Monday, January 08, 2018

When That New Day Dawns

So last night at the Golden Globe Awards, this happened:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to be awarded a Golden Globe for lifetime achievement on Sunday, delivering an impassioned speech in support of those who have exposed sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond.

Actress, movie and television producer, and chief executive of her OWN cable channel, Winfrey, 63, was celebrated as a role model for women and a person who has promoted strong female characters.

Her honor came in a year when the awards show, Hollywood’s first leading up to the Oscars, was dominated by a scandal that has seen the downfall of dozens of powerful men as women break years of silence.
Winfrey, who along with most of the show’s other attendees donned a black gown to show support for victims of sexual misconduct, was the first black woman to receive the annual Cecil B. De Mille award, joining the likes of Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Sophia Loren.

Winfrey used her speech to praise women who have shared their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, and to declare that “a new day is on the horizon” for girls and women.  
“And when that new day finally dawns it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure they become leaders that take us to the time where nobody has to say ‘me too’ again,” Winfrey said, referencing the social media movement raising awareness about sexual harassment. (Click here for article.)
 Winfrey was referencing the #metoo movement and the spat of sexual harassment allegations against a variety of high-powered men in the entertainment industry and in the political arena. It's a movement I've followed with interest, though it also perplexes me.

It perplexes me not because it is a movement, or unnecessary, but because what is required is a massive cultural upheaval if women are to finally be seen as human beings and not as chattel for men, particularly white men. Women have been viewed in that manner since before Christ came along, so this is not something that will change simply because a few women find their voice.

We all have to find our voices, and that takes a lot of strength, resistance, and resilience that not every person has.

Such a massive cultural upheaval is not going to come about while one third of the country stands firm in its reverence for somebody who's been divorced several times, has demeaned women publicly, and is a known playboy with tapes of sexual innuendoes floating around the internet. It's not going to take place while men hold the majority of leadership roles. Nor is it going to come about simply because women who also hold power, such as Winfrey, decide it is time for a change.

I read somewhere that feminists are bracing for a backlash against this #metoo movement. I've been waiting for that as well. I've also read that some feminists are tired of it, because it so compellingly shows how easily women are victims and victimized. It also implies that women are unable to stand up for themselves, something a strong woman, or a woman who has not been beaten over the head by the indoctrination of the patriarchy from a young age, may be unable to understand (although I sincerely do not believe there is a single woman on this planet who has not, at some point, been a victim of the patriarchy, or, to put it simply, belittled by a man).

The problem begins, I'm afraid, at home, and it will be generations before this type of change takes hold. That isn't to say we shouldn't work hard at making it happen, because of course we should, but we're not exactly a society here in the U.S. that holds free parental courses for young fathers and mothers so that they know how to raise a son who doesn't go out and rape women. We don't even meet people's basic needs here, much less do something that innovative.

Another issue is language. We almost always use the passive voice when describing victims. "She was raped by the guy in the white van." "He was abused by the coach." That puts the onus on the victim, making it the victims' fault that such things happen to them. We must change our language. "He raped her." "He abused the boy." "She abused the young teenager." (Because yes, women are abusers, too.) We need to watch what comes out of our mouths and what we put on paper.

Lastly, changing this requires awareness when power struggles are happening. The control issue between white men and women is a particular concern for me because it happens so easily and so seemingly innocently. For example, around Christmas, I was watching a type of bloopers real from a local TV station. The reporters had chosen folks to give money to, and they took them shopping. Sounds nice enough, right?

The ick factor took over as I watched nearly every white man who was a money recipient turn toward a female reporter in these clips and ask for a hug. As a long-time journalist, I have run across this myself many times. There is always some white man - and it is always a white man - who thinks that because he has graced you with his time or whatever it is that he thinks, you owe him a hug.

The reporters in the stories obeyed the request and gave the hug. Now, given the season and the reason, maybe a hug was appropriate, but if the guy wouldn't ask a male reporter for a hug at the end of the story, then it wasn't appropriate. That is a good marker for heterosexual men to follow. If you wouldn't ask a guy at the end of an interview for a hug, then you don't ask the female reporter for one, either.

But they do ask, and we oblige, because we were brought up to oblige. Nobody has ever taught me a nice but polite way to say "no" to some man who wants to hold me for two Mississippis longer than he should during a hug. Nobody has told me what I am supposed to do if I oblige with the hug request and then feel the guy's penis go "boing" and poke me in the gut. Generally I get away as fast as I can, and I frequently say, "I'm sorry, but I'm catching a cold and don't want to give it to you," if some idiot asks for a hug and I'm not feeling very obliging. But sometimes they catch you off guard. I mean, I've had men I know walk up behind me and whirl me around for a hug. Would they have done that to a male reporter? No. Is that assault? I honestly don't know. I know it makes me uncomfortable and it's not welcome. Did it hurt me? Not physically. But mentally, every unwanted hug adds to my sense of loss of self, and it adds to the hug-giver's sense of entitlement.

I have a lovely niece who just turned 16. The very idea that she will have to endure these hugs, squeezes, and smooshes from various dirty old men, as I have done, makes my skin crawl. However, I feel sure she has already experienced this and it hasn't even occurred to her that it is wrong. Nor has it occurred to her father (though it might now, as I know he reads my blog) to teach her that if a man touches her, she has every right to elbow him in the face and break his nose. She needs to be taught a polite way to tell a man "no" if he wants a hug.

Not every hug is bad, of course. People need to use commonsense. Friends hug. Couples hug. Dates hug, but I didn't date every guy who wanted a hug and neither will my niece. And my niece has the right to say no, and she should, and she should know she has that right. She also needs to know that her parents, and her aunt (me), and society as a whole will back her up. That last one is what is missing, because society, as a whole, will not. The guy will stand there with a bloody nose, saying, "What did I do?" and everyone will ask my niece what she thought she was doing, breaking this guy's nose, and she will be portrayed as bad when all she was doing was defending her boundaries.

We have a right to our boundaries, all of us.

This is a very complex topic, and it is not going to be fixed anytime soon. Whatever backlash comes about is not going to be pretty, and it will be the lower class women who pay for it, not the ones with power and prestige like Winfrey. I appreciate their efforts, as well as her acknowledgement that the problem is cultural and all around us. But I would also like to see productive efforts, like more women in politics and in leadership positions, parenting classes, and efforts to change the language as I mentioned above. I will do my best from now on to say, "No," to unwanted advances, and I will try to watch my language and turn things around so that the abuser is the subject of the sentence, not the victim.  I hope everyone decides to make an effort - and that includes men who don't want to see their daughters manhandled or their wives felt up on the job - so that women can finally be seen as equals, and human.

1 comment:

I enjoy your comments and always appreciate the opportunity to visit the blogs of my readers. I hope you have a great day!