Relationships

When Will This Sexist Crap Stop?

After a lifetime of battling sexism, a mom has some advice for her daughter

My 20-something daughter radiates personal power, her eyes bright with her truth. She practically bursts at the seams with energy and unlocked potential. My heart aches when I suggest she take her father with her to her doctor's appointment.

It works. My husband and her doctor talk about bike racing and the Beatles, and my kid gets approved for the tests she needs—the tests she needed months ago.

Next time, her father can't make it, so I go with her. We spend ten minutes with the doctor, nine of which he speaks only to me. My eyes keep darting to my kid, hoping he'll take the hint. I finally give up. He's a clotheshorse, this doctor, always wearing expensive shoes. When I sense he's about to say no to something, I compliment them—creamy brown suede—and he suggests she see a specialist, a hematologist. I shake his hand when we leave.

In the car, I make excuses for him.

"He's a nice man—just old-fashioned."

"He thinks I'm crazy. He thinks it's all in my head," she says. "They all do."

"No, he doesn't. Your symptoms are complex."

But I'm lying and she knows it. She sighs. A lifetime of future obstacles swirl around her. The light in her eyes dims. My heart breaks.

"You got what you needed," I say. She crinkles her nose like at a bad smell. I feel slimed. I hate manipulation and manipulators. The dishonesty. Now I'm giving my daughter lessons in it.

"We didn't make the rules," I say. "You've got to pick your battles."

"And give in?" she says.

"You're not giving in," I say, avoiding her eyes.

How fine is the line between resistance and survival?

*

You lie on your back and stare at the night sky. Stars—masses of them—rarely seen in this city's ambient light twinkle back, silent witnesses.

The park, nestled in an affluent neighborhood, is dark and deserted. The scent of jasmine fills the air and the grass is dewy and cool. You run your fingers through it and listen to the crickets chirping and to Greg's rhythmic moaning. Car horns in the distance turn it all into a song.

You would scream but who would hear?

Instead, you pick out constellations in the night sky but you only know the big ones: The Big Dipper, Orion's Belt. The rest are an unreadable mess but who the fuck cares anyway?

Greg's moans get deeper; his movements quicker. Good. Going limp was smart. Look on the bright side—at least he's not inside you. There are worse things than being dry humped in an empty park by your best friend's older brother. Stop beating yourself up. You're 14 with 150 pounds of dead weight lying on top of you. You tried to push him off. You tried really, really hard.

You count stars while you wait for Greg to finish.

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He gives a final shout. The crickets stop chirping. A siren in the distance blasts then fades away. Greg is panting, spent. You push him off and rise, smoothing your sundress.

"Fucking asshole."

You slap him. He takes it because he's a nice Mormon boy.

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*

He swoops in, gathers you in his arms, dips you like Cary Grant in an old Hollywood movie and kisses you on the lips.

You're 25 and recently married. This is your first real job and this is your boss, a famous New York art director slumming it in L.A. You're in an empty office at the back of the agency where no one ever goes. You push him away murmuring something about being married, like that'll protect you.

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You tell the creative director who happens to be a good friend of his.

"That son of a gun," he says.

"Are you kidding me?" you say.

He smirks and shrugs. Boys will be boys.

"Fuck you," you say.

You're demoted and shunned. Your work ridiculed.

You quit your job.

*

I felt it first at 11. Some experience it at 7, 9, or 14. Every young girl feels it at some point during her childhood, whether she knows it or not.

That delicious feeling of you.

I am here, you yell, while sprinting across the schoolyard, your hair flying. I exist, you marvel, lying on the dewy grass on a starry night. I can do anything, you tell yourself, your future tempting you with unlimited possibilities.

You can do anything you want, your parents chant. You are the only one who can stop you. And you believe them.

You are whole, invincible and all-powerful.

Until, suddenly, you're not.

But how sudden is it really, this erosion of you? Chip, chip, chip—the hammer strikes a chisel and pieces of you fly off, lost forever.

*

"Tell me that story again, sweetheart. The one where you hit that guy."

We're having dinner—my husband, our kid and her fiancée.

"So, we were at this party and I was talking to this guy and he said, 'Women who get herpes deserve it.' So I lunged at him and twisted his nipples really hard and he started to cry."

I've heard this story a million times, yet I still laugh like a little kid.

"And then what?" I ask, dabbing my eyes with my napkin.

"Later on, I was in the kitchen and he came in and touched my face in a super creepy way. I was sitting on the kitchen counter, and I jumped down and ran at him with my fist cocked but Andrew stopped me."

"Damn it. That would have been so cool if you'd hit him."

*
I was 30 and working at my dream job. I was good at it. I'd won some big awards, yet already two male co-workers had been promoted over me. One of them even apologized before it was announced. Why? To avoid hysteria? After all, I was the only woman in the creative department—isn't that something women do? Get hysterical? New ground is being broken here, boys. Tread lightly.

My boss said, when I appeared in his doorway, "Yes, that happened but I just want you to know you look really pretty today."

Six months later, he hit on me. When I refused him, he made my life hell. And I quit. Again.

*
You're walking your 12-year-old daughter through the school parking lot. A group of men—fathers of girls—pass by. One of the fathers checks out your kid's tits. It happens so fast you're still in shock when she pecks your cheek and says, "Bye, Mom."

Walking back to the car, you search the parking lot, looking for the asshole. But he's gone. Angry and impotent, you pound the steering wheel until someone knocks on your car window and asks if you're OK.

*
A friend posts a meme on Facebook, a beautiful underwater shot of a naked woman. Gauzy fabric swirls around her as she tries to break free from the weights on her arms and legs. She fails and will fail. Nothing in the picture suggests she'll ever break free.

This picture haunts me for weeks, until late one night, I stretch out on the grass in the backyard and stare into the night sky, like I did when I was a little girl. I try to conjure up those delicious feelings again, where I spin and run and dance, light, free and unburdened, collapsing on the grass my heart filled with excited anticipation of the life I plan to lead. My future is bright and I am fearless. I can do anything and be anything I want to be. The only thing standing in my way is me.

*
"It's weird," my daughter says. "Dr. M doesn't know me. Why does he think I'm making this shit up?"

We're stopped at a red light. I glance at the young guys in the next car. They stare openly at my kid. She's beautiful in her goddess phase. My inner mama bear kicks in and I glare at them. But, no longer fuckable, I'm invisible.

"He's hardwired to not take women—especially young women—seriously."

"But I deserve respect."

"Of course you do but don't waste your life trying to get it from them. No matter what we achieve, most men will always think they're better than us because they're men. Sometimes even the men we love."

"That's fucked up."

"Totally fucked up," I say. "But don't take it personally. Accept that it exists and live your best life. Resist. March. Fight when it feels right. Surround yourself with people who love you. Protect your truth. Do your work and don't let anyone hurt you. I did and I regret it. Don't make your momma's mistakes, kiddo. OK. Rant over."

"Thanks, Mom."

"So, tell me the story about when you hit that guy."

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