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
Walter Donway says
Only a moment’s reflection on books, Web sites, male chatter, personal fantasy that feature some act of aggression on women, some violation, should convince anyone that the fears of women are well grounded. Indeed, humans may be the first species for which consensual intercourse is the norm. Just watch the frogs in my pond!
And yet, there is a strange side-effect, if you will, of this notion that the female has something that the male is continuously desperate to obtain–and that the female must ever be on guard. That strange side-effect is the truly gigantic market in which women SELL just a look at their “goods.”
Browse the Web. Literally thousands of Web sites feature hundreds of thousands of women of every nationality–lately very heavy in Russia and Eastern Europe–who expose themselves in detail and close up, in every possible suggestive pose. They do it, I suppose, for the money. Because their culture has persuaded them that they are the owners of a highly valuable, sought-after property–their very person, nudity per se–and that they must never give this away. There must be sufficient compensation: money or, the same thing, marriage.
Therefore, the notion of a stolen peek, the suggestion of free look, the intimation that flirtation might be fun, becomes a kind of theft–an outrage against the girl’s, woman’s property in her person.
To sell a peek, a pose, an arousing photo is a major worldwide industry. And so the notion of a freebie becomes a kind of outrage.
Walter, you provide ample evidence of the complexities of this subject matter. What I touch on here is just one aspect of vulnerability in our culture. What you allude to is beyond the reach of this post, the commodity of sexual allure. Most of the girls to whom I refer here are not interested in selling or ensnaring. They were busy with the tasks at hand, working, going to school, learning to drive, just being. Moving through the world is a very different experience for females than for males. It is this difference, as you quickly grasped, that needs to be understood in caring relationships. Thanks for commenting.
I think both female and male perspectives on male intentions should be considered. More than once a woman in my life, whether my wife or a friend, was unaware of the amorous intentions of a male coworker or friend. As a fellow guy, I saw what he wanted a mile away. And I was usually proven right over time.
It’s gotten more complicated now that I’m a dad. I’m not worried about potential boyfriends – she’ll figure that out (with some advice from mom and dad, of course.). I’m worried about other males in positions of power or authority to my daughter, and how they might abuse it. I fully plan on listening to my wife, and my daughter, and together the three of us will figure out how to navigate these tricky waters.
Thanks for the post, Jill. Good stuff, as always.
Your first sentence reminds me that women should listen as well to their men re: perceptions of other male intentions.
Sometimes though male projections get in the way and women feel accused of playing along with what their partner may perceive as a seduction. I could write a piece on these confusions as well. At the heart of it, once again, is listening and respecting each other, sort of like scrambling a bunch of eggs together: hard to sort out whose egg is whose but the final product is the sum total of the eggs..in the Coupledom that’s the deal. Respecting the blend and letting each partner decide what they think of that particular flavor. A stretch of metaphor, but somehow that is what came to mind.
Love how you get that a mom and a dad are part of the navigation for their daughters, by listening to all involved. Now that makes a great omelet. Guess I ‘m hungry.
Walter Donway says
You are so right. My comment was tangential to the theme of your post, which was how difficult it is for men not simply to acknowledge how vulnerable the women in their lives feel, but to empathize with that feeling. As I mentioned, my thoughts were drawn to a “side effect” of the issue. Even at that, I needed to acknowledge that the vast majority of girls and women have no involvement in the vast sex industry.
The idea that your commentary sparked was that, at one time, not so long ago, the men in our society were acutely, obsessively aware of the vulnerability of their wives and daughters in the sexual arena. Their concern had all the ferocity, at times, of the bull defending his cows. That is less so, today, in Anglo-Saxon countries, but the duena is not a relic in the more traditional Catholic Hispanic countries. There are many cultures in which fathers and brothers will kill to protect the sexuality of their women. Failure such protection, of course, the defiled woman becomes the victim.
But here we are, today, in the secularized portions of the West, with literally millions of women, most in their late teens or very early twenties, who make a commodity of their sexuality. And any fellow with a computer and internet connection can violate, at least with his eyes, the beautiful daughters once protected by walls, curfews, and fierce male relatives.
And, I thought, wool-gathering, perhaps, far from the point of your commentary, that here was a vast disconnect: 1) the teenage daughter frozen in fear at an inappropriate comment, 2) the teenage daughter performing, for camera closeups, what once would have been considered a deadly violation even in the marriage bed.
The theme of MY post had little of the insight and dignity of yours: Poor Walter, pulled asunder by the loud, but very mixed, messages of a culture seeking liberation but finding a progressive degradation.
Cheers. I greatly enjoy your experience, insight, and fine writing style.
Phyllis Rhodes says
I think this is a very important topic Jill. I wonder whether you have read the book, “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. It is an extremely good read and speaks to the importance of trusting one’s instincts and intuition when it comes to feeling threatened. I always recommend it to my women’s self-defense class participants.
The importance of feeling self-empowered as a woman, as well as being supported by the men in your life (rather than ridiculed for “overreacting” to a perceived threat), cannot be overstated. There are specific emotional, verbal and physical tools that every female should have in order to lessen the feelings of vulnerability you describe. I would love to discuss this with you in greater detail at your convenience. Thanks for bringing up this very important issue and its impact on a couple’s relationship.
Phyllis, I would enjoy exploring this topic with you. Clearly this is an area of expertise for you and I am eager to learn more. Thanks so much for the information, book reference and offer to share some of your knowledge with the blog and me.