I have avoided posting the #MeToo meme, thinking I didn’t qualify because I had not been physically abused. But I “got to thinking,” as we say down here, about the whole spectrum of abuse and how destructive and demoralizing emotional abuse is. That, I can testify to.
And then I had an encounter this morning while I was waiting in the dentist’s office. Now understand, I am way past expecting a man to flirt with me. I have, as the actress Frances McDormand says in a recent article, become invisible to men. So I was stunned when this guy struck up a conversation. He was talkative, he was friendly–but in a way that made me instantly uncomfortable. We were the only people in the waiting room; none of the staff had come to the desk yet.
He was wearing his camo jacket and his cap, and he told me about the traffic driving in this morning, about how heavy it was, and there must have been a wreck but he never saw one. He told me what he does for a living (he paints houses), how his partner left the business years ago and then his brother left too but he’s still at it, he’s “only 69,” and “you got to eat, right?”
All the time he was talking, he was moving. He made jokes and laughed and touched my arm, my shoulder. Made jokes about age: “You’re like, 28, right? or maybe 25?”
I don’t remember what brought up President Trump, but this man said, “You’ve seen what the president has done, right?” His eyes bright with wonder. And I froze. I lost my courage to say, “Yeah, I’ve seen it, all right” and cut him off, I think because I didn’t believe it would. So I tried to ignore him, but he kept going on about what great things the president has accomplished, like getting rid of all that “green” stuff, and we should continue to drill for oil anywhere and everywhere, because oil comes from rock, and “Are we ever gonna run out of rock?” Laughing. Sure of his point. “If we don’t drill for it, it’ll just ooze right up out of the beaches and spoil them anyway.”
Finally, one of the staff came out and the guy started the same joke routine with her. I slunk away and sat down, praying he wouldn’t sit by me, and he didn’t. He announced he needed to go to the back and “use the little room.”
I had failed to stand up.
As I said, I haven’t had the horrible experiences other women have testified to in recent days. But how many times in my life have I been subjected to this kind of bullying disguised as a “friendly” male? Years ago, I was deep-kissed and touched on a dance floor by a drunk friend, and when I reported it to my then-husband, he called me a prude. I lived in an emotionally abusive situation for years because I was married to it, and for me, marriage was sacred. You could work anything out if you tried hard enough. Wrong.
So is it a matter of degree? Are these (and other instances I could relate) any less worthy of rebuke than if I had been physically attacked?
It’s a mindset–to stay silent—that I hope is more typical of women “of a certain age” like me, who were schooled in a kind of male dominance that was the heart of the family. That would explain, I suppose, why I would excuse a man’s behavior as his “right.” Well, I’ve gotten older and wiser. I hope, for the sake of my granddaughters and the other young women I know, that the mindset is gone for good. I hope they’ll be braver than I was this morning. That they will speak their minds. That they will take care of themselves first.