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.