When some politicians and citizens talk about wanting to take back America, I know some mean specifically from our first African-American president. But for the rest who make this acclimation, since they are almost always white men, I believe what these folks really want is to go back a lot farther in time to a post World War II era or even before the Civil War because those were times when white men dominated unquestionably. If they could just suppress the rest of us again, it would be easier for them, like in the good old days.
I like to study old movies and television for the changes in attitudes toward various classes. It’s pretty shocking sometimes to see how blind we were to bigotry. I wouldn’t want to go back where women had to marry for economic survival, people of color had little chance for educational or professional advancement, people in the LGBT community lived in constant, mortal fear of being outed or people with disabilities simply fell through the cracks.
But I can see how it was simpler when everyone knew their place and different groups kept to themselves. Most had fewer choices but, by playing by society’s rules, one had a degree of certainty in life. Any choice outside the norm automatically marginalized you from association within the acceptable constraints. And white guys with a certain level of social status could be C students and still rise to CEO and even President. But when we began to raise more boats, and expand legal and social protections and college education for lower-income people, women and minorities, it diversified society and our options. More minorities could be all sorts of professionals with advanced degrees, women could remain single, financially independent or even become mothers without being shunned and LGBT citizens could be out, if not fully protected.
I can even see why, if I were a white male, I would like to take it back to a time when I didn’t have to compete with everybody or had the upper hand on other groups. I even understand how scary it might feel to lose that. I just wish those who would like to suppress the rest of us back to 1960 would be a bit more realistic about those not so good, old days.
Mad Men, the drama set in the 1960s, does a brilliant job pointing out the challenges of that Post World War II era. As a single, white female, I can feel that particular restriction the women characters experience as they navigate and conform to avoid ostracization. In the first season, the new girl is taken to a doctor for birth control because it is expected she will sleep with the married men, if the men want it. The divorced woman, or “the divorcee,” is looked upon with suspicion as a “man stealer” by the wives and as a dangerous seductress by the husbands. And in the workplace, the women endure the accepted sexist treatment, which makes being taken seriously about anything an arduous task.
Mad Men depicts what it was like for other groups, too, or anyone different from the Anglo male, whether it is someone from Italian or Jewish heritage, the LGBT community, African Americans, the differently able, those divorced, and then had the nerve to speak out of line, be at all aggressive or otherwise behave restlessly in their place,
While it’s not like it was in 1960, there are still enough Neanderthals who wish it were. Since I am a single, white female, I can speak authoritatively from that perspective. I know that feeling of being minimized in words or actions for no other reason than because of my gender. As much as I have had to endure, there is no way I would go back and have to suppress my intellect, independence, humor, style or sexuality As she often does, Gloria Steinem said it best describing the way it still is for our gender. “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon.”
We needn’t look any further to see where the haters are headed since Hillary Clinton announced her presidential candidacy. Has anyone else noticed this is the first presidential candidate who is called my her first name, exclusively? Even George W. Bush was called Bush 41 and “W,” but Mrs. Clinton is Hillary. Now she doesn’t mind because she been navigating through hate for decades and she’s tough. Still, it’s a double standard.
Since her announcement last week, the topic of sexism has gained prominence. Days following her announcement, I tweeted when the #EverydaySexism hashtag was trending and I struck a nerve with the tweet because I got the most favorites, retweets and followers from this one than any other to date:
“#EverydaySexism when male coworkers simply ramp up name calling, sexual innuendo if I give better retorts. #CantWin #MadonnaOrWhore”
I think it resonated for many because it’s a truth many of us have lived. The tweet was inspired by years of sexual harassment in the workplace. Yes, it still happens. If I were not female, not single and, in this case, not straight, I would not have faced this treatment. I am not sharing this because I feel like a victim. And it wouldn’t have bothered me if I could have given them my comebacks! But I couldn’t. It’s just reality. I was working in a male dominated setting where I was called a whore by one man every day. “Hi, whore,” was his daily greeting with a full-on grin. And it got old fast when every single time I turned down a meat dish someone brought to share (because I am a vegan), some guy would chime in that I wouldn’t turn down all meat. I never socialized with these men, I was more educated, better dressed and conducted myself as a professional. But I had to build cooperation with these guys so I had no choice but to take it or quit. I had much funnier comebacks but could never say them. Why? Because, as the tweet says, they would turn on me, ramp up the harassment and stop collaborating with me.
What were my unspoken retorts to the sexist men, you may ask? To the, “She’ll eat some meat,” my response was, “Yes, just not dead, aging flesh that rots unless chilled,” You’re right, but only if measures up to my standards,” or, “Yes, if hasn’t been separated from a heart and soul.” I had dozens of lines about the inadequacies of guys who, in this scenario, took a job where they strapped a phallic symbol to their leg, but I’m going to stop here for my personal safety.