silencing of my right to shop the frozen foods section without confronting the encoded male worldview that a man possesses the hegemonic right to devalue a strange woman by commenting on her appearance. Did he really think it was ‘okay’ just because he walked away? He merely refused to confront the consequences of his boorish, entitled behavior. He invalidated my life and that of every woman who ever existed to remind me that we exist inauthentically as nothing more than eye candy. What I did: I smiled under my mask, said, “Thank you, you’re very kind,” and went back to the truly important work of my life at that moment, finding the chicken burgers. Not everything is all about making you feel like crap because you were born with a vagina. But with a little extra effort and a lot of critical gender theory crapola, you can make every interaction with a man all about you you you and your obsessive need for a steady narcissistic supply for male oppression. Victimhood becomes you. Because otherwise, if you can’t blame The Patriarchy for every failure in life, who can you blame? Stop shaming me with your objectifying male gaze, you penis-preoccupied, testosterone-poisoned patriarchal piece of poop! Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash This post first appeared on Medium in June 2021.

  • What Women Can Learn From Studying Pickup Artists

    Women unconsciously collude with sexual predators. Know their tactics, and reclaim your power Women aren’t helpless little ‘targets’. We can fortify ourselves against males who seek to exploit our psychological weaknesses. Photo by SilviaP_Design on Needpix The smarter a girl is, the better it works. Party girls with attention deficit disorder generally don’t stick around to hear the routines. A more perceptive, worldly, or educated girl will listen and think, and soon find herself ensnared. — Neil Strauss, ‘The Game’ Loren blew into my life like a Highland warrior, the literal embodiment of the sexy, chesty, take-charge, long-haired hero of a medieval romance novel. We both belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-creation group I was part of in my twenties. Charismatic and compellingly attractive, dark-haired, dark-eyed, brash and brimming with sexuality, he glommed onto me like a Scottish laird to a guileless virgin. Except I was a flamboyant and outrageous belly dancer, famous throughout New England SCAdian ‘kingdoms’ for my flirting and sexual innuendo as well as my energetic performances. Loren epitomized the hottest, most popular guy in school whose head, just a few years previously, my dorky ass could never hope to turn. But, ugh, he flirted with every woman he met and often had a woman (or two) under each arm. Right in front of me, even as he actively worked to crank my every sexual button into hyperdrive. Seventeen years later, pickup artist (PUA) Neil Strauss, a/k/a Style, explained in his exposé and how-to manual The Game how this was ‘social proof’: “The notion that if everyone else is doing something, then it must be good.” Have one or more beautiful women around you, which always looks better than if you’re alone. I was no longer La Dorkola. Now I was Gisèle, with a ton more self-esteem and male admirers than high school. I disliked arrogant assholes, hip to the games they played with women to massage their own mammoth egos. Today we call them ‘players’. Back then I called them ‘sluts’. I decided not having sex with Loren would give me far greater pleasure than bedding him. I made a conscious decision to be the one woman he couldn’t nail. The best and worst of pickup artist practice Not all The Game’s advice for men is bad. It offers some pretty basic female attraction lessons many men never learn, even well into middle age. Here’s what makes me want to scream, “Hallelujah, Brothah Style! Say it again! Tell them like it is!” Smile when you enter a room. The game is on. You’re together, you’re fun, you’re somebody. Be well-groomed. Have a sense of humor. Connect with people. Don’t approach a woman with a sexual come-on; learn about her first. Strauss thinks she should earn the right to be hit on. No, he must earn the right to hit on her. Demonstrate value. Be different. (Oh dear gods on Mount Olympus, if men learn just one thing from The Game let it be this!) The Game, for women, is a road map to every easy exploit in the female brain. Patch your weaknesses, and you’ll be impervious to the perv-ious. Ladies, take note of the following. This is just a taste of what women need to understand about themselves to effectively avoid not just PUAs but other toxic men. The less laudable, if lamentably effective advice: Negging. Alienating her by lowering her self-esteem and displaying an active lack of interest in her. (Remember: This works, particularly for those women PUAs correctly label LSE: Low Self-Esteem.) Cat string theory. If they make it too easy for her she loses interest and goes away. (The Game’s female counterpart, The Rules, is entirely based on this same premise.) Using NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) techniques to, essentially, trick her into wanting to be with him. NLP is considered hogwash by scientists, but it seems to work for PUAs, and strikes me as being at least a little based in current neuroscience: We can, indeed, rewire or ‘reprogram’ our brains. Strauss really nails many women (figuratively) with what I call woo-woo. He calls it ‘chick crack’, the conversational ice-breaker psychology ‘tests’ and New Age fluffy nonsense many women adore. One example: He writes down a number and asks you to choose between one and ten. You chose 7; he reveals that’s the number he wrote down! He knew you were going to say that because you’re meant to be together or some such crap! Amazing! (Except that 70% of people choose 7.) Or, he gives you and your friend some silly ‘best friends test’ and spouts a bunch of psychobabble he made up utilizing fairly pedestrian knowledge about people. Not only is he rarely ever wrong, but if he is he can find a different frame to make it look like he wasn’t. It’s what fake psychics do: ‘Cold reading’. The really execrable advice for men: Challenge yourself to overcome shyness doing things like talking a homeless person out of a quarter. If you can overcome that, you can be an effective PUA. You’ll also be a horrible human being, and everyone in Strauss’s book paid a price later. TANSTAAFL. Still, there’s a point: Push yourself to face rejection, and get so good at what you do you don’t get it nearly as much. Relentless rejection saps your will to live, but only occasional rejection is just part of The Game. I can’t wholeheartedly condemn their tactics. I’ve been in sales for almost all my career; we, too, know a lot of little tips and nudges to win prospects over. (As PUAs dehumanize women as ‘targets’ or ‘sets’, we salescritters refer to prospects and leads. No, nothing dehumanizing here.) Early in my career, a savvy, successful salesman told me, “When someone objects or resists, distract them by talking about something else; then go back to it, and keep doing this until they give you what you want.” I did this just the other day to a woman resisting booking a meeting with our team lead. I cracked a joke and she laughed and I laughed and then I cracked another joke and then went back to booking the meeting. And I did. These tactics work. Who’s truly being victimized? The #MeToo movement has focused much-needed attention on predatory men. Women have slid male manipulation, control and abuse under the microscope, scrutinizing experiences and exchanging data like scientists parsing the differences between ancient fossilized bacteria. Some women don’t yet connect the fact that we’re not, or don’t have to be, helpless recipients of male machinations. We can draw lessons from #MeToo, studying The Enemy, those predatory men who seek to use and abuse women à la Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and Gamers. The Game helps us to better understand our own psychological weaknesses and eliminate them. Forewarned is forearmed. I was right speculating that PUAs were more adept at understanding female psychology than many actual females. But here’s the rub: Not all The Game’s ‘targets’ are the helpless, naive victims one might assume. Female readers will identify with the seemingly hapless ‘targets’ while guided dick missiles Style, Mystery, Extramask, Papa or Tyler Durden walk into a club or party and hone in on their ‘prey’. They’re about to ‘put one over on her’! They’re about to ‘use her’ and discard her! Don’t they understand these women have feelings? That’s how it would be if these guys targeted us, the mortal less-than-10s. These guys have set high standards for themselves. They weren’t good-looking or rich enough to score the really hot high school girls, so they learned The Game not just to get the head cheerleader, but the head cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. They’re all style and little substance. But the women they’re going for aren’t exactly Michelle Obamas either. Often lacking in substance themselves, both ‘targets’ and PUAs cater to the equally callow and shallow. Many have been super-hotties their entire young lives. Males have always come easy to them, and they’ve developed a hyper-awareness of the games men play. They retaliate with their own games. There are probably as many books on how to emotionally and sexually manipulate men as there are for men seeking the same for women, even if the desired outcomes are different (monogamy versus polygamy). Strauss was surprised to learn not all women are out to isolate a man from sexual nirvana with a ring, a house and a baby. Many women, he found, are just as interested in sex as men, but have to contend with matters like the Slut Rep. And sometimes women are commitment-phobic, too. Or accept behavior others would find creepy and threatening. Like the woman Strauss dropped off at her address, then followed her into her apartment without asking, and she didn’t object. And they had consensual sex. If you act as the authority, says his friend Grimble, many women won’t question you. He’s right. These women let them do these things. It’s not always oppression. Sometimes they consent, for their own reasons. One woman’s meat (ar ar) is another one’s poison. So women have to learn to not let them. Our bodies, our choices, right? Now that we know what they’re doing, we can put the kibosh on it if we want to. Often, women collude in their own oppression. Perhaps they don’t know any better, especially if they’re very young. Ignorance is bliss, for abusers. The good news is women don’t have to take it! I can’t emphasize this enough: Women respond to The Game’s cheesy tactics because they work. For those who seek something more substantial than cheap hookups, it’s our job, as women, to educate ourselves, and educate girls better on how to identify and avoid men who are only out to use us. How to handle early male attempts at control. How never to allow a man to mistreat us. We decide how we want to be treated. We’re not victims. We empower ourselves. Image by Harmony Lawrence from Pixabay “Take my power. Please.” One PUA observed that the ‘weakness’ of small, petite women turned him on. Naomi Wolf observed in The Beauty Myth that super-skinny, anorexic women may be attractive to men because an undernourished woman is too weak to resist. The anorexic also conveys an important dark message: She’s so desperate for male approval and/or a partner, she’s willing to nearly starve herself to death. Anorexia is one way women hand over their power to men. The kind who will likely mistreat them. Women find other ways to collude with sexual predators, however unconsciously, to victimize themselves and others. And some of the ‘targets’ are little better than the PUAs themselves. There are some other pretty depressing truths about The Game’s ‘targets’ and ‘sets’: Men may drop women easily, but women will dump men just as quickly for a bigger, better deal. A particularly depressing observation is how women still think and allow themselves to be defined as ‘sluts’, as though men still held all the power of their perception, not to mention their reputation. Strauss describes LMR (Last Minute Resistance) as an understandable ASD (Anti-Slut Defense). The woman pulls back a bit so he understands she’s not easy. Women married three or more years were easier to bed than single ones. (So much for the evils of tomcats.) One PUA’s conquest accidentally sent her judgemental review of their date to her entire address book, revealing several details of how shallow and stereotypical she actually was. PUAs screen for women who are ‘users’. Touché. ‘Style’ (Strauss) found women were usually okay with learning he’s a PUA after sleeping with them, and didn’t believe he’d been ‘running game’ on them. But once they broke up or stopped seeing each other, they used it against him. They were okay with what he was until the end. “If you lower a woman’s self-esteem, she will seek validation from you.” If there’s only one lesson I want women to learn from reading The Game, it’s this one! What I wish men would draw from The Game: Learn about women, understand them better. PUAs may be cads and rapscallions, but if guys with good will understood women as well as PUAs, there’d be no such thing as ‘incels’. Learn about ‘social proof’, something everyone responds to — if everyone else is doing it, it must be good. FOMO! My seducer-wannabe Loren exploited women for social proof, but a solo, confident man with lots of people around him is a good fortune magnet. Most importantly, Strauss learned one of the core lessons about women that many men never, ever seem to figure out: Women are not as ‘ready to go’ as men are. Most men are thinking and acting on getting into a woman’s pants before she’s even thinking about what’s in his pants. There’s a stiff (erm) price to be paid for focusing too much on one field of knowledge while ignoring another. The Game doesn’t end on a very positive note. Strauss, a professional writer already well-versed in analyzing and drilling down, details how the PUA community fell apart when the need for something deeper necessitated focusing on one compelling woman, perhaps marrying, and having children. These guys only knew how to get women into bed; they had no clue how to connect with them on a deeper level. Often the relationships fell apart, and they didn’t understand why. One PUA student who’d only wanted to get married found a wife, but his marriage fell apart a few years later for his lack of relationship skills. Mystery, Strauss’s best friend in the community, suffered a suicidal nervous breakdown over his failed real relationships; like a typical PUA with little self-awareness, he attempted to intellectualize failures with evolutionary psychology and other things he’d learned, rather than recognizing that neither he nor she had the requisite human connection skills. (Easily-acquired men and cheap, shallow sex comes with a price for women, too.) Goodbye to you Rather than go for Loren, I turned my attentions to David, his roommate, who’d caught my eye just before Loren blew in like a gale force wind over the Orkney Isles. Loren backed off. We remained casual friends. Several months later I learned he was leaving our community so I stopped into his place of work to say goodbye. “I will tell you something, Gisèle,” he said. “If you hadn’t gone for David I would have done my damnedest to get you into bed. But I wouldn’t do that to a friend.” “No you wouldn’t have bedded me,” I told him. “You were far too arrogant and women come too easily to you. I decided to be your one and only failure.” “You’re wrong,” he said, “I would have nailed you, but I guess we’ll never know.” Au contraire. As compelling as he was, as much as I wanted to do the dirty with him, I valued myself too highly. I refused to give him my power. I derived my own power in being the one woman he couldn’t get. Not all women can be Gamed. Seventeen years before the how-to manual came out, I’d studied and analyzed dating dynamics and the games men played. And I had a mother who armed me well against the games men have always played. You can’t Game a woman whose weaknesses have been identified and patched, like a computer network. Forewarned is forearmed. This originally appeared on Medium in October 2020.

  • I Was A Feminist Belly Dancing Tool Of ‘The Patriarchy’

    And I enjoyed every damn minute of it. No apologies. Photo from PxFuel I blasted Celestria with my finest feminist are-you-out-of-your-damn-MIND face and exploded, “BELLY DANCING?” “Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool? I want to get Chabi to teach a class.” Chabi was a new addition to our Society for Creative Anachronism medievalist re-creation group. We learned the skills, created medieval ‘personas’, called each other by those names and lived a pre-Renaissance life in the past lane. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” Celestria teased. But I was a feminist, dammit! My recollection of belly dancing’s heyday in the ’60s and ’70s tasted a bit sour, shimmying visions of background decoration in movie nightclubs or a half-naked woman dancing for men’s, and particularly Sean Connery’s James Bond’s pleasure in From Russia With Love. It seemed vintage now, like beehive hairdos and pedal pushers. And while I didn’t object to flirting or suggestive dancing— Belly dancing? “I don’t have the body for those costumes,” I replied, cutting through to the heart of the matter. “We don’t have to perform, let’s just have fun.” It’s good exercise, I rationalized. Without the embarrassing belly-baring costume, and no need to perform publicly, I was in. Ha. Ha. Ha. Yah, okay, this is good. You can call me a witless tool for ‘The Patriarchy’ if you like, but I enjoyed every damn minute of my 15-year side hustle. “I’ll teach free weekly classes on one condition,” Chabi said at our first class. “You all have to dance for the Mongolian Horde this summer at Pennsic War.” Perform? That struck a level of terror historically reserved for the words ‘Mongolian Horde’. Okay, so this re-created SCAdian subculture to which Chabi belonged was far more civilized than the original Horde and treated women a helluva lot better than the era’s affluenza-addled yuppie frat boys. The ‘Pennsic War’ was a giant SCAdian weeks-long extravaganza featuring epic battles (of course) at a western Pennsylvania campground. This is what I did on my summer vacation for the next seven years Perform for the Horde? Oh what the hell, they’ll all be drunk anyway. “I don’t want to wear a skimpy outfit,” I said. “I don’t have the body for it.” “No problem,” Chabi said. “It’s not period anyway. Women covered up. You’re thinking of modern American cabaret style.” You mean like this? (Three months later.) I still felt sort of embarrassed and unfeminist about the whole thing. Then came the first lesson. Chabi taught us some hip moves and a simple ten-second dance routine set to the sexy throbbing, thumping Middle Eastern music of Eddie ‘The Sheik’ Kochak. As my hips swung, I felt an unexpected sexual thrill race through me. I felt strong. I felt confident. I felt, and I couldn’t believe I was feeling this, damned sexy. There it was. The Power. Moving and feeling like a beautiful, desirable woman flooded me with an unfamiliar wave of empowering sexual confidence. I am woman, watch me dance! The high school wallflower, about as desired as a pop trigonometry quiz, who’d agreed to this adventure never wanting a man to see her making an idiot of herself in a (too much belly)-baring costume suddenly wished her male friends could see her, even if she was only wearing a T-shirt and shorts. I imagined one of those stupid costumes. I’d be like those women in the movies! The Power felt anything but degrading. Feminism was deadly serious in the ‘80s. Women moved into the boardroom, with big-shouldered suits to emphasize their power in male-dominated corporations. A woman who’d murdered her abusive husband was considered a feminist hero and sexual assault was a bigger threat than it is today (The 63% reduction in rapes since the early ’90s is one of feminism’s greatest victories). Many feminists had no sense of humour, as I found when the biggest feminist in my feminist literature college class caught me dressed as a Playboy bunny for Halloween. The feminist narrative, enmeshed in a circle-the-wagons worldview, didn’t yet acknowledge the need to be yourself, or explore the many facets of being a woman. Female sexuality was a bit taboo except for those edgy and outré enough to chose lesbianism as a statement. Popular literature of the era abounded with political lesbian characters. We’d have to wait for the ’90s before women could explore pole dancing, stripping, burlesque and Girls Gone Wild before we could shake loose our restrictions and argue such actions were ‘empowering’ and ‘embracing your sexuality’. As I moved and shimmied in that first class, I reveled in the assertive confidence of The Power. I’d joined this class on a lark, figuring it would peter out after ‘Pennsic’. Now I was all-in, along with everyone else. "Hot buttered puppies!" In the months after Chabi’s classes began, we emerged like butterflies from a lifelong cocoon of never being attractive enough. We started losing weight. It was good exercise! My roommate Liliana and I belly danced to the music on the radio. Anything with a beat! Even The Monkees. JoAnn’s Fabrics drew excited neophyte dancers to purchase yards of fabric on sale for big brightly-colored Middle Eastern ‘circle skirts’ and bras. Excited, Liliana and I debuted our belly-baring costumes to Chabi and her partner Torogene, who exclaimed, wide-eyed, “HOT BUTTERED PUPPIES!” I still don’t know what that means but I think it was a compliment! In the fall I followed my parents to Connecticut after my father got a new job. I hated leaving Chabi’s class. I’d transformed from a baby butterfly into both a medieval and modern sex kitten. Feminists didn’t talk about ‘patriarchy’ much back then, but I was sometimes challenged for being a ‘tool for sexism’ . I never felt I was a ‘tool’ of something degrading, maybe because SCA men treated all women, of all body sizes, so well. About a year and a half later, Chabi encouraged me to explore doing ‘bellygrams’. I wasn’t sure I was good enough. Belly dancers weren’t common in New England SCAdian groups. I practiced and performed at SCAdian medieval events, but felt like I knew just enough to be dangerous. “You’re good enough,” Chabi assured me, having seen me dance again at my second Pennsic War. It was Gisele, not Giselle, but whatever. I insisted on covering up my face (rather than my belly!) for the next ad. I didn’t want my outside sales clients to recognize me. I terrorized forty-year-old (on average) birthday boys in a tri-state area for the next fifteen years. Fifty+ was my favourite age range. The older men got, the less they gave a crap who thought they looked like an idiot. They happily got up and danced with me. Feminism and I broke up in the ’90s, citing irreconcilable differences. My ex was fabulous in many ways, having pulled off numerous victories, real accomplishments that had made the world more equitable to women in the thirty-odd years I’d been alive, but feminism just got too — embarrassing. Women’s financial and political power grew, but so did a dismaying sense of ever-increasing female victimhood, rather than the accompanying personal responsibility that joins new power. Feminism seemed stuck in the ’80s, unwilling to admit it was making a real difference. Now it was the ‘90s. Why was it the more empowered women became, the more disempowered many seemed to feel? The lack of recognition for individual responsibility, the growing demonization of men and a nascent ‘political correctness’ disturbed me. I began calling myself an egalitarian. I still believed in equal rights for women, but I could no longer bear the f-word with pride. As a belly dancer, it’s ironic I received as little pushback from feminists as I got. A few made snide comments suggesting my activity was hurtful to women. I didn’t get mad. I’d felt exactly as they did before Celestria dragged me into this. So I explained and educated. How confident and assertive I felt, how I loved my audiences. How with few exceptions, men treated me very well. How men and women are different and we should embrace that. Vive la difference! The extra income for better accoutrements than the handmade costumes of my early, low-wage temp job days, and how I could afford to visit Europe didn’t hurt either. In an Irish bar in Torrington, CT. I never removed more than a few veils. I made that clear to those who confused belly dancing with stripping. I didn’t look down on strippers. Celestria and I, early in our tutelage, had a Stripper Adventure. We wanted to experience a strip club, so we asked a couple of our guy friends to take us to one of the better ones. We wanted to see good stripping, we stipulated, not amateurs. “We know just the place,” they said. These gals were impressive, with obvious formal dance training. Ballet. Jazz. Gymnastics. They were beautiful, slim, and seemed to enjoy teasing men, seated beneath them in supplication to the goddesses. I admired their joy in their bodies, and their hypnotic influence over their audience. They had The Power. It looked like patriarchy and objectification to some, but I recognized an unspoken mutual agreement between the dancers and their audience. By day they got paid for clerking and managing. By night they got paid for dancing. “The men aren’t allowed to touch them,” one of my friends whispered. “The guys get tossed out if they do. This place can lose its liquor license if they’re reported for anything sexual. The girls can’t touch them either, but they can accept money.” The dancers couldn’t show their breasts or nether regions. They pulled out their flimsy bikini bras and revealing panties (no g-strings), but my friend noted, “You never see anything. They know exactly how to do it.” Later, Celestria looked for me when I didn’t return from the bathroom. She found me teaching one of the strippers some of our belly dancing moves. The dancer made a fair chunk of extra money in addition to her regular job. Like me, she didn’t tell employers what she did. This was Bible-thumping Ohio, after all. She laughed about it. She didn’t seem to feel degraded, not unlike Celestria, myself, and the other aspiring goddesses in Chabi’s class. It was an art form, and it took a helluva lot of labia to do that. The only performing art harder than stripping, I think, is stand-up comedy. I know of darker corners where women who perform for men’s pleasure are treated very poorly. I know about the seedier side of stripping, along with stories of what it’s like to be a Playboy bunny or a Hooters waitress. The touchers. The misogynists. The sexual assaults. The harassment. The fat-shaming. For strippers, even worse if you’re not fortunate enough to perform in a ‘nicer’ bar. (The term ‘gentlemen’s club’ — ha! — wouldn’t be coined for several more years.) I once found myself in a dirty, grungy strip club. I forget why. The dancers were sad shadows of the women Celestria and I had watched, shaking in poorly-fitted makeshift costumes. They reminded me of the way I used to look at the end of a long nightclubbing evening. No one, I’m certain, was watching out for them. Nothing feminist about that. Period. I’m sure some belly dancers can tell grim tales depending on who they were, where they worked, and how much self-esteem they possessed. Belly dancing was a big tease for me, done with fun and enjoyment and rarely men-only. I adored my biggest fans, excited, wide-eyed little girls. I understood why. I was small during belly dancing’s heyday, when it was everywhere. And, growing up in Florida, I witnessed many hula dancers and wanted to be one when I grew up. I ‘got’ the sensuality of The Power on some deeper level even when I was three or four. These ladies were beautiful and I loved the way they moved. I lost that joy somewhere. Sensuality is almost verboten today, in an age ruled by a renewed feminist sexual puritanism, political and religious fundamentalism and men who are afraid to so much as look at women lest they be publicly excoriated for ‘misogyny’. Female sensuality/sexuality comes with many choices, complex and faceted. Some women argue they’re empowered by pole dancing. I agree. I understand. The Power. Other women find it degrading and downright embarrassing. I understand that too. I would never pole dance. Female sexuality and sensuality offers a strange dichotomy. First Night Hartford, 1993 As for ‘objectifying’…we all do it. Witness women lining the streets waiting to catch a glimpse of George Clooney during the Toronto International Film Festival. Or Beliebers screaming for their idol Justin. Girlfriends chucking down pinot grigio and rating the men in their social circle, married or otherwise, in the order of who they’d like to have sex with first. Belly dancing taught me how to move my imperfect body more confidently, to sew my own garb and create new ideas. It taught me how to flirt, how to play the doumbek and how to break down music. I performed in a troupe for a year. I learned how to dance with a sword — always a crowd-pleaser. I taught others, and watched them emerge from their cocoons as Chabi had once observed us. I was responsible for that. That’s a greater feeling than The Power. I made people laugh and feel happy when I danced, including a terminal man in a hospital just days before he died. Learning to belly dance is one of the most feminist actions I’ve ever taken. I was no tool for anything. Je regrette rien. This first appeared on Medium in June 2020.

  • Why I Don’t Take Crap From Partners

    My mother called Marisol ‘a doormat’ because she tolerated verbal abuse. I learned never to be one. Wipe your feet here. Photo by Zipnon on Needpix My mother was a radical feminist before it was cool. Not ‘radical’ the way we know it today. Her radicalism stemmed from her uncommon conviction that on some level, women possess a certain amount of control over whether they’re abused. Mom never suffered physical abuse herself, nor do I know of any friends she had who did. They sometimes suffered what today we recognize as psychological or emotional abuse. Including Mom, who could deal it herself if Dad provoked her enough. If men possess the physical edge over women, one can argue women possess the same between the ears. We’re better wired to understand and process feelings, we express language with greater precision, we understand better the value of relationships and how to manage them, with which we’ve refined our darker powers of emotional manipulation. Men can kill us, but we can still destroy them. It wasn’t just the lessons Mom drummed into me growing up, making it crystal clear I had the power to decide how a boy or man would treat me. It was all those dinner conversations about Don and Marisol. Dad met Don, a fellow engineer, at the large U.S. government contractor where they worked in Orlando. Don was from France and a fast friendship grew with my American-born French immigrant family father. Mom and Marisol, both young mothers, hit it off. Sometimes we’d visit Marisol. I played with her two youngest while the moms chit-chatted. Mom regaled Dad over dinner with Marisol’s stories. Don was a real pain in the ass — dismissive, combative, rude. Once he called Marisol’s mother ‘a big fat cow’. Other times, he insulted or criticized Marisol or the way she handled their four kids. There’s no reigning expert on parenthood quite like a man in an office five days a week. “So I said, ‘Marisol, why do you put up with this? Why do you let him talk to you that way? I told her, ‘He treats you like a doormat.’” Later, I asked Mom what she meant. She replied, “Mr. V mistreats Mrs. V and forgets about her. It’s like he wipes his feet on her and she doesn’t argue. Neither does a doormat.” In the 1960s, women didn’t often recognize abuse for what it was. But Mom recognized the power Marisol wouldn’t claim. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, an unrealistic view. We’re responsible for ourselves, always, and in a modern world we possess far more agency than women had over fifty years ago. We have more power to decide who to allow into our lives, and how we’ll let them treat us. One can argue 1967 ain’t 2020. True. Marisol had her reasons for staying with or tolerating Don. But Mom didn’t tolerate crap from my father, a product of the same generation that produced Don. I sometimes wonder how many men — and women — would be more abusive if their partners allowed it. Respect. It starts at the beginning. Thanks to Harli Marten for sharing their work on Unsplash. The ones who disrespect women, who try to control and dictate their choices, who insult and condescend to get their way, need to depart forthwith, and never darken her doorstep again. Before the beatings begin. I’ve finished a book on the psychology of abusive men and the author, a male counselor who’s worked with them all his life, notes how difficult, almost impossible it is, to root out the entrenched sense of ownership and entitlement these men feel. Mom knew then what we’re only beginning to understand today: You can’t change another person, but you can change yourself. You decide how you’ll be treated. The sooner, the better. Prevention, etc. Her words of wisdom defined my life, even if she didn’t always take her own advice. I repeated her words back when she railed years later about how my emotionally remote father needed to change for her. Marisol may have not had as much choice with four kids, but today she would. She met Don at her dream job working for a cultural attache in a foreign country. Single motherhood today is no picnic, nor an option for all, but with 60% of divorces initiated by women, it’s not the entrapment it once was, either. Every child she bore for Don was a choice to stay, and to further tighten the bonds with him. Mom never liked Don. She told me years later she put up with him because of Dad’s friendship, and because she liked Marisol. Don once put the moves on her when Dad and Marisol were out of the room. Mom demanded my father never leave her alone with him again. His kids seemed to react against him. Mom believed they committed deliberate acts of rebellion. Once they crushed an Easter marshmallow bunny in Don’s workbench vise. It solidified before he discovered it, making it even more of a devil to fix and clean. I complained that Mr. V hugged me too hard. Mom said Mrs. V complained he was sometimes too harsh in his punishments with the children. I don’t know if it was abuse or not. I don’t remember the details. In one of our hoary old family movies, Don is at a 1968 Christmas party hosted by my parents. I love it for the sheer kitsch/camp value of a bunch of ‘squares’ celebrating like the party scene in The Graduate. Don is on the couch. When the camera points his way he makes a few silly, rude gestures, then a Seig Heil move. It wasn’t his only expression of racism according to Mom. She got mad one year when the avowed atheist blasphemously referred to Jesus as ‘That cat on the cross’. She didn’t say anything, of course. Good ’60s wives didn’t call out their husband’s friends. I don’t remember all my parents’ dinner conversations. Most had little to offer a preschooler. Dad talked about work, Mom about friends, church junk, boring adult stuff. I knew, though, anything involving the V family was bound to be engaging, even for a four-year-old. Don was a source of endless drama and Marisol an abject lesson in how to be a doormat. I didn’t realize how ingrained was my notion that women have control over their own lives until I caught a badly-imagined passage in my first dark fantasy novel. The main character, Samantha, has just broken up with her more-casual-than-she-would-have-liked boyfriend. She flees to a friend’s house after a demon set upon her by a frenemy almost beats her to death after she resists its sexual advances. A young male friend comes over to give her something and sees her bruised face. “Samantha,” [he says, assuming her ex was responsible], “how could you let him do this to you?” It took six or seven drafts before I realized how horribly misogynist it sounded. Especially from a male character who treated women well. But that’s how I thought. Still do. How can she let him treat her that way? The revision reads: “If it was that movie Indian asshole, I’ll kill him.” Dunham leaned back against the door and crossed his arms, leveling me with his own steely gaze. Samantha is a strong, powerful character. Her sort-of boyfriend Andrew isn’t an abuser, but he has a wandering eye. When she finds out he had sex with a friend who didn’t know about her own involvement with Andrew, she breaks up with him. In my mind, Dunham saw her the way I see women like her: As someone who, whether her trust or body was abused by a man, would never allow it to happen again. I realized how screwed up the passage was, and I changed it. Old thought patterns die hard. One can’t obliterate millennia of patriarchy, female ownership and entrenched male privilege in one century since the advent of modern-day feminism. Toxic beliefs and values permeate our beings as they do men’s, including women’s greater willingness, I believe, to accept victimhood and tolerate abusive behavior. Our brains are wired by our biological sex along with our evolutionary social conditioning, although we always have the power to change. Our neural pathways connect in malleable brains, not cement. We can change our thinking patterns, values, beliefs and perceptions. We can decide not to be slaves to our cave brains. If men need to uproot their entrenched toxic patriarchal belief systems, so do women. Men don’t have to abuse. Women don’t have to be abused. We can choose not to be victims. But first we have to recognize that power. Then seize it. This appeared on Medium in September 2020.

  • My Self-Doubting Resistance Is The Frickin’ Terminator

    It doesn’t love me. It doesn’t have my best interests at heart. It doesn’t want me to grow. And it will literally kill me if I let it. “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!” Creative Commons license photo by Daniel Oberhaus (2017) on Flickr Many mornings I wake up and think, “Shit, I’m still alive.” My favorite time of the day is night, when I sleep and enter oblivion — what death must be like, sans dreams, if atheists are right. I’ve read that a coma is one step away from death, and sleep one step from coma. Two steps from death, every night. Maybe one night I’ll get lucky, huh? I hate feeling this way. I’m not, by nature, an unhappy person. In fact my mental health support group sometimes wonders what the hell I’m doing there; I’m always smiling and cracking jokes and saying positive things to others. It’s no facade; that’s the real me. But I’m there because I’ve struggled on and off with depression since adolescence. I went through an entire life stage I call the Angry Drunken Bitch years. When sexually frustrated single guy George Sodini shot up a women’s gym in Pittsburgh screaming about feminists, I became fascinated with his blog because, as monstrous as his act and sexual entitlement were, I felt a certain uncomfortable weird kinship with him. Along with Elliott Rodgers, the Killer Virgin. I ‘got’ that sense of entitlement. They felt entitled to sex with women, and I felt entitled to romantic success, to love, perhaps spoiled by much easier pickin’s when I was under thirty and a popular belly dancer in a medieval re-creation group. It took me many years to figure out just how entitled I felt as an A.D.B. Now my jaded ennui has evolved from losing my job last year to a life re-evaluation revealing just how much my life has sucked for years and how I don’t want to do this anymore, but I don’t yet have an escape plan. Is it a good idea to just sell everything, move to an island, and die in a small community younger than I might have, or am I ignoring how I can stay put and find meaning and a happy life again right here? How much of my depression is actually my fucking Terminator trying to keep me from ever doing anything that makes me happy, and most of all personally growing? Resistance is insidious. Resistance is implacable. Resistance is indefatigable. Resistance is protean. It shape-shifts. It lies. It dissembles. Its aim is to destroy us, body and soul. The Terminator, i.e. Resistance, i.e. the yetzer hara, does not change and cannot change. — Steven Pressfield, Villain = Resistance American novelist and screenwriter Steven Pressfield writes books about the Resistance that dwells within us all and ceaselessly toils to keep us from achieving our true potential. It’s my fear of moving forward, the procrastination, the perfectionism, the excuses I make, the endless distractions I create for myself— Netflix series, movies, social media — so I can keep the Resistance — my own personal Terminator — at bay, where it waits patiently for me to get up to brush my teeth and go to bed, so it can resume whispering its destructive messages. You suck. You aren’t good enough. You’ll never succeed. Your business venture is a crock of shit. Don’t even think about trying to strike out on your own, you moron. Better than you have failed. What makes you think you can do it? You don’t deserve better. You’re the very definition of mediocrity. Yeah, you’re successful now but it’s all about to end. Then they’ll see the imposter you really are. Resistance is, as Pressfield explains, an ‘entirely negative force’ built into us whose ‘solitary aim is to block the soul from communicating with us and us from communicating with our soul.’ He defines ‘soul’ by the Jewish tradition, the part of me that wants the best for myself in a beneficent, non-selfish sense. The yetzer hara, Resistance, is my compulsion to self-obstruct and self-destruct. He compares it to The Terminator. Why the hell I have an Inner Terminator seems to be a mystery to brighter brains than mine, but we all have it. Even the most successful. It’s why so many young, promising musicians join the ’27 Club’. Why so many celebrity lives have been destroyed by drugs like cocaine and crack. I never understood why celebrities took such a self-destructive drug until I read about the sense of power and confidence it gives, especially before a big concert or performance. Okay, fair enough. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I had to perform in front of 45,000 people in Shea Stadium who’d paid good money to see me do — something or other. Someone I kind of admired, who always seemed to have his shit together, who’s more successful and more educated and more experienced, born into more privilege than I, just failed at his third attempt at being a senior leader. I know he failed this last time and I suspect he failed at his first two. He gave what I thought were inauthentic excuses for why he’d left the other jobs so soon. He got demoted at his last position and left shortly thereafter for a new job — where he’s no longer in a senior management position. Pretty sure he’s dealing with his own Resistance, as on top of the world as he often was. Something stops him, I suspect, from examining why he’s not cutting it as a senior manager when his stars are otherwise aligned. Image by Markus Distelrath from Pixabay I’ve spent the last year attempting to confront my own Terminator, a seemingly disembodied entity that lives within me trying to tear me down the way one particular guy in high school did. Dan is sort of my psychological bête noire. No matter what I did, what I tried to learn or accomplish, he was right there with me in a lengthy class hanging over my shoulder assuring me almost every damn moment that I was ugly, stupid, a dog, a Wolfwoman, that I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I’ll never be any good at anything. He’s not someone I think about a lot anymore, at least not until the past year when I came to realize my Terminator is a lot like Dan. It’s always there to keep me from being better than I am. Telling me I can’t do that, it’s too late, I’m too old, that’s not for me, success is for others, who do I think I am, I’m mediocre and always will be. But it’s not fair to hang this all on Dan. I only realized he’s a bit of a bête noire after I re-read my old college journal and was struck by how I was still going on about him two years after graduation. At some point I got over it. Maybe after I became a belly dancer and proved I wasn’t such an ugly dog who’d never get a guy after all. The Terminator speaks to me in a chorus of voices synthesized into one. It’s my parents overprotecting their little girl; other bullies from school; the nutty bosses who were either crazy, stupid or gaslighters; the legions of single men who found me utterly unfascinating after 35. But most of all, there’s a little girl’s voice there, feeling not-good-enough on some fundamental level that can’t be blamed on her parents, who always encouraged her to do her best, who always felt a little left out and left behind and dreamed big dreams that would never come to be. Her Birth Terminator. My Terminator has worked against me my entire life, and underlies most of my depression. Adolescence is usually when things go tits-up for kids, especially young girls. My happy life in Orlando was uprooted by a bad economy, and Dad’s job search landed us in a small Ohio town where I had little in common with the other kids and from which I nurtured a lifelong resentment for why I had to put up with these Midwestern numbnuts when things had been so much better in Orlando. It’s only in very recent years I’ve been able to release that resentment, once I realized that not only would adolescence have ended my childhood innocence no matter where I lived, but, with 20/20 hindsight, I see evidence that my life might well have grown considerably worse had we stayed in Orlando, where I’d begun attending an integrated junior high school half-filled with angry, impulse-uncontrolled black kids shaping up to hate my white middle-class blonde ass in one of America’s most racist states. ‘The road not taken’ is sometimes the one best avoided. Now I challenge my self-doubting self-image, questioning whether I’m really as much of a loser as I sometimes think. Am I lazy and unmotivated, or is this a siren call to do something different that doesn’t make me want to rip my brain out of my head? I’ve explored freelancing and becoming a solopreneur as I realize what’s truly been missing is a sense of meaning or purpose. I’ve got a lengthy career in I.T. sales and the first twenty years were awesome; only in the last eight or nine did I start taking jobs for the money, which is almost always a recipe for misery. Now I’m preoccupied with personal development and growth, which the Terminator doesn’t mind as long as I don’t actually attempt to change anything. I’m always allowed to dream, I’m just not allowed to change. I do, though. The Terminator gets over it, but always worries about the next one. “Where there is a Dream,” Steven Pressfield tells me in a different blog post, “there is Resistance. Thus: where we encounter Resistance, somewhere nearby is a Dream.” There it is: The Terminator, Resistance, exists to keep me from achieving my dreams, unless I become very good at working to overcome it or just not fucking listen. It’s a sign, however, that I’m on the right path. The Terminator doesn’t care about unimportant pursuits. It only needs to keep me in the Safe Place where it doesn’t have to face potential failure, rejection or shame. What’s on my fridge. What’s the secret? How I push past The Terminator is what I’ve always known: Just do the work. Just fucking show up to work every day, whether that’s at an office, or to look for a job, or to turn my side hustle into a real business. A few things I keep in mind about The Terminator: It’s not personal. It’s not me holding myself back. My true self wants to be happy, to achieve, to accomplish, to live a meaningful life, as long as that definition is mine and not others’ standards. Resistance is there to stop me. I don’t know why; I can’t imagine what evolutionary purpose it serves. It just is, like the mold in my bathtub. I’ll be bock! Everyone on the planet lives with their own Inner Terminator, even if they don’t show it. I’m not alone. Everyone else fights my struggle too. I don’t need to be ‘motivated’. The Terminator binges on ‘motivation’. It kicks up and convinces me I need a ‘mental health day’, often with a lot of ‘navel-gazing’, which amounts to an utterly wasted day I could have spent moving closer to my dream, and now I feel like a loser because I allowed myself to be sidetracked. I can’t work toward my goal when I feel like it; I have to show up for work and do so every damn day. I can’t kill it. Just like James Cameron’s Terminator, it will be with me until I die. But it doesn’t have to be my giant robot Adversary, blocking me at every turn. Satan tried to distract Jesus in the desert by promising riches and power; Jesus was like, “Nah.” The most important thing I must remember about my own Terminator, though: It can kill me. I hear it in myself, and the voices of friends and colleagues who fall prey to the army of Terminators tweeting, posting and botting messages of hopelessness and despair. If I listen to that negative voice long enough, it will wear me down and one day I might toss in the figurative towel and say, “Okay, I agree. Enough is enough.” And then do the deed myself.This morning I woke up and The Terminator said, “Shit, we’re still alive.” And I said, “Fuck you, Terminator.” And I settled down to work. Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash This originally appeared on Medium in August 2020.

  • Why Didn’t I…? The Mini-Traumas We Can’t Forget

    Was it the misogyny, or what I didn’t do that nags me decades later? Boys will be boys. Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay My French uncle’s comment still drives my aging brain into woulda-shoulda-coulda mode. It was what I didn’t do to get back at my cousin, and teach my lackadaisical uncle and aunt a lesson. I’m still kinda pissed, forty years later. “Dat’s what you get for playing weet boys!” I have enough to be neurotic about without adding the Fireworks Stunt to my existential angst. I began pondering the crazy mini-traumas lodged in our brains after reading a writer’s tale of sexual harassment on the school bus. Her debut into the sexist world for her tween-age self still bothered her twelve or thirteen years later. It’s funny, isn’t it, how little events can mark us for life, when we often move on from the larger, more serious ones. What’s done to us by others is what sticks far more than ‘shit happens’. Studies after Hurricane Katrina found survivors were more traumatized by the government’s half-assed heckuva-job-Brownie response than by the hurricane itself. Hurricanes gonna hurricane, but government officials make choices. Getting groped by a schoolboy, not knowing what to do about it, or how to make him stop, still stuck in the writer’s craw. I wondered if she’s tormenting herself with the woulda-coulda-shoulda years later, as an adult, thinking now what she should have done? I can relate. Forty years later, it’s glaringly obvious I should have taken my cousin’s knife. Or hidden it really well. Ona hot July night my cousin played with my brother and some of the neighborhood boys in the yard. My cousin was the oldest, about 17, and the others were a little younger — my brother was twelve, the other kids in between. I went down to the basement via the outside entrance. The basement doors slammed shut and locked. I was enveloped in darkness. “Let me out!” I demanded, and of course they didn’t. Boys! “Come on you guys, cut it out!” I yelled, but they laughed. Exasperated, I groped for a broom I’d seen next to the fridge. My uncle and aunt were upstairs, directly beneath me. I pounded on the basement roof to get their attention. After a minute or so, they failed to show up. What the hell, had they fallen asleep up there? It was early evening, right after dinner. “Hey, let’s get a firecracker!” my cousin suggested. Was he out of his mind??? The others exploded with excitement. He wasn’t serious, was he? Were they really going to throw a firecracker down here? Don’t they understand how dangerous that is? Boys don’t think, or if they do they don’t care. They opened the door, tossed a lit firecracker down, and slammed it shut. I felt held hostage. I knew the most important parts of me to protect. I shut my eyes, turned away, and plugged my ears. The firecracker exploded, as did the boys. How hilarious! They locked The Girl in the basement! Would it have been even funnier if they’d blown a hole in my leg? If I’d been rushed to the hospital with a flesh wound? What if I hadn’t had the forethought to protect my ears and eyes? How funny would it have been then? The adults didn’t take it any more seriously than the hormone-addled morons. I ran upstairs to my aunt and uncle, placidly reading on the couch. “Where the hell were you?” I demanded. “Didn’t you hear me pounding on the basement roof?” “Oh, is that what that was?” my aunt replied, regarding me over her half-moon reading glasses. “We wondered where the noise was coming from.” I exploded. I named my cousin, their son, as the ringleader and instigator. My French uncle’s reaction? He laughed. “Well, dat’s what you get for playing weet boys!” “I WASN’T PLAYING WITH THEM!” I yelled. “I went downstairs to get a soda! And even if I had been, it doesn’t matter, what they did was dangerous! Don’t you understand? I could have been blinded, my hearing could have been damaged, it could have hurt my leg!” They laughed the whole thing off and told me to forget about it. My cousin didn’t get in trouble. I’ll take his knife, I thought. The Family Shuffle to accommodate our visit left me in my cousin’s bedroom, who moved upstairs to share bunk beds with my brother in the furnished attic. We’d celebrated my cousin’s birthday a few days previously, and he’d gotten some special knife he’d really wanted. I forget what was so awesome about it. Probably it was some sort of Swiss army knife. It was on his dresser. I decided to take it home to Ohio and call him to say I’d bring it back next year. Maybe that would teach him a lesson. But as I thought about it, the more I considered this would backfire on me with the unsupportive adults. When I told my parents about it, implicating my brother but still holding my cousin primarily responsible, they were sympathetic and my brother got scolded, but they wouldn’t confront my uncle and aunt about my cousin. My mother didn’t think it was her place, as the in-law. My father looked up to my aunt, who’d been a bit older and sort of a second mother to him, and he would never stand up to her. My parents’ wimpiness didn’t help. But what really bothered me was my uncle’s comment. “Dat’s what you get for playing weet boys!” We didn’t talk about misogyny and male privilege back then. We accepted oh, ha ha, boys will be boys. Society didn’t yet recognize toxic masculinity starts early, accompanied by sexual harassment. No one yet realized tolerating sexist behavior in children often cements male entitlement for life. Girls were expected to grin and bear it, get over it and move on. I sat on my cousin’s bed, still burning with righteous anger over the lack of empathy and concern for my safety. This wasn’t a silly, annoying boyish prank; my cousin should have been punished for putting me in danger. I kept thinking about my sight, my hearing, the permanent scar on my leg I might have gotten. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash A lifetime of summer vacations with my misogynist cousin acting like a little dick flooded back. Like not allowing me into his treehouse because it’s ‘no girls allowed.’ My aunt argued with him but didn’t make him come down if he was going to act like that, and she was a girl. “Why does she let him do this?” I asked my mother. I was only five or six at the time. “Shouldn’t she tell him to let me come up too, or he has to come down?” That’s exactly what my mother would have done. I knew it. But she wouldn’t say anything because it wasn’t her son. Many times he and my brother ganged up on me because I was The Girl, and times we ganged up on my brother because he was The Kid. But my brother was never the little misogynist my spoiled cousin was. I remembered all the times my cousin treated me like crap because I was a girl, and I resolved to confiscate his precious knife for a year. But oh Darwin, the consequences. What would my parents do when they found out I’d taken it, even as I explained I didn’t want it for myself, I wanted to punish my cousin since no adults would? Given neither of them had the balls or the labia to stand up to my aunt and uncle, I guessed their reaction would be to mail it back, and make me pay for it out of my allowance. I wasn’t sure how much shipping cost but I didn’t get much of an allowance anyway and I didn’t fancy being money-less for the rest of the summer, which would be all my cousin’s fault and yet another reason to dislike him. I decided not to risk it. Maybe a better option was to hide it, and call him to say I’d tell him where it was when I felt like it. I stuck it behind his bed near the dresser. I knew he’d find it before Christmas. It wasn’t much of a punishment but as my anger lessened, so did my resolve to make him pay for what he’d done. The next morning, I decided I was over it and I put it back on his dresser. The memory pops from time to time, I suspect because I want to help others, particularly women, become more assertive, take back their power, fight genuine misogyny, and ‘grow some labia’. (Hey, we can’t ‘grow some balls’ like we tell men.) Now, of course, if I could do it over again, I’d take the knife back to Ohio, hide it from my parents, call my cousin, and tell him he’ll see it next year. I’d talk serious turkey to my parents, make it clear they abrogated their responsibility not forcing my aunt and uncle to reckon with their reckless child, and if they insisted on mailing it back, they’d pay for it, not me. And if they punished me I’d dispose of it. But I didn’t. I was sixteen, and a Good Girl, as they raised me to be. I didn’t have the forethought to plan things out further. To realize the better-laid plans of mice and wronged women emerged after sleeping on it. I could have announced as we were leaving that I‘d taken his knife and he wasn’t getting it back until I got an apology. I could have thrown it into the bushes after receiving it and made him work a little for it. Woulda-coulda-shoulda. What good does it do me now to think about what I should have done about a past I can’t change? Here’s the funny part: My cousin turned out fine. He grew up, stopped being a dick, has a daughter from his first marriage and is married to a wonderful woman. He runs his own liquor store and he’s an expert on wine, how to cook with it, which one to pair with your meal, and he does it in a non-snobby, utterly engaged way. He believes in what he’s doing. He’s not some upper-class asshole trying to impress everyone with his tortured oenophile jargonbabble. The 2000 White Zinfandel from De Carro Winery combines crude crack-cocaine essences with a voluptuous rose flavor. Pusillanimous without being too obfuscating .— Random Wine Review Generator, with a little addition from me We never talked about it, and today I’m more inclined to beat myself up over beating myself up about it rather than for my non-response to the incident itself. It didn’t end badly, although in some alternate universe I may be wandering around half-blind, half-deaf with a permanent scar. I can’t change the past, but I can change my relationship with it. I guess it’s desire for closure. The feeling someone got away with something. Why is it so important? It’s an ego thing. He should have experienced consequences for what he did. He didn’t. It’s an unfair world. Now I wonder: What consequences have I never experienced for something I did to another I’ve long since forgotten about, that the other party hasn’t? Whose craw might I be sticking in? I can think of several likely candidates, and I’ve just identified one. Digitizing my life last year I ran across something I’d completely forgotten about: A couple of essays detailing my freshman year in college. I was utterly appalled at the way I treated someone with a crush on me whose feelings I didn’t return. Long story, but I Googled to find the guy. I’d send him an apology, if I could find him. I did, but with multiple email addresses and I didn’t want to email random strangers with the same name. Then I wondered if it was even a good idea. What if I re-traumatized him? I didn’t email him, but I still think about it. Some of those emails must still be active, especially his Gmail addresses. Gmail never dies, right? I read another Medium story about a ‘hit and run’ apology someone made for abuse she dealt the writer many years ago in a so-called drug abuse rehabilitation program called Straight Inc. Now I wonder if I’d be better off thinking about the wrong I’ve done to another, and others, rather than the one done to me. This originally appeared on Medium in January 2021.

  • Humor: Why The Left Fears It So Much

    It’s the ultimate hypocrisy destruction weapon, yet its power unites by exposing us all. “Are we racist for laughing at this?” “Probably, but damn, that’s some funny shit!” Image by Omar Medina Films from Pixabay Carroll O’Connor had passed away, and some cable channel ran a marathon of his classic TV series All In The Family in tribute to Archie Bunker, America’s Most Lovable Bigot. I finally understood the adult political humor my parents’ generation adored in the early 1970s. Nineteen years after All In The Family’s introduction, In Living Color debuted, a sketch comedy show largely produced by blacks. They slaughtered enough sacred cows to threaten McDonalds’s bottom line. Their favorite target? Racial stupidity, ALL of it. They made fun of women and men; they even offered humor bombs like the disabled superhero Handi-Man and a fire safety burn victim. The characters didn’t look ‘less than’ or inferior. Anyone caricatured on In Living Color could become a member of Our Tribe if they chose: The ones who know to be human is to be funny, and if we can laugh together we can stop fighting each other. One of us! One of us! Gooble-gobble gooble-gobble! Do you know who was most offended by the Handi-Man sketches? Not the disabled. They thought he was funny. Performer Damon Wayans reported criticism came from those who weren’t handicapped, or with handicapped relations they didn’t support very well. Wayans himself grew up with a club foot, the butt of far crueler humor than anything on the show. Handi-Man: He brought laughs, and justice for for the physically disabled The late quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan’s assessment of the offense his disability cartoons caused was far more blunt. “My only compass for whether I’ve gone too far is the reaction I get from people in wheelchairs, or with hooks for hands, he said. “Like me, they are fed up with people who presume to speak for the disabled. All the pity and the patronizing. That’s what is truly detestable.” Seems the disabled felt a lot less ‘untouchable’ once allowed into the fraternity/sorority of fun. Set hypocrisy phaser to Stun, Lefty! The Left’s politically correct, hypersensitive, oh-so-woke War On Humor faction is largely oblivious to how exclusionary it’s become. Their well-intentioned search-and-destroy missions for the moral and spiritual toxins poisoning North America, metastasized in the Age of Trump, has unwittingly obliviated avenues for confronting our fears and discomforts, and most critically, to bond with others who are different. Hard to imagine today, but in the days of Archie Bunker and In Living Color’s prison-release inmate Homey D. Clown, the Left possessed an actual sense of humor. Before ‘cancel culture’ and career-destroying ‘call-outs’ and J.K. Rowling wizard hunts, the Left understood the bonding benefits of laughing with each other, at each other, and at ourselves. Homey D. Clown: He hated kids and white people The Left’s head would explode if Netflix re-created these comedic takedowns for 2021. Although I can’t think of a more desperately-needed time to Make Humans Funny again. Oh, the comedy motherlode for the Abhorring Twenties…! I’d love to see Blaine and Antoine, the flamboyantly gay movie critics from In Living Color’s ‘Men On…’ sketches remade with two narcissistic overprivileged transwomen. Humor’s greatest gift is in exposing the foibles and fundamental heart of what it means to be a human being: We’re bloody hypocrites. Liberals loved laughing at Archie Bunker’s ignorant vitriol, but The Meathead’s social justice views got challenged too, like when his childlike wife Gloria discovers ‘women’s lib’ and spreads her nascent feminist wings, telling her husband she wants to be an equal partner in their marriage. That goes over like a Watergate break-in. When is humor a hypocrisy blaster, and when is it ugly bullying? We need to ask ourselves an important question. Do the targets deserve it? In 2021, Generation ‘Snowflake’ replaces pinch-faced aunties and bewhiskered, monocled moralists of yore with pursed-mouthed purists obsessed with the haunting fear that somebody, somewhere, may be having a laugh at someone else’s expense. What America needs now, more than ever, are outrageous new challengers to our assumptions of what we think we know about the world. Archie Bunker was an ignorant racist, (take that, you conservatives!) but he also possessed a human, kinder side (And you too, liberals!). Who knew bigots weren’t 100% evil? Even Mary Trump describes a few occasions of kindness from her notorious cousin. If you think no one should ever be made fun of, because they might hurt someone’s feelings, I have one word for you: Trumpistan. No one deserves satirical derision more than Donald Trump, except his toxic hyper-testosteroned fan club. Even though Trump appears to be a genuinely mentally troubled individual, likely suffering from dementia, with the sort of beneath-the-surface low self-esteem that customarily sends the Left running to fetch the tissue box. Few decried the four-year flow of often mean-spirited humor memes. I shared them too. Hey, is fat-shaming okay when it’s applied to an obese fat-shaming narcissistic psychopath? Donald Trump painted the target on his own chest. The most powerful man in the world had zero sense of humor. His ‘jokes’ were cruel barbs aimed solely at tearing others down to lift himself up. The last person who could get away with a disabled-person ‘joke’ famously mocked one anyway, and his spiritually disabled base roared with laughter. Imagine feeling so low about yourself you have to tear down a guy with cerebral palsy. Down. He had to tear down. Even the handicapped guy made Trump feel ‘less than’. The President of the United States subconsciously felt inferior to a guy with CP. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And Bill Maher. Trump’s loyal sheep couldn’t stand to see their guru mocked. Snowflakes also wear MAGA hats, flag pins and gold crosses. Collectively, they beg for comedic jabs. Compassion is one of the Republican Seven Deadly Sins. We love watching Trevor Noah or Steven Colbert mow down our own bête noires with comedic assault riffs, but the laughter too often stops mid-track when the barrel of the insult weapon turns toward ourselves. It’s why some on the Left detest Bill Maher so much. He’s an equal-opportunity political offender. Make fun of Trump all you want, but staaaaaay awaaaaay from us! Move along! Nothing to see here! “Okay, but if you spend your time combing through old TV shows looking to identify stuff that by today’s standards looks bad, you’re not ‘woke’, you’re just a douchebag.” The Wokenati fear humor’s soul: It’s the ultimate hypocrisy bomb. It destroys on impact. What if someone notices our biological sex science denial is near-identical to a Trumper’s denial of climate change or the COVID crisis? And why do some of these transwomen talk and act an awful lot like entitled white dudes? And when did we all become white supremacists? I for one have never burned a cross on anyone’s lawn! Didn’t we look an awful lot like clueless, irrelevant morons when we attacked John Wayne for being a racist, sexist, product of his time and generation? What if someone digs up that regrettable Halloween costume choice from 1984 before I became woker-than-thou? What are people going to say about me thirty, forty years from now, or after I’m dead? The Regressive Left knows, deep down, we all have much in common with the Trumpers. We’re hypocritical too, and we’d rather focus on their hypocrisy than ours. It’s ironic, because in destroying contradiction and exposing hypocrisy, humor is actually a Secret Equality Weapon. The mark of the emotionally intelligent and truly secure — left or right — is whether they can make — and take — a genuine joke about themselves. The humanizing power of humor Dave Chappelle takes heat for his trans humor, a movement ripe for risibility with its self-obsession, misogyny and science denial. Some see him making fun of transwomen; I see someone making fun of transphobia. I understand why some don’t find funny his joke about a perfectly-dressed transwoman walking into the boardroom on her high heels and slamming her dick on the table; but I see the ones who aren’t yet ready to give up their male entitlement. The ones who lead the baying mob against a children’s book author for speaking science. He speaks of one transwoman, Daphne, who laughed at all his jokes and then invited him to have a drink with her at the bar. “She said, ‘I thought it was interesting that they blamed you for R. Kelly, they said you ‘normalized him’ for telling jokes about him. I wonder why they never said that you ‘normalize’ transgenders by telling jokes about us.” There’s a key point: The humanizing and normalizing power of humor. Tragically, she committed suicide in 2020. Some of Chappelle’s trans humor comes across as a little homophobic, but he may ruffle feathers with his more-truth-than-poetry commentary. He says America embracing transfolk makes him a little jealous. “How the fuck are trans people beating black people in the Discrimination Olympics?” he asks. “If the police shot half as many transgenders as they did n — ers last year there’d be a fuckin’ war in L.A.!” Touché. What’s really eating Generation Snowflake? A veneer of social justice may provide a convenient excuse for oversensitive young people behind ‘cancel culture’ imbroglios to avoid examining the more painful, and real, feelings behind their almost programmed outrage over a lame attempt at humor or a poorly-executed joke. As Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff note in their book The Coddling of the American Mind, later Millennials and Gen Z exhibit the common cognitive distortions and catastrophizing exhibited by depressed, stressed, and relentlessly anxious psychiatric patients. No wonder, considering how Millennials were raised by obsessed helicopter parents hell-bent on keeping them safe from any negative feelings while driving them to achieve and perform practically before leaving the womb. In eleven years, from 2007 to 2018, the suicide rate for the 10–24 age group increased over 57%. No one’s quite sure what’s behind it specifically, but Millennials — heavily educated, underemployed, and never allowed to relax — also exhibit increased rates of the aforementioned mental health problems, juiced by social media absorption, self-comparison and FOMO, and today, enforced isolation. Is the problem really a comedian’s homophobic-sounding joke, or are Millennials reacting to a literal entire lifetime of being driven to succeed, only to find themselves stuck with their parents because, post-Great Financial Collapse, much of their opportunity disappeared along with their parents’ investments portfolio? Is the problem really someone who disrespects a Gen Z’er’s self-perceived right to an unchallenged assumption, or adolescent problems in a climate of decreasing personal intimacy, sexual pressures and gender identity conflicts, increasing misogyny/racism/ transphobia and a seemingly collective national downward spiral into violence, civil unrest and maybe even the breakdown of democracy? All at a time when younger generations aren’t old enough or experienced enough to understand and process what’s happening, at a time when their elders can no longer reassure them We’ve seen this all before. It will pass. Believe me, I remember when I thought Ronald Reagan was the end of civilization. Let’s make the world safe for humor again We need to make humor, and humans, funny again. Like knee-slapping, laugh-out-loud, and often cringe-inducing did s/he really say that? hysterical. The Left (and the Right) be damned. If we can laugh, we don’t have to cry. If we can only cry, then please, someone remove all the pointy objects in our vicinity, and lock up the handguns. We need to learn how to laugh at ourselves again. And with each other, occasionally at each other, and our common human silliness, stupidities, hypocrisies, contradictions, overblown egos and essential differences. You know, all the faults and frailties that universally make us human. The humor that doesn’t kill us will make us stronger, and today is the worst possible time to be spiritually and morally delicate. It’s not only the other side’s problem. It’s hilarious you think so! “I didn’t even hear what you had to say because the objectionary programs that my mind carries that I mistake as my own thinking reflexively went off.” We need to be emotionally intelligent enough to recognize the difference between cruelty and bullying, kinship and common ground. Every time the far Left complains jokes about others are really racism, sexism, or your least favorite -ophobia, it sounds more and more like Pay no attention to that bigot behind the curtain’. If you laughed, it’s because you’re an anti-American bigot. I’ll bet you’re a Canadian. Or worse yet, a European!!! This post first appeared on Medium in February 2021.

  • What ‘The Hangover’ Got Right About Domestic Abuse

    What do those rationalizations sound like when a man says them? Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay Guys, you don’t understand. Melissa checks my [credit card] statements. — Dr. Stuart Price The first time I watched The Hangover (2009), I thought to myself, Damn, every abused woman needs to watch this. She needs to see what it looks like. One character is an unaware domestic abuse victim. Dr. Stuart Price, derided as ‘Dr. Faggot’ by his sophomoric friends, lives with a deeply unpleasant control freak who controls and monitors him, who once hit him, and on one memorable cruise at which Stuart was not present, had sex with — some cruise member. No one can seem to remember his occupation. If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s funny as hell and one of the few original movies Hollywood has managed to produce in the last twenty years. Which means there are no heroes in rubber muscle suits saving the world from improbable villains, no monosyllabic he-men inflicting far-right values and toxic masculinity on indigenous people, nor does it pretend to any deep meaning. It’s a hilarious whodunit in which they try to piece together what happened in Vegas during a bachelor party gone awry when one accidentally slips them roofies in Jagermeister. Stu has to lie to Melissa, his partner, to get permission to go on this weekend, because it’s easier than fighting with her over Vegas. He tells her they’re in Napa Valley. When he announces to his friends what he intends to do when they get home, they explode with disbelief, particularly Phil, a frat boy type unhappy with his suburban life and job, but he’s the genuine voice of reason when Stu shows them the ring. Phil : If it’s what I think it is, it’s a big fucking mistake! Doug : She’s not that bad. Phil : Doug, she beats him! Stu : That was once, and I was out of line. “Wait, have you not listened to anything I have ever said?” Phil asks. Clearly, he’s spoken to Stu many times over the three years he’s been with Melissa. Stu tells him it’s time, (for getting engaged), and ‘this is how it works.’ “A, that is bullshit, and B, she is a complete bitch,” Phil says, voicing what the audience thought when first introduced to Melissa, who reminds Stu to pack his Rogaine because she can always tell when his hair gets thinner (with a look of disgust) and hectoring him about not going to any strip clubs in case Phil should happen to ‘sniff one out’ in Napa Valley. She won’t let him kiss her goodbye; she’s miffed he even dared to go on an excursion without her. Maybe she’s afraid he’ll fuck the bartender, or whatever, too. “She beats him,” he reminds his friends. Stu tells him Melissa is ‘strong-willed,’ and he ‘respects that’. “Wow. Wow. He’s in denial. Not to mention, she fucked a sailor,” Phil states. There’s no difference when a woman says these things. It sounds no less ridiculous. Phil may be an annoying juvenile pig, but he talks real turkey with Stu and lets him know Melissa’s treatment of him is not okay. Melissa is a bitch and although no one ever utters the abuse word, it’s what we’re all thinking. He sounds and acts exactly like an abused woman. Except he gets less acceptance from his friends who care about him, who don’t want to see him ruin his life. Like many women, Stu doesn’t listen to those wiser than he. Years ago, when my father was still working, he told me about a young woman who worked in their office who came in with a black eye, and her co-workers asked her what happened. She admitted her boyfriend hit her because she’d refused to smoke marijuana with him. “You need to leave him,” my father said, in a position to know about such things. He told her about a relative who was in an abusive relationship and how she found it difficult to get out. How the partner showed no respect for her and hit her repeatedly. How it only gets worse, not better, no matter what he says afterward. “Why do you stay with someone who treats you like that?” Dad asked the young woman. And he related the line I knew was coming next. “It’s because I loooooooooooove him!” I told my then-boyfriend my father’s story. He was a kind, decent Pagan guy, the sort who would no more hit a woman than he would shoot a dog. He knew someone who’d been abused, and he couldn’t understand why she put up with it. He screwed up his face in disgust when he said it: “Because I loooooooooove him!” Male or female, Dr. Stuart Price is what someone looks like when they’re abused. The difference is, I don’t know, maybe male friends are more likely to tell you in plain speaking you need to dump the abusive asshole. There’s a bigger, more critical problem with female abuse victims. When they tolerate abusive partners, there may be putting their friends and family in danger. Far more often for women than men, their abuse isn’t, strictly speaking, a private matter. Because Melissa, if Stuart leaves her, isn’t likely to stalk him or try to kill him. That’s a real possibility for women — in fact, the most common way by far women get murdered. In a smaller number of cases, aggrieved dumped husbands and lovers will go after her family, and sometimes her friends. Texas man shoots his ex and her family Brooklyn Dad shoots his daughter’s mother and her sisters Ohio guy kills his ex and her family, with help from his own Guy kills family to get to ex-wife he wants to kill, also with help from his family It’s everyone’s business when a woman won’t leave an abusive man. Here in Toronto, I used to work for a company where, prior to my joining, they were forced to shut down the office one afternoon because a crazy ex was coming to kill one of the administrative staff, and police warned he might show up at the office. She put her entire office in danger because of him. I wonder if her friends and family said much before he went off the deep end. My family didn’t, when our relative was in that situation. Neither were we in much danger, since we weren’t immediate family and we lived in another state. We hardly ever saw her because — well, you can guess. Women are way too nice about abuse. We tolerate it far too much, whether it’s happening to us or to others. I’d like to see us find a medium somewhere between Stu’s friends — who are too derisive and condescending — and the rest of us who STFU and assume it’s her business. On perhaps some subconscious level, we acknowledge the dirty little secret about abuse: She’s letting it happen. I’ve been the warning someone ignored. I used to work with a very pretty married young woman whose husband was hitting her. She left him. He did exactly what my mother warned me abusive men do when she leaves: He apologized profusely, made a date to take her out to dinner at a nice restaurant, and surprised her with a chauffeured limo and flowers. She came in the next morning like a young girl in love. “He’s going to do it again,” I told her. I related my mother’s insight. “Oh no, it’s going to be different now,” she said. Photo by Julia Avamotive from Pexels I wonder how many more beatings it took before she left. Or if she ever did. I don’t know how it turned out as she left the company shortly after. I don’t know why. She made the choice to listen to him. She was young and inexperienced and we didn’t know as much about abuse as we do now. Women had a lot less financial power then. She made a bad choice, perhaps an uninformed choice, but it was still a choice. Life is all about uninformed choices. We all do it every single day because we can’t look into the future and see how things will turn out. We can’t know what we don’t know. She also made the choice to not listen to me, and possibly others, warning her this was a dangerous path to take. I hope her (I expect) ex didn’t go after her friends and family too. Or maybe she made too many choices to stay and then one day, she no longer had one. She was a co-worker, not a friend, so I couldn’t say too much. I’ve never been in a position where I had someone in my own circle actively talking about domestic abuse. It might have been happening quietly, but I suspect it wasn’t happening much. The kind of woman who don’t question abuse, or even recognize it, aren’t the sort of people who become my friends. Probably we have little in common. I wouldn’t want my phone number in the mobile of someone I know is being abused. I don’t want her crazy mofo to find it and decide I’m too good a friend or I was likely the fucking c—t who persuaded her to leave. I don’t want that sort of drama in my life. If a friend confessed her partner was abusing her I wouldn’t turn my back on her, especially if I didn’t think he was the sort to take out a family barbecue in revenge, but I would be stronger in my language than many women would be. I mean, we’ve been understanding and non-blamey and non-judgemental for like fifty fucking years and women are still getting assaulted, raped, beaten, put in the hospital, and often killed because they made a lot of really bad decisions all along the way. And clearly, they don’t fucking listen when people do speak up. We need to be less tolerant of abusive men overall, stronger with our language with friends and family and make it clear they have choice. And the longer they wait to choose to leave, the harder it’s going to be. And maybe even, if they don’t fucking leave him, you don’t want anything more to do with this shitshow because you don’t need him coming after you. Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity, n’est-çe pas? The Hangover’s Phil is an asshole — they all are — but I loved his reaction in the fancy Vegas suite when he told Stu in no uncertain terms what a big fucking mistake he was making. He removed a little of Stu’s future victimhood. He made it clear it was a choice and he stated the truth — Stu was in denial. I don’t like the other ways they treated him — calling him Dr. Faggot, ‘correcting’ him in public for calling himself a doctor when he was ‘just a dentist’. But I get their impatience and disgust with him. Why didn’t he fucking listen to them? Melissa needs Stu to call her as soon as he arrives somewhere, and one doesn’t get the impression she wants to make sure he’s safe. She gets really pissy if he doesn’t — like when his plane arrived late and he was the keynote speaker. She tells him she’ll kick his ass if he goes to a strip club, and she might mean it literally. We know she’s hit him already. He agrees with everything she says in a way suggesting he’s trying to keep the peace. He makes excuses for her sexual infidelity — She was wasted! And if you must know, he didn’t even come inside her! — and later she throws a loud expletive-laced tantrum at the wedding. Stu is in an abusive relationship, and his friends are a lot less tolerant than female friends are. We need to woman up. We need to hold ourselves, and others, to a higher standard than we have. It’s not 1988 anymore when my father told his story. We have more economic, financial, and political will, not to mention more power. But do we have the willpower to truly put an end to abuse? This first appeared on Medium in July 2021.

  • Challenge Men WHEN They Touch You, Not Later

    We can’t do anything about Andrew Cuomo, but we can start setting boundaries with today’s baby Cuomos-in-training Photo of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, by Diana Robinson on Flickr And you thought former-senator-now-Prez Joe Biden was bad. Six women have come forward with multiple claims accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate touching, questions, and potential ‘trial balloons’ to see if they were amenable to a sexual affair. The predictable accused’s response to the outrage began with the usual denials, and, as more accusers stepped forward, the customary slow pivot to reluctant admission that certain actions from the past may have caused unintended pain to others, followed by the venerable utterly unconvincing apologies. One response one never hears from these touchy-feely Old Boys: Asking why the women didn’t say something at the time, let him know he’d crossed a boundary. Most perps would rather women didn’t; they don’t want to know. They want to remain unchallenged which works out well since many women won’t. It’ll only come back to maybe bite them in the ass if they are or become a public figure. We’re at a point in history where we have more power to challenge boundary breaches at the time when the offense occurs, and handled properly, it‘s arguably less risky. As in, a minor blip in your day versus a punishing shitstorm of Twitstorm. The question is, have we got the labia for it? We can’t do anything about Andrew Cuomo from a behavioral point of view, nor could anyone have forty years ago when he entered politics. He may resign, or get impeached, but his predatory misogyny is entrenched forever. We can, however, teach the baby Cuomos boundaries as soon as they offend, beginning today. This includes more adult harassers and offenders. We can’t easily challenge them all — yet — but we can begin with those closest to us in power and status, inside or outside the workplace. It’s quite simple, and relatively low-risk: Speak up at the time of the offense, if it doesn’t put you in real danger. Challenging male breaches of engagement starting with the offender is an idea introduced to me early by a new boss. If you’ve got a problem with me, he told the new hire and I, don’t go running to my boss about it. Bring it to me first, and let’s discuss it. Give me a chance to change or fix it. By the end of the first week, I prepared to have That Talk with him. I needed his flirtation and mild sexual harassment to end. But he never arrived at work. Management found out about the gun in his briefcase. The new hire and I were okay with it; the managers above fired hm. I don’t know how that discussion would have gone down, but his logical response would have been to say okay, no problem, and then stop, recognizing I showed him the consideration he’d asked for, and been grateful I didn’t complain to his boss (he was a relatively new hire, too.) That’s how I would have felt. I’ve never been accused of sexual harassment, but I have occasionally made others feel uncomfortable and I, too, would rather be addressed by the offended party first. Why not give people the opportunity to clean up their act before escalating things? Yes, men should know better, especially in the MeToo era. No, we don’t like confrontation. But it’s the lowest-risk way to handle minor overtures and if the guy is smart, he’ll realize you saved him a meeting with HR. Or didn’t pitch a feminist scene in a public place. Even if it’s a non-workplace offense, it’s a first step. Handled properly, it doesn’t escalate the issue. A few times I’ve told a handsy guy to back off. I do it politely but firmly. When women don’t speak up at the time, it gives the guy tacit approval to continue harassing, either her or others. Other times, it’s best to let it slide, but consider what you might do next time. I’m not judging anyone. Good reasons abound why one might not speak up at the time, and Andrew Cuomo is Exhibit A. He’s famously bullying and vindictive, and not only against women who’ve dared to speak out about his predatory behavior. His first accuser, Lindsey Boylan, published an article on Medium recently detailing the toxic work environment others have begun to speak out about. Now I wonder, theoretically, and without judgement of anyone today: What if women had challenged Cuomo when he was younger, newer, less powerful? I don’t know how long Cuomo has been a harasser but it’s not beyond the ken to speculate it began before he became governor. He’s 63 years old. He began his political career at age 25 working on his father’s gubernatorial campaign (Mario Cuomo served as Governor of New York for three terms). That was 1982, the start of a decade marked by entrenched over-privileged male entitlement. A former HR manager friend and I talked about the Cuomo allegations. I said the time has come for women to speak up when things happen, not months or years later. “I understand why women, especially young women, are afraid to,” she said. It’s an uncomfortable, frightening, and maddening position. Inside or outside a work environment, one worries about an embarrassing scene at least, damaged friendships, political/professional fallout, and physical danger at worst. Young women especially, we agreed, don’t often have the confidence to speak up, inside or outside the workplace, nor the career stability if HR doesn’t support them, which it often doesn’t if the man holds too much power, particularly over their own jobs. I understand why Cuomo’s accusers didn’t stand up to him at the time. Boylan’s article describes one helluva culture of enablement. But here’s the thing: When it comes to public figures and celebrities, I suspect speaking up at the time may carry less risk today than waiting to one day tweet your grievance on social media. MeToo has demonstrated how women are punished for challenging male power and bad behavior, even minor infractions. When women speak cobwebbed truths about handsy, huggy public figures, they face vicious backlash by trolls and cyberbullies. They’re inevitably accused of lying ‘for the attention’ (because nothing feeds your narcissistic desire for public idolatry quite like doxxing and swatting!) followed by ugly memes and a tsunami of misogynist derision. Whereas the fallout is often far less in the moment, especially if you handle it as maturely as you can. Hey, let’s keep our hands to ourselves. We’re friends/work colleagues/casual acquaintances. I wonder: What would happen to a 25-year-old overly-entitled man today continually challenged and reminded of boundaries? What will he be like at 63? My friend and I disagreed on how we would handle a touchy-feely man, especially a work colleague: She would employ ‘broken record’ reminders — no, this is not good, let’s don’t do this, this isn’t the place for touching, co-workers don’t touch each other, etc. I would handle each breach with escalating levels of firmness and attitude. Hey, we’re not touchy. Let’s keep things professional. Er, remember when we agreed we weren’t touchy people? (Note the editorial ‘we’.) Hey! We’ve had this conversation before! I will remind you: NO TOUCHING. (Or inappropriate questions. Or sex talk.) Dammit, I’ve had enough! If you want a date that badly the next one will be with the HR manager. (Or their boss, if no HR department.) One reason women don’t speak up more is fear of what might happen. I wonder what would have happened if campaign staffers made uncomfortable by then-Senator Joe Biden’s close physical style had challenged him. They might have feared losing their jobs, but what if someone had said to him, politely, “Hey Senator Biden, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t touch me. We need to keep the workplace professional.” Hard to think she’d have lost her job, unless she worked for Donald Trump. The woman photographed at a 2019 wedding with Cuomo clearly looked uncomfortable with his hands on her face. She described other minor physical liberties he took with her, touching her back and asking to kiss her. I don’t fault her for why she didn’t remove his hands from her face and said, “No touching, please.” But what if she did it to some guy who wasn’t New York’s infamous bad boy? Like her father’s work colleague or someone she’d just met? She might get more forceful. Like removing his hand from her back and when he put it back, saying, “Knock it off! Keep your hands to yourself!” I wonder how it might go down if she removed it again, turned to face him, and said, “No means no. Have you learned nothing from MeToo?” A reminder of what she could do later, now with photo documentation, might make today’s Young Cuomo think twice. Nobody wants to be MeToo’ed, but clearly the current Cuomo had already learned the rules didn’t apply to him, rather a lot like a certain former President who bragged women ‘let him’ do anything because of his fame. Challenging Cuomo today carries genuine risk. He clearly owns a history of bad behavior with women, and we may not have heard the last of it. Men continue to harass and assault because women refuse to challenge it. If we want it to stop, the movement starts now. Let’s not fault the victims and non-reactions of the past. Let’s acknowledge that predatory men are grossly unfair and we shouldn’t have to be put in the awful position of having to confront and challenge men who should — who do know better — to stop harassing us. Let’s also acknowledge the many circumstances under which it’s a bad idea to challenge, along with how not pushing ourselves to move beyond the freeze mode encourages men to continue harassing women, but more importantly we train ourselves to accept the harassment. The more it happens, the more we feel powerless to stop it — the more powerless we become. It’s one way we unconsciously run from our own power, pretend it doesn’t exist, fail to develop as assertive individuals with the confidence to challenge others taking liberties. We worry about the risks — and they are real — but this is our world. The risks aren’t always what we think. Life isn’t risk-free for anyone, including the guy doing the groping/grabbing/date-seeking. One reason why men continue to dominate in places of power is because they’re not afraid to take risks. They challenge others, they challenge power. Sometimes they lose and are smacked down. The ones who will succeed get up and do it again. They recognize it’s an unfair, hierarchical world and they fight to rise within it. Many women shrink from assertiveness, preferring the safe zone and allowing themselves to feel, and ergo become, more victimized. Taking these risks is a terrifying notion. I understand. I’ve been in a far more stressful position with a sexually harassing boss than the one I described earlier. Perhaps a future story. It’s not fair. It’s a shitty, patriarchal world we live in, and the onus shouldn’t be on us to make them change, but these men won’t until they’re forced. What if there’s nothing more than a lovely warm spring about a foot and a half under the bottom of the picture? Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay This ain’t 1965, when Bill Cosby is accused of assaulting his first rape victim, or 1982, when Clarence Thomas asked Anita Hill if there was a pubic hair on his Coke can, or 1993, when Joe Biden got handsy with his female staffers, or even 2017, when Harvey Weinstein made MeToo a household word. Here’s the bright spot: You may find your what-if fears are unfounded. He doesn’t make a scene, retaliate, gaslight you, or complain to his friends on Facebook what a bitch you are. We shouldn’t put ourselves in real danger. Sometimes it’s better to remove one’s self from the scene rather than make one. Just because we can’t do it with everyone doesn’t mean we can’t resolve to challenge men more today when they overstep their boundaries — whether it’s talking over us in a meeting, touching our back or shoulder, or asking if he can kiss us. ‘No, that wouldn’t be appropriate,’ is a polite but firm response. Refusing to tolerate men’s behavior, taking a few risks, pushing ourselves to assert our rights and personal boundaries strengthens us against future intimidations and even outright abuse. We can’t change or fix Cuomo, Trump, Weinstein, Cosby, R. Kelly, LaBoeuf, or other harassers or abusers, but we can challenge the mini-Cuomos, mini-Trumps, mini-Weinsteins et al, young boys and men today not yet with power, who need to learn early they can’t treat women like that. What will gender relations look like in twenty or thirty years if women began doing this now? Starting today? This first appeared on Medium in March 2021.

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