Modern? I was born in 1942. But things have been going downhill for quite a while now. Let me tell you about it. Today, American men are sitting in the waiting room while the women give birth to a new nation. They have taken themselves out of the conversation. For me, the abandonment started with dancing. I was often given the choice of either dancing with a woman or not dancing at all. I hate dancing with women. My boobs are big and they keep bumping up against my partner’s boobs. It’s a free country. Men don’t have to dance. But even if it’s just out of compassion, they could reach out their hand and take a whirl every once in a while without making us feel like we were forcing them to do some kind of penance. We solved the dancing problem, turned into a joke by the women who keenly felt the absence of men, with standalone dancing. If you want to dance, you go out on the floor and strut your stuff. During social dancing, you have to enter into the rhythms and style of another person – a much more daunting interaction requiring training, humility, and forgiveness. And bringing a special kind of joy. I used to tell my son “If you want to meet girls, you should take ballet.” Hahahaha. Little boys in many countries take ballet, not here. I’d like to see a football player do what Mikhail Baryshnikov could do. I was raised to be someone’s wife, and had no objections to that. But the world changed, and I had to go to work. That meant working a full day, then coming home and doing all the housework, laundry, childcare, and cooking. “Who me?” men were saying. “I don’t know how to cook.” To which my friend Rita answers, “If you know how to read, you know how to cook.” They sabotaged chores, like putting the darks with the whites in the washing machine, ruining more than one white blouse, leaving the clothes to dry in the dryer, causing them to be hopelessly wrinkled, or burning a shirt with the iron. Talk to a woman my age. She’ll tell you all about it. We have solved the problem by having nobody cook. The restaurants and takeout joints are thriving, to hell with nutrition and togetherness, not to mention financial sanity. And we solved the cleaning thing by not cleaning at all. “Come in. It’s a mess,” is the new password. Our immune systems will probably benefit. When I started dating again after two divorces, I found there was no place to meet men. The women’s magazines earnestly urged women like to me to get out of the house. “Go to the adult school. Take a ceramics class. A dancing class. A class on welding.” Trouble was that in the ceramics, dancing, and even the welding class, almost all of the participants were women. For the past few years, I have given memoir workshops in libraries – almost all women. I have joined writing groups – all women. I was part of an all-woman choir, and my church choir has three-to-one women in it. I was a college professor for eight years, from 2007-2015, and over the years, the classes became more and more female. The freshman writing class was required, so everybody had to take it, yet there were more and more women as a percentage of each class. (One memorable class contained the entire men’s soccer team, but… well, we won’t get into that. Let’s just say that I discovered how to conduct a kinetic writing class.) Even when there were men in the class they would say such things as, “I’m afraid to say what I think because I don’t want the women jumping down my throat.” I’m organizing a carpool for the kickoff of the Poor People’s Campaign on Sunday. Eighteen women and three men, all three of whom are accompanying their wives. I have sought to explain men’s absence from public community life, and have come up with a couple of explanations which are entirely unscientific, but satisfactory to me. American men have a serious case of performance anxiety. For men my age, they had not only to perform in the bedroom, but they had to support their families. Braggadocio does not put food on the table. When social dancing, they were required to “lead” – failure was on them. I would put down the college freshman’s fear that women might “jump down his throat” to performance anxiety. A young man should be able to stand up for himself against even an onslaught of criticism, as Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump are showing us. You don’t have to be insulting to stand up for yourself. These young men were afraid. When I started dating again at sixty, I discovered two kinds of contemporary men; the ones who were still living in 1959 and the ones who, like all their women contemporaries, had been forced to change their expectations and behavior with the times. At one high school reunion, the [male] organizer in charge of music refused to play any music from Elvis Presley on. We were dancing to “Earth Angel” and Perry Como. Men of my generation were raised to be providers and community networkers – think golf club and Rotary Club. Over the years, their wives went out to work, but they chugged along as a family provider, and nobody stopped them from going to the Rotary Club. These men jumped in front of me to open doors. I appreciate gallantry, but theirs was a gallantry that suggested that I couldn’t get through a door unless there was a man there to help me. It was a matter of attitude. I have no problem with someone calling me “honey” or “girl,” but sentences like, “She’s a nice gal,” sound archaic to me. I would have trouble sitting across the breakfast table with someone who uttered such sentences without realizing the baggage they carried. “I respect women” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it took time to figure out what it meant to each man. My first husband did nothing around the house. I can’t tell you how thoroughly he did nothing. So before I married my second husband, a great respecter of women, I insisted on a solid agreement that would free me from some household duties – we were both working full-time, and it was only fair. We wrote down a series of household chores, divided them up, and signed the agreement. He was on board, “one hundred percent.” Then one day, after he had finished his three chores, he announced he was taking the kids to play baseball for a while. “But who’s going to sweep the porch? We need to clean out the refrigerator!” “I’ve done what I agreed to do,” he said and was out the door. It’s those dozen extra things that you can’t put on a list that keep you from having a fun game of baseball instead of sweeping the porch. He had not thought past that list. It’s a matter of attitude. So here we are today. Women are protesting, facing accusers in court, coming out publicly with their stories, complaining to their bosses though it might cost them their jobs, fielding painstaking parsing of what constitutes “harassment” – does it count if your boss just grabs your butt? while the men sit in their chairs and supervise. Sexual harassment and abuse is not a women’s problem. It is a men’s problem. There should be men’s marches, men’s unique hats, men’s tee shirts, and men’s testimony in court. We need a Truth and Reconciliation commission. My partner abandoned me when I was pregnant at 18 and the partners of numerous acquaintances who were in the same situation abandoned them, too. The men walked away. “That’s something for the girls to take care of.” And still, and still, and still, it is the women who are wearing their little pink hats, traveling to marches, testifying, railing, demanding respect and dignity. Where are the men? Are men taking on the job of escorting women to abortion clinics? They’re half the reason they’re there. Male doctors have not spoken up in their hospitals so that abortion can be moved to where it belongs, in hospitals. Leaving them in clinics makes the clinics and the workers in them vulnerable. If they were working in a hospital, there would be a measure of privacy and dignity. The doctors have allowed themselves to be intimidated by blowhards who don’t want the taint of abortion around them, though the one-third of American couples who have had abortions includes members of every demographic, including evangelical Christians and Catholics. In today's news, the female Olympic gymnasts are just halfway through the roster facing their abuser, Dr. Nassar in court. They are the public face of his abuse. Where are the men who were complicit, who covered up the girls’ stories, who promoted and voted for Nassar to join their boards of directors, who knew what was going on but did not send another woman into the examination room to protect the girls -- they were just girls, 12, 13, even younger? But to begin with, would some men please join our church choir?
We didn’t tell the Irish, “Time’s up! They’re growing potatoes again. Go back home.” We didn’t tell the Jews, “They’re not killing Jews any more in Ukraine. Go back home.” We didn’t even tell the Vietnamese, “The war’s over. Now go back home.” We did kidnap Africans. They raised our children, built our homes, grew the food that sustained us, and worked our fields, creating prosperity for the rest of us, and then, and then, and then, we told them to go back home. Yes, there was a time when there was a movement to send the black people back to Africa, though when southern Americans were not busy terrorizing black men for looking a white woman in the eye, they were turning Africans more white. When we grew impatient with the tiresome Native Americans, we set them on fire, slaughtered them and their children, and sent them to march to Oklahoma, or Canada, or someplace else, where they froze and starved. Indians have been called bad well into my lifetime – the Lone Ranger, and – now listen, “Tonto,” which means “Moron,” was my favorite radio program when I was a child. We put Indians in the dry places so they would thirst, and killed their buffalo so they would starve. When they refused to die off, we took their children away to turn them into “Americans.” Americans. I walked through Dachau, imagining the smoke curling into the air, the crowds being sorted, the Germans eating their schnitzel in comfort and plenty. And at the end of the tour, I felt nothing. Why? How could I be so hard-hearted? I turned away from the last exhibit in their museum of things , and said, how hypocritical you are, Ann. If there had been six million Indians, we would have tried to kill them all. Yet there was no strange fruit hanging from German trees. Even Anne Frank did not feel the terror that African-Americans felt, sometimes every day. At least she could hide. And we call ourselves righteous. We are Philistines, moneychangers in the temple, we are the pharaoh trying to bring the plague on his slaves. We are Nebuchadnezzar, who wanted to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (or, as the Rev. William Barber refers to the last of those, “A Bad Negro”) into the fire for not worshipping the golden image. When I visited Memphis in 1961, there were WHITES ONLY signs, and sharecroppers doffed their hats and lowered their heads when our host came by, "Mawnin' Mistah Hickman." Joseph McCarthy lived in my lifetime. Lynching, segregation, serfdom, and McCarthyism are not "history." They happened in my lifetime. I thought the hippies had brought some light. They said, smoking their peace pipes, “Hey man, we’re all the same.” They loosed women, wrote music that still inspires us, and refused to kill a made-up enemy half a world away for what looked like, and proved to be, no reason. They dared prison by burning their draft cards. They formed communes so they could be there for each other. But war, criminal political behavior, cynicism, and fatigue broke us. We were reviled for our peaceful thoughts, and humiliated. We were thrown out of the temple because we wore our hair long and the men wore plaid pants. We made ourselves strangers to our own land, and were beaten down. It takes stamina, courage, and persistence to win. We can look at our black neighbors to see what that looks like, and they still haven’t won. I have energy left from those days of hope and togetherness in my youth. And a lot of anger, too. It’s time for young Americans, and young people living in America even if they are not “Americans,” to grasp the country and make it in their image, but I will help.
Book Review: The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life
The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50 is full of information, suggestions, stories, and wisdom. It is written from a healthy point of view which the author Joan Price states on page 145, “If we could all just enjoy what we enjoy without moralizing about what other people enjoy, what a wonderful world it would be.” Embracing this blunt, well-informed, and tolerant viewpoint makes it possible to learn without feeling embarrassed or guilty. People do a wide variety of things in their bedrooms, and how does it help us to be ignorant about those things? If you have read this book, you are prepared for anything: a change in your partner’s pattern of desire, illness, loss, physical limitation, old age, and more good sex than you had imagined possible. I won’t deny that reading about dozens of sexual kinks and variations is erotic, but the eroticism is balanced with deep intelligence as Price never dwells too long on any particular situation or variation, but moves forward to make her point. If nothing else, you will realize by the end of the book that you’re allowed to empower the most resilient and unrelenting sex organ – your brain. It’s going to turn to sex anyway, whether or not you allow it to, so you might as well enjoy the ride. Price never loses sight of the fact that the most precious gift of all is a reliable loving relationship. In its absence, there are myriad ways to remain a sexual being until your very last day on earth.
At my 91-year-old aunt’s table in the assisted living facility sit four women. Sometimes I join them for lunch. Old age has turned all four women into quiet companions, but my aunt looks forward to their company. When my aunt and I eat at a separate table, she keeps looking over to see how her companions are doing. Genevieve is a mild woman who raised her three children in a home less than five minutes away from where she sits now. She is interested in me and my book. Irene is a former international lawyer who prefers to be called “Doctor.” In the last few years she has suffered two broken legs, two bouts of pneumonia, and the loss of her son, but she has an old-school stoicism and suffers her pain with grace. The last, besides my aunt, is Georgie. She is 102 years old, which means she was born before the First World War, in 1912. When epidemics rage, Georgie is untouched. Sometimes she sits alone at the table while her three table mates fight off the latest bug to rage through the facility. Every day she plays backgammon with laughter but no trace of competitiveness. She is ambulatory and fully with it. The only deficit I have ever noted is her memory, but not in the way you would think. I am curious about the world she grew up in. What music did she dance to? Does she remember the first time she saw a moving picture? An airplane? A television set? What was her wedding like? She might remember Armistice Day in 1918. My late mother, who was born in 1910, remembered it. But Georgie floats like a cork on life. She says, “I don’t remember any of those things. I just get up every morning and say my prayers to thank God that I am here. I take one day at a time. I don’t worry.” That’s as deep as it gets. Maybe Georgie knows the secret of life. If so, I am not going to survive to 102.