I just finished reading Paul’s sister Linda’s tell-all memoir, It’s Perfectly Normal, and I was so impressed at the skill with which she expressed herself in what was her second contribution to this series of stories that I found myself whooping “Brava,” at her ability to successfully negotiate her second story. This is Booboo DiStefano, a one-time main squeeze of Paul’s. My nickname, you might recall from my own earlier story, I’m Breaking Down, was the result of my parents’ forgetting to use birth control nine months before I made my appearance on the scene. I’m Breaking Down itself was an application of what might be termed “Dickensonian Intertextuality”, in that its plot was inspired by a Charles Dickenson short story “Bill Boston,” transferred into a setting relevant to myself and Paul. But upon reflection, I realize that, like Linda, I also have another story to tell, and so, following her lead and expressing it in a phrase very much in the news these days, I say “me too.”
While Linda’s narrative is more about her own personal struggles with insecurity and the resulting penchant for self-deception which accompanies them, my own thoughts are motivated by a reaction to some fundamental organizing principles that dictate how human societies operate. Similarly, while Linda felt the need to utilize the “macguffin” of a dead cat named Quandary to articulate her ideas for her, I choose to speak directly to the reader without the need for an intermediary. My message is very straightforward: The world is roughly evenly divided between men and women in terms of their numbers, their native intelligence, and their desire to lead fulfilled lives, but with regard to anything else, the two sexes are decidedly unequal. Although women are the ones who possess the capability to reproduce other human beings through the sexual act, in most societies men tend to dominate positions of authority in the workplace, so much so that women who spent their lives in tasks other than raising children were, until fairly recently, viewed as an anomaly.
It might be worthwhile to consider the source of this inequality. Since men are typically physically stronger than women, they may feel that this advantage gives them license to treat women as their possessions. Moreover, since possessions can be bought or sold without consideration for the feelings of the owned object, daughters often find themselves under the control of their fathers, in some cultures are not permitted free choice of their romantic involvements, and historically, could be sold to a suitor for the price of a dowry. This confluence of economics and the sexual act is also the basis for sexual harassment, where a man in a position of authority can coerce a woman into performing sexually against her will in return for granting her some small advancement in her status. Once married, many women are expected to be subservient to their husbands, taking the lead in raising the children, keeping the house, and supporting the breadwinner in his career.
This difference between men and women also carries over into the bedroom, since the sexual act may be interpreted differently by the two sexes. Under what condition, for instance, is the sexual act even permissible? Must the two people be married? What if they aren’t married, but they believe they are in love? Or what if they aren’t sure they’re in love, but they feel a powerful attraction for one another, and the anticipation of pleasure lures them into a sexual encounter? If a man’s internal chemistry combines with a belief that a particular woman belongs to him, he might be more likely than the woman to gravitate towards the less restrictive end of this permissibility scale, and an episode that begins as a mutual desire for pleasure could turn into an occasion of rape, in which the man’s need to assert his dominance interferes with his capability to hear the woman’s insistence that his attentions are unwanted.
Now, when I knew Paul, I think he was in love with me and always treated me with the greatest respect, but I wanted to keep things casual. He actually asked me to marry him, but I turned him down, since I took him literally, but not seriously, while he took me seriously but not literally. Part of my reason was that I was angry about these matters I’ve been discussing here, that society doesn’t treat women fairly, so I wasn’t interested in marriage then, and – I’ll admit it – I wanted revenge. A psychiatrist once analyzed me and concluded I was afflicted with something called the “Turandot Syndrome,” and I believed it was payback time. I’m sure Paul would have made me extremely happy and been a great husband and father, but he was too good a human being to be subjected to the kind of shabby treatment I had in mind for my future husband. I later learned Paul married the woman who was his long-term soul mate. Eventually, someone else proposed to me and since, like my two sisters, I wanted to have three children, I accepted, but almost from the get go, I was unfaithful to him. Even though this particular man might have been an innocent bystander, as a representative of the male sex, he got just what was coming to him. Then, one evening, he made passionate love to me all night, and then awoke the next morning to the realization that he was really “gay.” Our subsequent divorce derived from our irreconcilable differences.
I think what riles me up the most about the way women are treated is the hypocrisy of it all. Led by their collective Johnsons, the superficial jerks that most men are lose all sense of decorum around a pretty face or a shapely figure and fall all over themselves to put these specimens on a pedestal for the price of a friendly smile. And if a man isn’t a complete boor and holds the door of an elevator open for a woman to enter first, it is cold comfort when that same man is paid more money for doing the same job she does. Of course, we women are probably no angels ourselves, taking advantage of these blockheads’ weak egos to manipulate them through flattery, but this behavior is really pretty shortsighted on our part, since by acting this way, we never acknowledge to ourselves the fundamental unfairness of it all.
I feel I should mention the other man in my life, who I knew before both Paul and my husband. He was a little older and more sophisticated than the boys I knew in high school, and you could say he was really responsible for opening me up emotionally. His parents had christened him after a Frederic Weatherly Irish ballad, and when I met him I was still a teenager. He was the first man to ever treat me like an adult and he told me how beautiful I was. He would always buy me expensive presents and so, feeling beholden to him, I agreed to let him be the first man to ever make love to me. After that we began meeting in the afternoons after class for sexual encounters, and I became pretty comfortable around him, and because he treated me so respectfully, I considered it like we were going steady. Meanwhile, he continued to compliment me, telling me what a great kisser I was and that I had a beautiful body. Although I might not care to put it on my resume, what girl doesn’t want her man to appreciate her infrastructure?
Gradually, though, he began pushing the edge of the envelope, suggesting we experiment with more and more unusual activities. He never insisted on anything, so I didn’t feel I was doing something wrong or against my will, and so I let his imagination set the agenda. The first time was when he asked me to pose for a series of nude photographs to show off that beautiful body of mine. Since it seemed like an exciting idea and I wanted to please him, and because I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it, I agreed. In the days to come, we would occasionally review my portfolio as a means of putting ourselves in the right mood to make love.
On another occasion, though, after complimenting me on my great-looking caboose, he wanted to put his Johnson up my rear end, and, citing my exceptional kissing capabilities, putting it down my throat (although not in that order.) At the time, I went along with these initiations into the realm of “rough sex,” because I felt I owed him proof of my affection in light of the attention he had lavished on me and that my carrying on a relationship with him was evidence of my consent. But eventually, my thinking evolved and I came to understand these unnatural practices as a form of rape by a man who obviously believed he had an ownership claim on me. Once I realized that, I knew it was time to move on, so I ended the relationship. Later, after I told Paul I couldn’t marry him, I gave birth to a son, who I wanted to name after him after. But then I realized that this other man could learn of my decision and be angry about it, and since I didn’t want my family to one day be able to see my nude pictures on the internet, I felt the safest thing to do was to just name the baby after this other man I had known in high school.
One of the most unfair things about the way I and other women are treated is society’s differential response to sexual relationships. Men are congratulated, often in lewd terms as good old boys, while women are disparaged as immoral sluts for performing the same identical acts, and this prejudice is embedded throughout the culture. This hypocritical double standard, by which a woman’s choices of who to love, are regarded as shameful, while a man’s shenanigans are seen as something to boast about, can be listened to in popular songs or watched on television and in movies. The portrayals of women in the genre of modern Rock music are among the most degrading imaginable.
I didn’t want to sign off before putting in my two cents about the 2016 election and what’s happened in the country since then. It was clear that the two parties were suffering from temporary insanity when they both chose to nominate such laughably inappropriate candidates as Clinton and Trump, making voters decide which one was the lesser of the two evils. Given everything I’ve told you so far about the how the society mistreats women, you might expect that I voted for Clinton, the woman candidate in the race, especially after Trump’s misogyny was revealed in that Hollywood Access tape. After all, America is the only western democracy that has not had a woman leader. But, although she was a woman, it was clear to me that she was the wrong woman, enabling her husband to think with his Johnson, juggling mistresses for years, while she turned a blind eye to pursue her political career. In addition, her arrogant sense of self-entitlement, as well as her hypocritical dishonesty and corruption led me to conclude that the efforts of women to redress the issues I have been cataloging here would be set back many years by her representing herself as the sincere women’s candidate.
Meanwhile, although I certainly wasn’t fooled by his obnoxious style of bullying opponents, his preying on women, and the transparent lies in his simplistic, moronic speeches and tweets, I voted with the majority of white women against Clinton and therefore for Trump. The only person I know of whose decision in 2016 was founded on a sense of integrity was Paul who, for the first time since he was eligible to vote in 1972, chose not to participate in this election.
Of course, when both parties abrogate their responsibility to nominate appropriate candidates, there were bound to be destructive consequences for the country, no matter who won. In this case, the new Trump administration reflects a number of misunderstandings about the nature of its job, so, to paraphrase the title of one of the many recent books about the new president, the situation is worse than we think. The driving force behind this government, the president himself, prides himself on his lack of experience, so it is no surprise that the most important feature of its attempts to govern is its incompetence, an inability to pass legislation to implement its policy agenda. Far from being a problem for average citizens, though, it is actually good news, since, unlike earlier administrations which understood that the role of government was to protect society’s most vulnerable citizens and to redress injustices, this administration seeks to enact policies to further exacerbate wealth inequalities by looting the Treasury for purposes of further enriching its wealthy friends. In a narrative designed to deflect observers from this goal, Trump and his surrogates keep up a running barrage of misinformation apparently based on the assumption that Americans are too stupid to see through it, and as a result, the information value of his claims is nonexistent.
Other elements of Trump’s first year in office are a marked deterioration in civility, emboldening white supremacists to no longer be reticent about expressing their racist views; an ignorance of the adverse effects of climate change and more generally a lack of respect for scientific research; and an aggressive stance toward nuclear rivals coupled with an admiration for other authoritarian regimes. It almost feels like the president of Russia is paying Trump to destroy its traditional rival, the United States, by making America worse again. Of course, given all these developments, it’s a guessing game as to how this goal will be achieved: Will we be obliterated by a nuclear weapon launched by a rogue nation, or perish from uncontrolled hurricanes or fires stemming from global warming, or meet a violent end as collateral damage in a racial conflict? We can only guess.
I hope I’ve made a convincing argument that the entire female sex finds itself unfairly placed under the domination of men, most of whom are single-mindedly motivated by a preoccupation with satisfying their sexual desires without consideration for the feelings of women. I have attempted to demonstrate, as a single mother, my disapproval of this state of affairs in my own life by my actions, but should anyone wish to criticize me for those actions, I think they need to ask themselves why is it acceptable for a man to do these things, but not for a woman? In general, the society really needs to reconsider the role of women relative to men in the world. Perhaps the occasion for this change is now at hand.