As the national discussion rages around the #metoo movement, which is short hand for “the validity, believability and value of women’s stories,” I have found myself in conversation with friends, parishioners, authors and even myself . This discourse, in all its forms, has made it crystal clear just how deeply, just how implicitly, just how virulently misogyny infects our culture, our judgements and even my own subconscious.
The unchecked ubiquity of misogyny hit me hard last Friday as I was getting ready for a night out with my best friend. I had finished up my shower and decided to add a little music to my primping rituals. So grabbing my phone, I browsed through Amazon Music’s recommended stations finally settling on “Oldie Dance Party.” My thought being (I kid you not, this went through my head), “I just want some good old beats to rock out to while I’m getting ready…something wholesome and fun.”
The very first song played, “Runaround Sue.” So there I am, swaying and signing along to this doo-wop inspired hit and all of a sudden I actually hear the words coming out of my mouth, “She took my love then ran around / With every single guy in town.” And I came up short. What in the world am I singing? And folks it doesn’t get any better. This 1961 number one hit starts with a ridiculous opening whine followed by the unmistakable upbeat doo-wop beat enticing you to swing your hips and move your feet to the story of a “heartbroken” man. A man who fell for a woman who rejects him so now, like you do, he sings his sadness into the world by calling his love a “whore” because she has relationships with other men. It’s a real crowd-pleaser folks! A real crowd pleaser!
THIS! This is one, small but mighty example of why we as individuals and a society continue to question and disavow women when they speak up and speak out against men. Songs and stories like this one are so ubiquitous and they reinforce the belief that a woman saying “no” must say something about her, not the man she is rejecting. Honestly this story, the denigration of a woman’s humanity, is so prevalent and has been so prevalent it’s worthy of hit songs…even a “golden oldie.”
It has not only been in songs that I have had to confront my own ingrained prejudice against women, otherwise known as misogyny (I’ll Google that for you). In the last six months I have read two books specifically about women and power. One was the novel, The Power by Naomi Alderman and the other, Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works by Jay Newton-Small. I didn’t love The Power mainly because the women, once having physical power over men, used it in exactly the same way men currently use their physical power over women. It’s a thought experiment and I get that and perhaps Alderman is right in her portrayal, perhaps no matter the current experiences of women and our fight for equality, if we had physical superiority we would trade in equality in a heartbeat to simply dominate. Some of us would I am sure, and some for very good reasons, which Alderman explores, but I also hope there would be a subset of women who would use such a shift in physicality to do things differently. I want to hope that women have learned from the past and though corruption would of course occur it wouldn’t be the headline of our physical superiority. Alderman made me face my own romanticized narrative of women in power. She might be right, women may not do any better, but Newton-Small helps me believe women would, at the very least, do different.
Newton-Small’s Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works outlines the lived experience of women in the work place and demonstrates how women are using power differently. Not better, not worse, differently. What I liked most about this book is that Newton-Small makes the argument over and over and over again that it takes us all. That’s is the diversity of thoughts, perspectives and decision making paradigms that makes private and public sector institutions and organization effective, resilient and sustainable.
Yet for women, or any other underrepresented group to effect real change and actually make an organization (or country) better they have to be seen, believed and respected for the humans they are. So, if you haven’t already, watch Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special Nanette. I am a little behind the times, but I finished it this weekend and she beautifully, powerfully and poignantly states the truth of this utterly ingrained and pervasive belief we all hold:
“These men [celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct] are not individuals they are our stories. And the moral of our story is that we don’t give a shit.
We don’t give a fuck about women or children. We only care about a man’s reputation.
What about his humanity?
These men control our stories! And yet they have a diminishing connection to their own humanity, and we don’t seem to mind so long as they get to hold on to their precious reputation.
Fuck reputation. Stop wasting my time.”
As I listened to Gadsby’s impassioned monologue I wished I was immune. I yearned to be someone who could stand up and say I have never thought a man’s reputation was more important than another person’s humanity. But I don’t get to stand on such firm ground.
Six months ago I had a nightmare. Well, most people probably wouldn’t call it a nightmare, but I woke up in such an emotional rage, and it is so deeply embedded in my memory, nightmare seems appropriate. I was in a truck with some unknown colleague, another pastor, older, white attractive man and we were heading to a continuing education event together. He was new to me, but we had already discussed that he was recently divorced and he was struggling to find meaning in life again and so as we are traveling along I-35W he says, “Why don’t we just skip the course? You and me, we just drive to Duluth, I have a cabin up there. We spend the weekend together. Get to know each other better (and yes, this is when his hand lands on my thigh).”
Funnily enough this isn’t the part that made me angry. It wasn’t the proposal, it was my internal response. Sure, I said, “no,” but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, I didn’t want to add to his pain, so I responded with gratitude and apology. GRATITUDE AND APOLOGY! I said “oh, I’m sorry, that is such a kind offer, but no, I am happily married and wouldn’t risk that, but thank you for the compliment.” THANK YOU FOR THE COMPLIMENT! What was I doing?!?! And then, to add insult to injury in my own head, I argued with myself about reporting him to the bishop (this would be his superior for those of you outside church hierarchy), because he was hurting and it would just ruined his reputation and possibly his vocation. I kid you not! And this was when I sat straight up in bed in an absolute rage. And truth be told, it still makes me angry remembering it.
Yes, this was a dream…nightmare, but it is also telling of the deeply ingrained truth Hannah Gadsby speaks of where a “good man’s” reputation is of the highest value, even above his own humanity and most definitely above the humanity of those he has power over. Even me, even this self-proclaimed feminist who almost militantly refuses to acknowledge men have any power over me whatsoever, even me, deep in my subconscious now knows that my first response, my socially ingrained and ever present belief is to protect men and their reputation. It makes me so angry. It makes my blood boil and my stomach turn but it is my learned truth. All I can do, all any of us can do is confront this truth. Look in the mirror and say “yes, those are my ingrained beliefs, but they are wrong.” We have to confront our socialization, name it and then fight like hell against it because “Runaround Sue” can hang out with whoever she chooses in whatever capacity she chooses without censure or judgement. Period! Go get’em Sue!
And happy reading!
Goodreads Review “The Power” by Naomi Alderman
Goodreads Review “Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works” by Jay Newton-Small