When I was little I loved romantic comedies, which gave me false ideas about what a relationship should be. Not to worry, growing out of it was painless. But what’s applicable today is that in the movies there was most often a conflict between the main characters; and while they were battling it out, the woman regularly grew indignant with the man over his insensitivity, or because he grabbed her by the arm or tried to kiss her. And that’s when he’d get THE SLAP.
The lift of an open hand. The pullback and swing. The satisfying slap! as palm meets cheek. Perfectly delivered, a lesson taught. The slap. Why did we lose it and where did it go?
When I was around fourteen the quarterback of the school football team approached me in the hallway and, surrounded by his all-boy entourage, put his hand on my breast and squeezed. Right there, with other students swarming by.
“Soft,” he said, turning and shuffling away, followed by his laughing pals, leaving me stunned, open-mouthed, and humiliated.
Back then I wondered what it was about me that invited it.
But now I wonder why the hell I didn't slap him.
The Women’s Lib movement began as a push for freedom to explore, expand, and to no longer be bound by inhibitions and outdated restrictions; altogether, a worthwhile goal. Oh, and equal pay for equal work. But in the end, the crusade left women thinking that if they wanted to be equal to men they had to act like men. Women became louder and more palpably sexual, which was disconcerting for those of us who were reserved and lacked confidence; but great for men who were no long required to defer to our sensibilities. There would be no more holding doors open or refraining from telling dirty jokes when women were present. What started as a push for autonomy and equal pay ended in a loss of respect for women on all fronts; and there’s still no such thing as equal pay. So it seems we lost it all.
As to the young man who groped me at school, he wasn’t a monster. He was immature, had cohorts to impress, and was probably as confused as everybody else about interactions between the genders. Nevertheless, the act shaped me.
When I got out of college, moved back to Amarillo, and got a job, many of us, men and women, would go for drinks after work. Sometimes I went and sometimes I didn’t. Here’s a joke told to the group by one of the more esteemed supervisors (male; there were no female supervisors) on one of these drink nights:
A sack boy was carrying a middle-aged woman’s groceries to her car.
“I have an itchy pussy,” she told him as they walked along.
“Ma’am," the kid responded, "you’re going to have to point it out. All these Japanese cars look alike to me.”
Isn’t that offensive? It was so disgusting that I still remember it. Everyone laughed uproariously, the women included, though not me; I was always outside, more of an observer. Did all men think that kind of joke was funny? I feared so. Was the women's laughter sincere? I couldn't tell.
Also, at work, there were affairs between married guy bosses and younger female subordinates. Everybody knew. The couples went on double dates. And that’s probably the reason why I chose to stay as far away from a nine-to-five job as I could. I’m timid. I have no idea how to stand up for myself.
But all worked out well for me. I married a nice man whom I’ve never seen disrespect a woman, and, because we lived in so many foreign locations, I never worked outside our home, and therefore wasn’t subjected to the indignities I was certain were a part of my peers’ working world back in America.
And now, as happens with trends, the mess that was left for my generation and our younger sisters is righting itself—or rather, a clutch of defiant women is righting it. The men who have been called out for their crude behavior have received a much-deserved slap.
Careers have been ruined and there’s no doubt that behavior will change. But this groping and advancement in return for sex started long ago. It went on for so long that the creeps thought it was acceptable, that it was their right. Why did we (I stand with all women here) let them get away with it? Why weren’t these accusations trumpeted years ago? Why wasn’t Women’s Lib about that instead of burning bras?
Things would never have come to this if we’d held on to our slap. Perfectly delivered, a lesson taught. When we reclaim our slap, which we're now in the process of doing, let's keep it.