Pushing past the patriarchy


The Art Minnow, by Polish painter Robert Bubel


My 27 year-old daughter and I are sitting at a nice bar, having a glass of wine. It is mother-daughter weekend, we’ve been Christmas shopping all day, and we have chosen this quiet, mostly-empty pub near our hotel to get off our feet before deciding what to do about dinner.

A long stretch of thickly-glossed bar fans out on either side of us, unoccupied, and yet a man sidles right up, leans his large body between us, and yells for the bartender. “Hey buddy, can I get a vodka and soda down here?” Then he turns to my daughter and asks her name. “I’m sorry,” she says politely, inching her barstool closer to mine. “Could you excuse us? I’m talking to my mom.”

But the man trains his gaze on her, touches her shoulder, and makes a face like she’s hurt his feelings. “Can’t a guy by a girl a drink?”

This is what it’s like to be a woman in the world. Apologizing to men we don’t know for affronts we have not committed.

I was worried about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary. I was worried because I knew what would come next. Something maybe happened to the poor lady, but gosh, Judge Kavanaugh says it wasn’t him, and they were in high school for crying out loud, so even if it happened like she said, it was probably just a big misunderstanding. I mean, he doesn’t even remember knowing her, boys will be boys and all that, horsing around. Couldn’t she take a joke? Nothing that bad happened.

I consider what “nothing that bad happened” means. The many nights I had to drive drunk businessmen—married men, churchgoing men—back to their hotels while both shoving their hands off me and trying not to make them angry? The friend’s husband who always hugs me while he’s sitting down so he can press his face into my breasts, then laughs and tells me to lighten up? The stranger at the bar who touched my daughter, feigned offense, and refused to leave?

Boys will be boys, and the old boys club is alive and bitter. Last week, the president shamed a female reporter on the Whiter House lawn, “That’s okay, I know you’re not thinking, you never do.” Senator Chuck Grassley, when asked why there are no women on the GOP side of the Senate Judiciary, replied, “It’s a lot of work, maybe they don’t want to do it.” And Senator Joe Manchin said, “I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing,” but voted for him anyway.

I was 26, my daughter’s age, when Anita Hill testified, and I specifically remember a group of men friends laughing at her testimony about the pubic hair on a Coca Cola can. What a great prank!

Days before the final vote on Kavanaugh, “as hundreds of supporters cheered, Trump delivered a crude imitation of Ford from her testimony, in which she vividly described a violent sexual assault.” This, after Dr. Ford had testified, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

The president is coming to Kentucky this week, and I suspect women and Dr. Ford will be atop his hit list for cheap laughs. What kind of citizen, what kind of Christian, attends a rally where they know they will be called upon to cheer, to mock, another human being’s pain? Is this how, in the words of WKYT, we “stand for Kentucky”?

The day before Senator Susan Collins took the Senate floor to lecture us about what a good man Brett Kavanaugh is and how he deserves a seat on the Supreme Court, I stopped at the grocery store on my way to a meeting. I was running late, in a hurry. A man approached. “Is it Spring?” the man said with a big grin. “Because you are so pretty it must be spring.” And then he stood there blocking my path, waiting, like for a thank you—can’t a guy give a girl a compliment anymore?—and honest to God I wanted to run him over with my cart.

I did not run him over with my cart. But I also did not smile nor give him the thank you he waited for. I did not, for once, stuff down my own discomfort to make a man I do not know feel good about himself. I simply pushed past him. Progress.