The way we were.

It’s thankfulness season, time for the annual spilling of gratitude that began mid-month and will end when a wave of resolutions takes over, as if gratitude must be bound by beginning and end points. I don’t mean to sound cynical. Certainly I have many things to be thankful for.

Among my many blessings – beyond the usual food, shelter, clothing, family, and health – I count big things, like the companionship of dogs (even when they eat my boots and the children’s breakfast bananas), and little things, like the barista who, on the morning of November 1, looked up at the speakers in the ceiling and yelled (to everyone’s delight): “I haven’t even had my cornbread yet! It. Is. NOT. Christmas!”

I’m grateful, daily, for the Cutco bird’s beak knife that I bought ages ago from a young man named Adrian, who was trying to pay for college or a buy car (or something), and I wanted to help him. I love that knife. I use it and think of being little and watching my mother peel pears for dessert, of how I was awed every time the curved blade came to her thumb without injury.

Yes, I am grateful for many things, large and small, most of them utterly ordinary.

And though it may be unpopular (heresy, even – I’ll probably lose friends), what I am most consciously thankful for these days, and especially in the past year, are the many men in my life.

Men who have looked out for me, both at work and at late night parties when alcohol rendered us all senseless.

Men who have stated, on my behalf, “she just said that.”

Men who have accepted “no” as the answer, even when I said it without much conviction.

Men who recognized when they alone held the keys, who acknowledged the advantages afforded them, and then tried to shore up the gap, asking no favors in return.

For all of these men, I am grateful.

In truth, I’ve known more treacherous women, over the years, than skeevy men, though I’ve known my fair share of those, too. I’m grateful that both the decent women and decent men have far outnumbered their worse-behaved counterparts. This ratio is pure, dumb luck, and I know it – hence the feeling of gratitude.

And these men I trust and love, young and old, Democrats and Republicans alike, have all, I suspect, at some point done at least one thing distasteful or inappropriate. Told dirty jokes. Strayed, in one way or another. Ogled, or patted, or at least been tempted.

Some of their behavior I’ve witnessed, firsthand. You’ll recall that I worked in telecom in the 1990s, a man’s world if ever I knew one. To be in the corporate know required hanging with the crowd that was in the know, namely the men at the top. Men who liked to stay late at the bar and tease the busty waitresses.

Was I complicit? Indeed. But, to be fair, so was every busty waitress. We laughed and rolled along, understanding how the world worked, back then, whether or not it was fair and just. I was also young. I would behave differently, now. Surely so.

But reality is more complicated than any of us might like to imagine, especially in this age of extremes, of being drawn toward uncompromising sides. If I had to choose, today, between a camp of lewd joke-telling men and a camp of holy fundamentalist women, I’d pick the bawdy men, every time.

The mere idea that my choice would lie in these two extremes is, of course, both absurd and dangerous. As Masha Gessen writes in The New Yorker, forced division and an appetite for overly simplistic answers will lead us only to asking the wrong questions or to starting an ill-advised, panic-induced war on sex. This same appetite for absolutes pits retribution against reconciliation, punishment against grace. In the process we all suffer a great misery.

We are better than this; we must be. We can embrace what’s beyond a simple sorting of “good girls” versus “bad men.” We can evade the trap that keeps us from confronting the bigger, deeper problem: an entrenched system of command and control, steeped in a stew of money, class, gender, race and privilege. Power is the issue, not sex. Let us not confuse the two, because this murky, ugly problem only festers if we fail to tackle it for what it is.

This reckoning will require, among other things, looking inward. We’ll each of us, in the sanctuary of our own thoughts, need to summon empathy, remorse, courage, and forgiveness.  We’ll have to believe in ourselves and in one another, confident that who we were is part, but not all, of who we are.

And we’ll have to resist taking sides, especially when that’s the easiest, but most perilous, way forward. Computers are binary; humans are not.  For that truth, more than anything, I am grateful.

10 Comments

  1. I’ve no idea how you write about such complicated things. It’s like trying to tiptoe through a room strewn with Legos in the dark. But I’m glad you do. You nearly always make me see things in a different light than I saw them in before (even Legos…)
    Thankful you’re here to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Someone woke up with her big girl panties on. Happy Thanksgiving, Jenny. I’ve been grappling with this subject for a few weeks now. I hear about one guy and I think, good, I’m glad his creepy ass behavior is coming to light, and I hear another accusation and I think, oh my God, every guy thought that was okay back in the day, let it go. I stopped listening after awhile and then I thought, what kind of feminist are you? You should be happy this is all coming out. It’s the end of patriarchy. Yay! But it feels like a witch hunt that’s going to bring good people down, and it feels like women who had choices reinventing history to see themselves as victims and there is nothing feminist about that, and it feels political, which is never good. This wide net that’s being cast dilutes everything so that it’s harder to separate the truly despicable predators from those who were generationally sexist. Strong women like you will have to be the voice of common sense because it’s going to be hard for the guys to say anything in their own defense. So kudos to you. And now I have to get this F@#CKing turkey in the oven.

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  3. “Computers are binary; humans are not.” Well put. Thank you for bravely stepping into what feels like a minefield and bringing a subtle and shades-of-gray (infinitely more than 50) view to this topic. I worked in tech in the mid ’80s and early ’90s and so experienced similar behavior–behavior no one thought twice about. And earlier, as a young woman in the 1970s, there were things that would curl my hair today, but I didn’t experience them as exploitative. Indeed, the world is a complicated place.

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  4. I had to wait until today to read your post because I always like to be able to sit down, read through it and enjoy the words. When I open posts on my phone, I have a tendency to skim through them.
    We do live in an precarious world right now. Every day there is a new story bringing down men in every possible industry and it feels like a war of the sexes in a way to me. I have heard both extremes from “Those women are ALL lying” to “All men are pigs and cannot be trusted” and both are ludicrous but I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. My only fear is that some people will use false accusations to destroy someone who is innocent so that someone else may gain power. And you are correct, it is all about power… Media and society does not adhere to “innocent until proven guilty”. Once an accusation is made, that person is tried and convicted, the truth is irrelevant and someone’s life is destroyed. I have seen it for myself. On the other hand, there are those who are most definitely guilty and who are getting away with something. How do we find balance?? Only by looking inside our own minds and motives and thinking critically about what does and doesn’t make sense. (hmm. sounds like a good start to a post) 😉
    I love your words and they resonate with me almost always. I too am grateful for the men in my life and those who have been a part of molding me into the person I am.
    Happy belated Thanksgiving Jenny! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I save this one, because I knew I needed to read it. It resonates with all the things I’ve been trying to discuss with the good men in my life, lately. It is so perfectly put that I think I’ll delete my draft on this subject; I’m perfectly sated by yours. xo And oh how Jen said it… legos! Yes, legos!

    Liked by 1 person

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