[TRIGGER WARNING: This article may contain content about misogyny, sexism, sexual abuse, or assault which may be triggering to survivors.]
Indoctrination into patriarchy starts young. Very young. Even to girls whose parents don’t particularly subscribe to patriarchy. Boys get the same subtle hints at it, too. But they are on the top of the food chain. I’m sure it has negative effects, but I can’t speak for boys or men. I can speak for girls and women.
I am not unique in my experiences. Let that sink in as you read the rest of this post. Girls and women all over the world experience these things and worse every single day. This is hardly rare. So this is also not a tale of woe or how my life has been terrible. It hasn’t. This is to highlight exactly how commonplace misogyny and sexism are in all its forms, some blatant and some subtle.
Growing up I wasn’t what I would have classified as pretty. I was an ugly duckling. In fact, the boys at school let me know that I was on the opposite end of the spectrum on the regular. I looked like a boy. Ugly girls aren’t to be talked to. They’re to be talked about, the butt of the joke. They sure aren’t worth much. We learn at a pretty early age to just shake it off. Let it roll off like water off a duck’s back. It’s going to happen so we might as well learn to live with it. Does it hurt? Of course. But we learn early that looks are important and that they’re part of the package of anything that resembles worth. Keep that in mind as I tell you what I’m about to tell you.
When I was maybe six or seven, I went to the neighbor’s house to see if Margaret could come out and play. She wasn’t there. There was normally a house full of people there, but that day only her older brother was home. I don’t know how old he was, but he had already graduated from high school, so he must have been at least eighteen. At first he told me that she was there and that I could go on into her room where she was. When I got to her empty room and turned around there he stood in the narrow hallway of that two-bedroom house. He asked me if we were friends. I said, “Not really.”
As I tried to walk past he knelt down and put his hand on the wall blocking my path. My back against the wall, he leaned in close and said, “We can be friends. Let me show you what friends do.” With that he shoved me into the bedroom and pulled my pants down and his. No, he didn’t go quite that far either. His friends pulled up into the driveway and blew the horn. My salvation. He gathered himself, made me crawl through their house to the side door, and told me to wait until they had gone to leave. We could see my dad out the window in the door. He pointed to him and said I’d better not tell. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to him, would I? I never went back even when I knew other people were there and I didn’t tell.
When I was fifteen I got my first job. My granny and granddaddy got me the job. There was a man in town they knew who installed insulation who needed a part-time secretary. It was the summer and he’d give me all the hours I wanted until school and then it would be part-time. He was my grandparents’ age, which seemed old to me at the time, but probably in his mid to late fifties. He paid in cash. I was supposed to answer the phone, make appointments, sweep the floor, take payments, and make deposits. I thought I’d hit the jackpot because he was going to pay me two hundred and fifty dollars – in cash – every week! He rarely had checks. He always had wads of cash. I heard later that the insulation business was just a front for something far more lucrative. I have no idea if that’s true or not.
Things went pretty well the first week. I did all the things I was supposed to do and he seemed pleased with the work I’d done. Then it happened. He would come into his office in the morning before he went out to job sites and then in the afternoons around five. He sat at his desk and pulled me into his lap. I pulled away. He let it go. Then he started hugging me and trying to kiss me and trying to fondle me. After about a week of that I quit. I lasted all of two weeks. My granny came to see me because France had told her I quit. She wasn’t happy. It made them look bad because they had vouched for me. When I told her what happened her response was, “Every man likes to have a little pat on the rear – a secretary they can give a little squeeze.” The lesson? The bodies of women are for the pleasures of men. I still didn’t go back. Granny still wasn’t happy.
Mama hired a preacher to do some carpentry work at the house. Elbert Cox. He made me really uncomfortable. He liked to hug a little too close and a little too long. He liked to caress when he hugged and look into my eyes. Later he got arrested for having sex with an underage member of his church. Last I heard he’d repented and gotten another preaching job.
Then there was Mr. Eatman. He was a deacon at the church we went to. Dirty old man. He liked to hug a little too close, slide his hands a little too low, and give a peck on the lips. Only a peck because that was all he was getting a chance at.
In each instance I got the impression these men thought that I should be thrilled at the attention. They were perplexed that I wasn’t.
When I tried to talk to my mother about it she brushed it off. They were just being men. I wasn’t the only one they were doing it to, either. My friends and I talked about it and it happened to them, too. They felt just as uncomfortable as I did. Their parents were equally as nonplussed. No big deal. Men being men.
The lesson? Sweep it under the rug. Don’t make waves. It’s expected. Might as well learn to live with it. We’re here for the pleasure of men.
When I began to date my future husband he took me around to meet his grandparents. A few months later I saw his granddad in the bakery. He spoke, we chatted for a minute, and I went on my way. He told Charles about the encounter and said, “You know, when you first brought her to the house I thought she was homely. She looked really pretty the other day when I saw her. Son, she’s a keeper.” A backhanded compliment if there ever was one, but subtle. I eagerly accepted the compliment. Implicit in that is that if I were homely I wouldn’t be worth keeping. Throw that ugly fish back. Apparently my face had caught up to the rest of my body.
My ex husband had a saying about women who had an attractive figure but wasn’t particularly attractive in the face. He would say they were “two-baggers”. Put two bags over her head in case one falls off. His friend had a crass joke about having sex with an overweight woman, “It’s like riding a moped. It’s fun until someone sees you doing it.” All of her worth wrapped up in what she looks like. I am ashamed to say that I laughed an uncomfortable laugh. I didn’t want to be that girl – the one with no sense of humor.
I could go on. I have more examples. I’m not even telling the half of it, really.
The world we live in is misogynistic and sexist. If women fight back against the tide it is said that we can’t take a joke or we’ve got a case of sour grapes. I may be wrong, like I said I can’t speak for men, but I can’t remember hearing any quaint little sayings about men who might be less than attractive. I don’t hear of that many cases of women groping and fondling. When it does happen, if the advance is rebuffed it is respected. Men are allowed to have boundaries. Women are not. We are here for the pleasure of men.
You see, it starts when we’re young. Slowly, steadily, progressively, methodically we’re taught that a woman’s worth is in whether or not a man will have her. Men and boys are equally caught up in systematic misogyny and sexism. It isn’t entirely their fault. They have been indoctrinated, too. We are all like frogs in a pot. Place them in while the water is nice and cool, slowly turn up the heat, and they won’t even realize they need to jump out.
Let me be clear. I know that not all men are like that. But these are instances that average women deal with on a daily basis. These are not isolated incidents. It is there. When you hear women talk about rape culture, this is exactly what they’re talking about. The implications all around us are that the female half of the population is here at the pleasure of men and we ought to be damn glad about it. We should feel honored to have the privilege.
**Edited to fix the formatting. Jesus H. Christ I will never write a post in Word and do a copy and paste again!