We are now officially one year into the Coronavirus pandemic and only a few short months away from the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and America is still deep in the throes of a cultural reckoning. What that reckoning actually means depends on who you ask.
I am an (almost) fifty-year-old middle-class white woman. While I am a woman, I am fully aware that as a white one, I hold and benefit greatly from my privilege; but also as a woman, I have experienced how brutal “toxic masculinity” can be, first hand. With the current list of sexual harassment accusations against Governor Andrew Cuomo growing daily and dominating our smart TVs, there is a serious conversation happening in households across the country, including mine.
As I watched Governor Cuomo’s press conference last week, the main takeaway for me was that I was watching a man who truly did not believe he had done anything wrong. He seemed almost perplexed at the fact that his behavior had been *gaslight alert* misinterpreted, or that he was being anything other than (perhaps) overly friendly. At one point he even tried to justify his behavior on the fact that he grew up in an Italian family—I mean come on, we all know those Italians love to kiss and hug!
Growing up, one of my best friends was from Italian heritage. I’m not going to lie—at times it was a complete culture shock going into her home, especially when her extended family was there. There was way more kissing going on than I was used to in my German grandmother’s house (where I grew up). I vividly remember feeling uncomfortable after I was on the receiving end of one of her uncle’s wet cheek kisses, but back in those days it would have been considered impolite for a “child” such as myself to refuse an adult’s greeting. Was it her uncle’s intent to make me feel uncomfortable? Probably not; however, that is not the point. The point is that it did make me feel uncomfortable.
As an (almost) fifty-year-old woman I won’t bore you with all of the times I have had to field off and defend myself against unwanted advances, or steer sexually explicit conversations back to “regular ones” after they had gone off the rails by men who felt entitled to my adoration. There were hands placed where they didn’t belong, strange lips far too close for comfort; but as women, we were conditioned to keep a smile on our faces so as not to “offend” or bruise the male’s fragile ego. My body, my choice was not really a “thing” back then, but being labeled a “bitch” or “uptight” certainly was—so a lot of us acclimated and complied, losing a bit of ourselves with every unwanted advance that we could not muster the courage to verbally object to.
Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, this behavior was, for the most part, viewed as acceptable. How often were we told as young girls, “boys will be boys,” that we should be “good sports,” or even worse, that we should be flattered? But thankfully, like everything else, our society is changing. As women, we have found our collective voice and are making it more than clear that we are not having it anymore. Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or anything and everything in between, we will no longer be accepting your unwanted advances. Consider this your final notice.
Even my very own enlightened husband has been guilty of boorish behavior in the past. He was a Marine in his early twenties, and over the years I’ve heard him tell a story or two where he had been inappropriate with women; so, when Mike jumped on the righteous-indignation bandwagon heading straight for Cuomo, I had to remind him that he, too, has been part of the problem. It can be a bitter pill to swallow at times, looking at ourselves in a critical and intellectually honest way, but if we truly want to see a world where no group feels marginalized by another, we will all have some heavy lifting to do.
Just like the racial reckoning and conversations about privilege that a lot of us white people are having with each other, men really need to own their past behaviors and be open to learning how to be better allies to women. They have to commit to being equal participants in tearing down the patriarchal system that has benefited them for far too many years. It is a tough thing to ask a person to give up something that benefits them, but when we are all treated equally and fairly, all of society benefits. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution, but you can’t be both. Of course, we expect to get some resistance as this is not going to be popular with a lot of the people the system has served and benefitted over the years.
While our current demand for accountability may seem jarring to some, the truth is, we have been taking this shit for far too long. We are officially done trying to protect men’s feelings at the expense of our own, and we will not stop until we have complete autonomy over our bodies. This is not a “man-hating” movement that is trying to “cancel” men; this is a movement that is trying to level an extremely unlevel playing field. If we are truly a society that believes in equality, then this should be a non-issue. However, if you do not believe in equality, you will soon find yourself a relic in the ever-changing and evolving world in which we all live—one that will no longer be a “man’s world,” but a world where all genders are afforded the same dignity and opportunities.
Author:Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.