Women Know Something That Men Need to Know: When a friend mentioned that her teenage daughter’s driving instructor suggested she relax her shoulders, complimented her appearance and bemoaned the fact that his job restricted personal revelations, the mom’s antennae went sky-high. It soared when her daughter added that her girlfriend had similar inappropriate moments with said instructor. The teen’s father discouraged the mom from calling the driving school for fear that the driver would lose his job. The daughter too worried that she would cause his termination. An argument both of perception and procedure ensued.
Women Are Not Like Men; They are Vulnerable to Men: A couple sits in my office reviewing a painful exchange in which the wife ascribed a well-intentioned action of her husband’s to a typical male cheating behavior. Her husband was hurt and shocked. Another couple battles issues around the husband’s plan to attend a holiday party with work colleagues which triggers fear in the wife of male bonding over the shared humiliation of their wives or girlfriends. She imagines them attending topless clubs, visits with lap dancers. The husband protests his innocence and is frankly bewildered by his wife’s notions. A girlfriend describes a haunting memory of a sister’s molestation decades ago by the husband of the couple who worked and lived in their home. In the middle of the night her sister screamed for help after the man, drunk, entered her room, and climbed on top of her. No one believed her at first, “it was just a dream”, until they spotted a bit of his shirt in her balled up fists.
Day After Day Women Beseech The Men in Their Lives to Understand How Vulnerable They Feel! The wife of the well-intentioned husband later revealed a history of an older married man and family acquaintance who repeatedly stalked her while on her way to classes. This behavior went on for some time until she gathered the courage to tell her father who met up with her one day to escort her to those same classes. Then the stalker stopped, the “family acquaintance” stopped stalking.
All Too Real: What well-meaning husbands, dads and boyfriends don’t get, because they are males, is that most women have had experiences such as these earlier in their lives, when young and vulnerable…. males trying at best to take advantage of them, scare them, humiliate them, and worse do physical and sexual harm to them. Decades ago, single and living in Manhattan, I began to receive cards in the mail of an explicit sexual nature, unsigned. I went to the police who took the information down and asked for suspects to match the handwriting. I had no suspects but came up with one mildly offbeat fellow that I had dated. The police reassured me that this was the lest threatening of possible stalking behaviors.
The Deja Vu of Vulnerability: Shortly after, I began getting phone calls in the middle of the night. Needless to say they were horrible, frightening and sexual. It was only when my sick correspondent described seeing the window washers’ scaffolding outside my window that I realized this fellow lived in my building. I was on the sixteenth floor and the only structures equally high and facing me were the Roosevelt Island cable cars several blocks south. Then the bells rang and the light bulb went off. My neighbor! We shared a wall and rode the elevator together, a married man who looked at me in a very creepy way. This connection was intensely frightening but when the phone rang late that night, I answered and said, “I know who you are and if you contact me again, I will tell the police”. He never called or wrote after that but daily, as I wended my way through life’s many doorways, I and so many other women, carry in our handbag of concerns the certainty of young girls’ and women’s vulnerability to menacing males. It may be a subtle menace, an intimidation never consummated, yet the threat lingers in the air as odoriferous as oil spill and just as deadly.
Multiple Examples: Young women, adolescent girls and even younger, frequently become the target of male behaviors that range from taunting and teasing on the street or in classes, to serious violations and rape. I would bet almost every female I know can recite incidents ranging from being fondled inappropriately, men exposing themselves on subway cars, lurid comments whispered in passing, or taking a driving test, men barring passage from one room to another to show off their dominance. Young men and old do not typically have these experiences. Yes, older women can and do take advantage of younger fellows (as do older men) but the incidence is far less. The superior strength of men over women, particularly young women and girls who are frightened and uncertain of their rights or their perceptions, is a variable so different between the species that it is as if women were Martians and men were from the moon. Different planets of experience and sensibility.
The Coupledom: The message for the Coupledom is that men need to listen when women talk about their concerns for themselves and their daughters in a world where other men, not their dads perhaps or their brothers, but others, are menacing, intimidating, humiliating and frightening. Men may be puzzled and hurt by their wives and girlfriends stereotyping remarks or insulting innuendos, and understandably so. But with some exploration, reasons for these attitudes can be unearthed. It is not soothing to be told that your fears are unfounded, or your perceptions unearned. It is not reassuring to be viewed by your partner as “over reacting” or “hysterical”. WOMEN KNOW! what men don’t know or don’t remember or cannot identify with; that OTHER MEN CAN BE DANGEROUS, CAN BE INSULTING AND DEMEANING to the women and daughters they love and want to protect.
“Making waves” is not the thing to be feared.….protecting a stranger’s job at the expense of being sensitive to a teenager’s vulnerability alone in a car with some fool who is either showing off or is a true predator, is the real danger. What is to be feared is to not listen, to not hear, to dismiss and diminish the significance of the concerns, the “heads up” of the moms, the feeling of “awkwardness and discomfort” that a young girl may find hard to define or too embarrassing to make significant. What is to be feared is to mock your wife or girlfriend for her sensitivity to television shows and movies that show men demeaning women to get laughs or show dominance. Women know what this can lead to. Women know because they have been there. And how do those well meaning but misconceived reactions and strategies by well-intentioned husbands and dads effect the Coupledom? Badly!
Empathy and Walking in Each Others Moccasins: This is not about women as victims. This is about repairing a disconnect As with all things Coupledom, empathy is key here. Men imagine what it is to be female in this world. Walk around a bit in shoe sizes too small, as a 12 year old, a 16 year old, or a 25 year old girl or a 40 year old woman who has been all of those ages; think what it must be like. Picture what standing at a bus stop or waiting to use an ATM can feel like in those shoes. Wow! Your wife or girlfriend or daughter has gained herself the most important kind of male partner there is, the sensitive kind who gets it. To be clear, I am not supporting Purdah, locking girls up for fear of men, or paranoid reactions to every date or male friend. Not at all. I am talking about taking feelings and concerns and perceptions seriously, not using denial, mockery or detachment. Then, hopefully in turn, when the father, the husband, the brother or the boyfriend has concerns, the females in their lives can do the same, walk around in their moccasins. Though the shoes may be a size too big or too small, the message is always love.
©jill edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2010