September 28, 2016
I had a really great “a-ha” moment in my intro sociology class my freshman year at Oxford College. Professor McQuaide was discussing a classroom study that found that young male students will raise their hands to answer questions they have no idea the answer to while young female students, who know the answer, will remain quiet. Girls are supposed to be seen and not heard, pretty, not smart. I remember relating to it because in school I was a junior Arnold Horshack (Google him, kids) leaping out of my chair just to control the room with whatever sound would come out of my mouth. “Oh! Oh! Oh! I know!” Even if I didn’t.
That’s how I felt about the first Clinton-Trump debate.
There are plenty of things to pick apart about Trump’s bizarre showing. I worked in the music business long enough to recognize a coked-up money guy. They blamed things on “bad microphones” as well. But the thing that struck me was his constant interruptions of his debate opponent – 51 times by one count. Trump was like a jacked-up Kanye West who thought the stage belonged to him alone. You can think what you want about Hillary Clinton, but I’m guessing a whole hell of a lot of women identified with her for those 90 minutes. A clueless guy rambling nonsense, in love with the sound of his own voice, over an experienced knowledgeable woman who as learned to defer to the man. It happens in classrooms, bedrooms and boardrooms every day.
I’ll leave it to the pundits and addiction specialists to translate Trump’s incoherent word salad. He’s convinced he won the debate and I’m sure he thinks he did. (Cocaine is a powerful drug.) I just want to reflect on how we men talk to and about women.
The first is the dismissive way we “let” “girls” into “our” conversations. We set the rules of the game and if they don’t follow them they are “incapable” on one hand or “ball-busting bitches” on the other. Or, in the case of Trump’s treatment of Alicia Machado, “Miss Piggies.” Women have a narrow margin of acceptance in a man’s world. Hillary Clinton had to smile but not too much. Be prepared but not overly scripted. Research shows that we are more likely to refer to women by their first names (or “Honey” or “Sweet Cheeks”) and give them less time to express themselves because their opinions are valued less. This has certainly been the case when discussing “male” issues like national defense and the economy. “Math is tough,” as Talking Barbie once said. Trump is an overweight 70-year-old man but Clinton was described by watchers as a “grandma.” The double standard lives!
The second is the way we erase females from the conversation. I’ve written about normative maleness in this blog. Like white is the default position, male is the “norm.” You have cabdrivers and lady cabdrivers. (Cue Prince song.) I’m still explaining to people that Cozy is a girl. (Although I secretly enjoy when old codgers call her “Young man.”) Unless it’s a cheerleading squad or one of Trump’s creepy pool parties, the female is an anomaly, like an alien, and must be treated with suspicion. Right, fellas?
The big thing is how we don’t actually listen to women. (“Did you say something, honey?”) Our body language and lack of eye-contact reflect this and every single woman knows what I’m talking about. But men like to pretend that women are from Venus and unless they have some magic Manslater to translate what the bitch means it’s just not worth the effort. Right, fellas?
How many heterosexual relationships have gone down in flames because the female partner felt like she was not heard? Studies show that the most successful marriages are the ones where couples act like they are teammates on the same side, facing issues together. Lots of guys like to claim they married their “best friend” but then tune her out when it’s convenient. That’s not how it works. I’d love to be Melania Trump’s therapist when Donald has moved on to model-wife #4. “He only talked at me, never with me. And he was always sniffing.”
And it’s not about listening to gossip or how the CenturyLink remote won’t work. It’s about listening to women’s journey through a still very sexist world and trying to be the best ally possible.
I write this because, like Donald Trump, I have a lot of work to do on this issue. I’ve come a long way since my first marriage, which ended with my wife saying, “You listen to your friends better than you listen to me.” I still struggle with the eye contact issue but it’s important to my partner so it’s important to me. I’m a feminist but I was socialized as a male and that means I have a lot of extra baggage to get rid off. Thank you, Donald Trump, for reminding me. You make me what to be a better man. My daughter and wife will appreciate it.
It might not be fair to characterize Trump as a coked-up bully who disregards the opinions of women and is not even interested in women who are not “10’s.” Maybe it’s not the coke. He has said he’s never done drugs and we all know Donald Trump never lies. Maybe that’s just him.