My Take on “Toxic Masculinity”

I grew up in a household full of males – no sisters, just my mother. But she was six feet tall, and had been pretty much been raised as the “boy” her father (a serious outdoorsman) so desperately wanted. My mother learned to hunt, fish, climb trees, drive a tractor, smoke, drink and cuss right along with my grandfather’s Spanish and Portuguese farm hands. Much to the dismay of my rather proper grandmother who wore corsets, powder, perfume and rouge, and who never in her life wore a pair of trousers. My mother occasionally used makeup and liked to have her hair “done”, but she never let anyone forget her full persona. After leaving her father’s farm, she became a college professor and also wrote dense, sad poetry. The happiest I ever saw her, when I was a child, was when she was fly-fishing:  bouncing in her rubber boots over slick oval rocks, flicking her line, with a Black Gnat attached, like a matador teasing a bull. She always caught her limit of gigantic Rainbow trout.

I came into womanhood about the time that the Women’s Liberation Movement was gathering momentum. The term “male chauvinism” was on almost every girl’s lips. For me, as early as the eighth grade in school (as I wrote in a previous Post), chauvinism was the ‘thing’ that prevented me from wearing pants to school. (Try riding a bicycle, climbing a tree or Jungle Gym in a skirt and petticoat. No boy would do that, exposing his bloomers, am I right?). Social conventions created exclusively for females were being targeted and obliterated by the Feminists of my day. But, and I can recall this very clearly – the goal of our ‘liberation’ at that time was equity. If I chose to wear pants, I could. If I wanted to become a welder or enlist in military service, I could. And, if I did the very same work that a man did, I wanted and expected equal pay. Anything that a man was allowed to do in our society, women of my time wanted the option (which was always the only point of the Movement) to do the same. Of course, that created a Big Scare among men.

Outcries about crazed women trying to emasculate men on a global scale proliferated; coming from both men and more conservative (as in Biblical- framework) women. As with any Movement, things can go out of control. You begin your crusade with ideas that seem reasonable; but as others get involved and exert their own visions and influence, you lose control of the original mission. As a Liberated Woman (which I always felt was my birthright, by the way – despite rampant sexism in my workplace), I’m utterly dismayed by the left-turn in feminist attitudes (I’m inclined to call it a “one-eighty”) that has given traction to the phrase “Toxic Masculinity”.

Kudos to Christina Hoff Sommers – almost exactly four years my senior – who opened a dialogue out about the feminist “detour” (my word) we started to take in the early 1990’s, in her book “Who Stole Feminism?”. Simply stated, Sommers speaks to what the Women’s Liberation Movement was originally about:  Equity. She makes a really important distinction between “gender feminists” versus “equity feminists”. On the most recent HBO series “Real Time With Bill Maher”, Sommers was the lead-off guest on the show.


Sommers declares that Toxic Masculinity is suspiciously similar to the divisive extremism we’re seeing in our entire current political and social atmosphere. I wholeheartedly agree with her:  unity through equity was always the primary mission of the original Women’s Movement. I know, because I was there. I listened to Steinem, Friedan, Wolf and others. I read their books and even had discussions with men who generally agreed with our goals.

Women have come a long way in fighting for equal rights, but there’s still a long way to go – especially for women of color and for those wanting to experience Female and Femininity in their own ways. Wherever the struggle takes us next, I’m not willing to draw-lines-in-the-sand, adding to the bellicose atmosphere with negatively-charged epithets. I may not know who “Stole” Feminism; but the “Why” of the theft seems the more important question, and one that’s part of a much bigger disaster-in-progress.

[All images courtesy of]

Women and Power

I’m pretty much always in the process of considering the plight of women in the World. From just about every angle you can think of:  career, family, personal happiness, health and fitness, self-image, hopes and dreams. And also the perspective that the World – all corners of it – has toward women:  so vastly different, depending upon geography, politics, religion, and social structures that determine who has power and influence, and who doesn’t.

As I grow older, my perspective and understanding about how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go, has broadened and deepened. I have to admit:  I’m not feeling as hopeful about our progress as I’d like. My feeling’s based on two assumptions. The first being that all women want and are actively seeking respect, equity and access in all areas of their lives, personal and professional. (I’m in denial; make that, I cringe when I think that any woman might inherently feel like a lesser-being than a man.)

My second assumption is that all women recognize how truly complex they are, and that they aren’t restricted or limited in whatever, or  however many roles they choose over the course of their lives. I’m not as hopeful as I’d like, because I continue to hear women in key Life Stages say that they feel conflicted, exhausted, frustrated, anxious, fearful and guilty about decisions – already made, or in the works – that really matter to their health and long-term happiness.

Younger Readers may not be fully aware of how significant the efforts and accomplishments of their mothers and grandmothers were in improving the lives of women. The right to vote; the right to have a career and a family; the right to play any sport and to join the military. The right to control our own reproductive systems (a little slippage in this area, recently).  The (dubious) right to smoke. The right to wear pants at school, as opposed to a dress and petticoats (let that one sink in for a minute – in the 8th grade I was threatened with suspension from school for doing so). Undeniably, the list of struggles and victories is longer than can be presented here.

No doubt about it, we’ve been  formidable in asserting ourselves in different ways, for decades now. Even though key concerns (such as equal pay, and demand for control over our own bodies) still exist, women’s voices have continued to protest injustices that are based solely on our assigned gender. So…why are we not feeling stronger, clearer, more powerful, resolved, secure, and more focused in who we are and what we want our lives to be?

In her book, “Women & Power”, author and scholar Mary Beard offers some very important ideas. Beard’s research traces how women’s minds, bodies, emotions, aspirations, learning, and self-expression have been subjected to both formal and informal constraints and manipulation since ancient times. And not that much has changed. She notes that, for example, even a current – admittedly brilliant — female presidential candidate for the U.S. 2020 election is being referred to as “strident”, in the volume and projection of her voice. Do we put such limitations on men’s voices?  Of course not. We expect them, and even need them to be viewed as vocally aggressive.

Mary Beard,

Beard’s point in her book is that women have been indoctrinated, right down to our very DNA – boots, to conform to what our social and religious groups say about how we should ‘behave’. We’ve internalized messages for centuries. Despite how “liberated” we might feel we are, many of us succumb to all kinds of horrible thoughts and feelings for simply wanting motherhood and  a career. Many women don’t feel, and have never fully felt empowered or supported in making important life choices freely, outside the confines of social norms. More importantly, they’ve never really been taught and encouraged to reflect on their deepest desires and the options for fulfilling them. After discussing that the above ‘programming’ (my word) is really all about who’s going to have the most power and influence (certainly not women!), Beard closes her book with a simple statement: 

“If women aren’t perceived to be within the structure of power, isn’t it power itself we need to redefine?” Let’s get that ball rolling, shall we?

“Talkin’Bout My Generation…”

(Channeling The Who to begin this Post…) Here’s my question for today:  Other than for sociologic discussions, why do we need to isolate, characterize and compare Generations of human beings? It seems to me that we’re already in our ‘corners’ on all kinds of topics, ready to advance with fists up, to argue, fight and defend. Or, we’re ready to cower meekly when others shove us into one-size-fits-all boxes.Why is it that birth generations have become fodder for even more discord? I mean, do we need more?

The Greatest Generation (aka, The Silent Generation). Baby Boom-ers. Generation X, Y and Z (how insulting that Mainstream Minds have so far been unable to create more flattering ‘tags’ for those born after 1965). What purpose do these labels serve? How can they possibly be representative of all people born into certain timespans?

Yesterday I read an editorial by a prolific journalist, commentator and author who writes for the New York Times. His piece was titled, “Will Gen Z Save the World?” Fact: you’ll get no argument from me that our Earth and the people on it need saving. But the implication of the editorial was that everyone else prior to Gen Z has already screwed-up or given up. So now the survival of our planet and its inhabitants rests on the shoulders of those born after 1995. No Pressure, right?

Not to say that 24 or 25 year olds aren’t up to the task; but, what does this say about everyone not in this group? Are they, like the Roman emperor Nero, just blindly playing their fiddles while Rome burns? I don’t know about you, but I’m more aligned with the character Howard Beale, in the movie “Network”. His famous rallying cry  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is still hailed as a pivotal moment (righteous tirade) in U.S. film (and social) culture evolution. (Especially appropriate, here in the States, right now.)

According to a nationwide Pew survey conducted in 2018 (as noted in the editorial I’m referring to), thousands of American citizens were asked what, if anything, brought meaning to their lives. An overwhelming number of respondents (of all ages, btw) reported feeling besieged by depression, drug and alcohol dependency; a bit fuzzy about meaning and purpose; and struggling with a nationwide moral-compass spinning cartoonishly, out of control.Once again, you’ll hear no disagreement from me about the confusion and chaos, despair and divisiveness coating our hearts and minds like toxic sludge. But – how far back do we go, to arrive at the beginning of how this current situation evolved?

Looking at the way we put people into buckets, we tend to start with The Silent Generation:  stoic, penny-pinching Depression-era survivors who, incidentally, also heroically joined with allies to defeat Hitler. They came home from World War II and celebrated by creating a tsunami of babies:  These Baby Boom-ers were raised in households focused on Exsitential Lessons. Finding some kind of work (e.g., mowing lawns) just to have pocket money was a motivator starting at around age 10. The drive continued, to college or trade schools; making money and busting all kinds of materialistic moves in the world. Their actions may seem a little selfish in hindsight, but such were the expectations.The common belief now seems to be that this group has done little beyond consuming too much and trashing the earth. To add insult to injury, Boom-ers are also showing remarkable longevity.

Pros and cons are debated and on-view ( books, articles and on the Internet) about Boom-ers and subsequent generations, with finger-pointing and labeling in all directions. But the truth is, each generation is unique in the challenges it faces, growing up and then entering the world. No single group of people can or should take all of the blame for our society’s dysfunctions;  nor should “X, Y, or Z” be assumed to be the only groups in possession of the morality, sensibility, intelligence and motivation needed to get-moving on fixes (as the writer of the editorial directly claims the Z-ers are).

Most people feel anxious when confronted with significant, or unwelcome Change. This is especially true now, with so many high-stakes topics to deal with globally, and all at once. But for each generation of human beings so far, there’ve always been challenges to navigate. It seems to me, that humanity has much more to concern itself with in the Now than calling-out past or current generations.

Our world is more complicated and dangerous than it ever has been. This we know. What are the Forces at work, causing us to focus so intently on our differences, rather than on our commonalities? Not one of us can go back and re-write the time or circumstances of our birth. We just have to “Deal”: whatever it takes. Spoken like a True Boom-er, I know; but it’s a lesson I learned from The Silent Generation, and feel it’s pretty much worth passing-on.

The Urge to Apologize

Most of the women I know consciously strive to release what we all recognize as unhealthy ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. The amount of introspection and effort required depends on how long we’ve nurtured an emotional wound. The act of Release is an amazing thing. Some women use lovely and elaborate ‘cleansing’ or ‘healing’ rituals that close with celebrations. Some simply meditate, breathe, then release what’s no longer needed to God or the Great Mother, or to the Universe. Some women are so strong that they simply decide: “That’s enough of that!” And then they go for a walk, or to the gym; they treat themselves to a shopping spree or spa-day; a new scent or adornment, or to a full-on vacation.

It feels like I’ve been finding and releasing this kind of “junk” for years. Likening it to one of my least favorite household chores, it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day of folding and putting away a never-ending basket of now-clean laundry. Just when I think I’ve paired and inverted the last pair of socks, I look down and see there’s more clean laundry in the ‘basket’.

This past weekend I did something (then berated myself afterwards about it) that I thought I was done with: I apologized ( to someone very dear to me) for apparently causing ‘hurt’ — which I felt in my bones was actually an overreaction to a casual comment I’d made. He was upset, and I wanted to soothe him; which I know really meant, enable him. Of course he felt better, having someone to pin his reaction on, but I was left feeling annoyed with myself for having taken on the responsibility for his outburst. Still, harmony was restored, so that was a net-gain for me. For a minute.

In the aftermath of this personal exchange, I wondered why and how my instinct to restore peace has always been — it seems to me — over-developed. As I’ve done my reading (academic and recreational) over the years, I’ve learned that this is a pretty common trait among women. (An underlying reason, I’m convinced, that the majority of males are so fearful of a woman in the White House.) Still, it’s important to be able to take a stand and remain firm in refusing blame that’s not legitimately your own. In the workplace I’ve become skilled at this. My go-to line: “I’m sorry you feel upset,” versus “I’m sorry for what I did” (because I didn’t do anything wrong). In our personal relationships, it’s often more difficult to offer rebuttal when someone’s put-out (unless it’s a child, and you are the parent). As women we’re expected to be receptive; to absorb discord; to offer ‘honey’ instead of ‘vinegar’ to disagreeable people. And we do this; but, at what cost to ourselves and our personal development?

Meanwhile, the Media shows us that a growing number of people appear to be acting on impulse, irrespective of others’ needs and feelings, without ever apologizing. It’s clear that more men than women are in this category. Ironically , we’re also exposed to an increase in outraged voices and very ‘public’ demands for Apology, for perceived slights or injuries. Thanks to our real-time media, public shaming can be instantaneous when/if an apology is not forthcoming. It’s as though our collective, internal perceptions or definitions of What I Believe I Did, versus What You Seem to Think I Did, and What I Really Did have become irreparably distorted and opaque. Are we doing this intentionally (avoiding taking responsibility), or are we really no longer sure of the standards of behavior in our personal lives, nor of the parameters or decorum in our social groups?

I know one thing for sure. I’m going to keep ‘doing my own laundry’ (back to my metaphor) and self-checking ,when an Apology doesn’t feel like mine to make. And I’m going to be totally un-apologetic about that.

My #MeToo Moments

Before reading further, please note that some of the material in this Post may cause some Readers (who’ve perhaps had similar experiences) discomfort.

I characterize my  “#MeToo Moments” as follows:  feeling sexually intimidated, coerced, or threatened by a male.

My first #MeToo Moment happened when I was only 9 years old. Not even an adolescent, and I was already the target of a 14 year old boy:  a good friend of my oldest brother, who was also 14. Both of my parents had 9-5 careers. After breakfast, and at the end of the day, my two brothers and I walked or bicycled to and from school. I was usually the first to arrive home in the afternoon; I never knew when my older brothers would show up at home, due to sports and whatever else they did. When they got home, it was still usually two hours or so before an adult was in the house. My brothers had friends over in this timeslot, from time to time. One day, “Doug” showed up at my house, ostensibly to meetup with my oldest brother. Not having any reason to feel fear about being in the house with a 14 year old boy, and a friend of my brother’s besides – someone who I recognized as ‘familiar – I wasn’t alarmed. Doug went into my brothers’ room , but then called to me. When I walked in the room I saw that he was lying on the bed, his legs dangling over the end of it, his pants down around his knees. Now, growing up with two teenage brothers and a pretty healthy balance between ‘information’ about body parts, and modesty, I knew what a penis was and had seen my own father’s once, when he dove into a river sans underwear, during one of our road trips. But a stranger’s anatomy was another matter. I stood frozen where I was, confused about why I’d been called into the bedroom, but Doug cleared that up quickly. He guess he assumed that my hesitance meant I was waiting for instructions. “Touch it.” (No) “Blow on it, then.” (No). Doug was about to ask for something else penis-related, but there was a noise from the hallway of the house – it sounded like one of my brothers was now home. He hastily did up his pants and gave a breathless, “Don’t say anything, ok?” Of course he did.

I tried to put this incident out of my mind. It made no sense to me, but I already felt complicit, somehow, in something bad. The sad truth is, a similar scene played out again, about one week later. This time, however, the boy had more in mind. He came into my own bedroom, where I was putting some little art piece from school on a small table by my bed. Doug got down on his knees, pushing his body against mine and the table, trapping me. He started to put his hands all over me, but this time I pushed past him and ran out of the house. I walked around the block several times – I must have appeared like one strange little girl to the neighbors – until I saw my oldest brother’s bicycle parked in our drive. I shot into the house and told him what his friend had tried to do. (I’d shared the first incident with my best friend at school, and she gave me an “earful” about how stupid I’d been.) My brother, when I told him, at first looked shocked. Then his mouth twisted into a snarl and he accused me of making both events up, trying to get Doug “in trouble”. To this day, I don’t know if my brother ever said anything to his friend – we never spoke of it — but Doug stopped coming to the house. I do know that I continued to feel ashamed, frightened, confused, betrayed and sad that I’d made my brother angry. I definitely felt as though I’d done something to cause this situation; I just didn’t know what.

The second incident happened when I was a beginning teacher, at age 23. I’d been trying to land a permanent position, but had no classroom experience. I was told that, by applying to work summer school, I might earn some quick status that might lead to a contract in the fall of the year. I’d heard that a particular principal had openings in his summer program, so I made an appointment to see him, at very end of the school year. To my amazement, the principal responded enthusiastically to my request and told me how to take care of the “details” of my official hire with HR. It was my very first week of teaching a 9th grade summer school English class. I was so excited, and so happy to be teaching in my subject area. I was also very nervous. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted the students to like me as a teacher and hoped they would enjoy my class. One day, I was in the middle of setting up a film (back in the day of reel to reel projectors!) to introduce a novel to my class. The principal walked straight into the room, directly toward me, with a very stern look on his face. He was at least 6’4″ and very powerfully built. He was also at least 20 years older than I. Of course I was terrified, and paranoid that I’d already done something wrong; something that would cause him to release me from my position. I need this job badly. The man leaned in close to my left ear as the very full class of (almost 40) curious students watched both of us. I was expecting the principal to say, “Report to my office, after class!”. I was sure that his behavior meant a reprimand was coming. Instead, the principal whispered in my ear, “I’d like to f*** your brains out!” Then he turned away and walked out of my classroom.

My face burned. The students in the front row, closest to where I stood, looked freaked-out. They were watching me very intently, perhaps expecting me to cry or to bolt from the room. I struggled to not “lose it”, but it was impossible to teach after that. I put the film on, let it play in its entirety, then dismissed my class at the end of the hour. Shortly afterwards I went to the principal’s office to vent about what he’d done, hoping he wouldn’t fire me on the spot. He accepted me into his office, shut the door and began making suggestive comments about meeting someplace later in the day. I stood by the door and told him clearly how his comment had made me feel and that I was not interested. How the man laughed ! His face was a strange mask of anger and amazement. He began ‘back-pedaling’. It had all been a joke. I was ‘stupid’ for taking him seriously. I had better ‘grow up’ if I wanted to work at his school. He continued belittling me, telling me I was ‘confused’, that I ‘flattered myself’, thinking he was interested in me. His words made me feel that I had somehow imagined the whole thing – a kind of waking nightmare.

I know that neither of the above events were as bad or as harmful as what other women have endured. But I also know that the memories of how I felt when I resisted or objected to being bullied sexually have remained – not only in my memory, but in some deeper, more private place – into adulthood. The shame of ‘the act’ perpetrated on me (especially as a little girl); the frightening moments of not knowing if my resistance would stave off an attack; being ridiculed after the fact; and being accused of making up stories or imagining events all impacted me as a girl growing up, and my perceptions of male authority figures.

When a girl child or a woman is sexually intimidated (or worse), I’ve learned — through my own research – that it’s very common for us to assume that something we did, or, the way we acted or looked, summoned The Beast. We provoked him, and therefore, got what we were secretly hoping for; or somehow deserved. This is the most vile misconception and obscene excuse for male arrogance and aggression toward women that exists.

The more women enter into full awareness of their innate rights, as well as their personal and professional power, the greater the potential for these scenarios to repeat themselves. At this very moment in time, the  growing hostility of males in the media and political arena makes clear how vulnerable we all are as women.

We must stand together; we must be proactive in our actions, showing strength and unity; and, we must protect one another by sharing our stories and validating each one.

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