Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Christmas Wish of Awareness

"To know love, men must be able to let go the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change."

--bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

It was in that moment that every inappropriate word and action against women I had ever witnessed in my lifetime slithered into my consciousness and catcalled my own male guilt.

Fifteen minutes earlier the rental car driver came to the body shop to pick me up and take me to their office to get our rental car. We were having our car fixed and had to leave it at the body shop for a few days. My driver was an older man, maybe late fifties, and he had the local classic rock radio channel on.

"Right on," I said. "I love the Hippo." That was the colloquial name for the rock station KHIP.

"Me too," he said. "Gotta have my rock and roll."

"Yes, indeed," I said.

As we backed out of our parking spot, a woman pulled in and parked the truck she drove. We waited for her to get out and cross in front of us to enter the body shop office.

"She's cute," my driver said.

"Yes," I said, not really thinking about it. I just wanted to get my rental car and get back to work.

He shook his head and laughed. "You know, you can't even say a girl is cute anymore, or she'll report you. You could've done it fifteen years ago and accidentally touch her leg and she could sue you now. Crazy."

I heard every word he said with a heightened attentiveness, but didn't say anything.

He went on. "You have to be careful -- you can't even look at a woman anymore without being accused of something. It's crazy."

He laughed, but I didn't think it was funny.

"You know, many of these women coming out today were sexually harassed and assaulted," I said.

That unsettled him. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

I went on. "This is pretty serious, the way too many women are still treated today. I have two daughters and I can't imagine them having to deal with this kind of crap when they're older, but unfortunately they most likely will and we'll want them to speak up and not take it."

"Yeah, you're right. I know," he said. He nodded as he drove, but I could tell he was still uncomfortable.

We both got quiet then. I felt better that I had spoken up, but it certainly wasn't anything heroic. I could only think of every time in my life when I heard another man say something derogatory about another women because they refused his advances, that women are too sensitive and misunderstand too easily, that in the case of harassment and assault it was the woman's fault and that we live in a too politically correct world where men are blamed for it all when the wind blows the wrong way. That for every woman who cries rape there's another who falsely accuses.

But I knew that was all bullshit, even when there are those who do falsely accuse. The fact is that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives, and 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (according to statistics from NO MORE, an nonprofit organization that unites and strengthens a diverse, global community to help end domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse).

My driver's cell phone rang. "Hello. Yes, yes, we just left there. She needs a ride? Okay, we'll circle back." He hung up and added to me, "We've got another person needing to get a rental car, so if it's okay we'll head back there and get her."

"Sure," I said.

"It's probably that woman we saw park the truck," he said.


And sure enough it was. She got in the back seat, and after some friendly banter between the three of us, the car got quiet except for the radio playing. Tom Petty pleaded with us to break down.

"Break down, go ahead and give it to me
Break down, honey take me through the night
Break down now I standin' here can't you see
Break down, it's all right
It's all right
It's all right..."

I loved that old rock song, but in this moment it wasn't "all right" and the context felt awkward, as if I was the one who had done something inappropriate and felt it fill the car like warm, stinky air. Our other passenger had no idea of what had been discussed just moments earlier between the driver and myself. I wanted to blurt out how I'm all about treating each other better, about treating women with respect as equals, about how I made my own mistakes over the years and how life lessons are only as good as what you do with the learning, about how I grew up with abusive patriarchy and domestic violence and sexual assault and that's why I'm on the city Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and involved in Kidpower and why I along with many others want to change the culture of victim and perpetrator and protective self-defense to my Christmas wish of awareness and prevention and a willingness to change, of ending the perpetual battle between unforgiving modern feminism and the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks).

All in one breath. And then I thought better of it, because they both would've thought me crazy, and I'm sure they were already both good people deep down, even with the driver's commentary.

Instead, we got to the rental car place and then went on our separate ways. I was glad I had spoken up, though, and told my wife the same later that day.

"Good for you, Sweetie. Did you tell him you're on the city commission?" she asked.

"No, I didn't. But I thought about it."

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