Women Good, Men Bad
The other morning, I was trying to tell my husband about a conversation I’d had with a friend when he laughed, interrupted and said, “Is this gonna’ be one of those ‘Woman Good, Man Bad’ stories?”
I know what he means by “Woman Good, Man Bad” story. I also know that by interrupting he’s expressing his impatience with sitting through five minutes of details when the story has to end with me saying, “Can you even believe he did that to her?” A question that must be answered, “No, I agree with you, honey. He was wrong; she was right.”
And I’m sure she was.
I was well into adulthood before I came to grips with one simple truth: No other factor will impact my life as much as my gender.
My parents are part of the so-called Silent Generation, also known as Radio Babies or Traditionalists, children growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression and two world wars. They rebuilt the world through hard work, determination, and resilience. And it worked. It really worked. Both of my parents were born into poverty. Both made it out. They had dreams, they worked hard, and the dreams came true. It was the American dream.
So, naturally they passed these values on to us, their three girls.
Back in the 1980s temporary agencies were big business. While I was working on my undergraduate degree, I could call any number of agencies and have temporary employment within an hour. I’d sign up over holidays and summer breaks.
During Christmas when I was a senior, I took an assignment with one of the banks. I was hired along with three other students to complete some administrative work. It was a two-week assignment and by the end of the first week the four of us, three girls and a guy, had developed a light, temporary work friendship.
On Monday of the second week our male friend was summoned to a manager’s office and emerged a short time after, grinning. He’d accepted an opportunity to enter their management training program. How, I asked, had this come about? He went on to relate being approached by a manager at the end of the prior week, asking if he’d like to play golf on Saturday. They’d bonded on the course and the rest was history. Which, by the way, was this guy’s major. That’s the factoid that sticks out in my memory. I don’t remember the guy clearly, but I do remember him as unserious, unambitious, an aimless young traveler, the proverbial little, lucky squirrel who tripped on a nut.
Me on the other hand? I was rabid. And just in case my meaning isn’t clear here, I looked up the definition of rabid and found, “having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something.”
Yep. That pretty much sums it up.
My natural desire to see the whole world, study the whole world, understand the whole world, coupled with my parents’ hard sell of hard work turned me into a crazed academic who’d do just about anything to score an extra credit assignment. I honestly believed that if I just worked hard, it would all really happen.
The real America started to reveal itself to me quickly and if I cataloged my experiences with gender bias, sexual harassment, and glass ceilings, this blog would be really long. I spent a lot of energy over the years fighting for a place at the table, rather than just doing the jobs I was hired to do. I lost some battles, but I won a few too.
Back in 1986 –the same time as my illuminating temporary experience at the bank – Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member, Phil Hartman played talk show host, Phil Donahue in the SNL skit, “Donahue: Exploited Women.” The skit features two of Hartman’s fellow cast members, Victoria Jackson, and Jan Hooks, as the exploited women. Cast member Nora Dunn plays a female psychologist who has published a book, “Women Good, Men Bad.”
In the skit, Victoria Jackson’s character, Elaine Poldask, is questioned about giving up her career for the man who’s exploited her for years. Yes, she acknowledges, it’s true, she had to be available to take his calls and Hartman delivers the pitiful, but hilarious punchline, “And you had been a marine biologist?”
The skit is at least 35 years old, and I’ve been telling people about it, thinking about it, and laughing at it since the night I saw it. I looked it up on YouTube when I started writing this essay and yep, laughed again. Referencing the title of the book, “Women Good, Men Bad,” has become my shorthand to my husband, when I don’t feel like rehashing every detail of a story. He knows what I mean.
I laughed at that SNL skit, and I laugh at my real life – because that’s what Americans do.
And as it turns out, my parents didn’t raise three girls; they raised three Americans.
I am an American. And fortunately, or unfortunately my career has given me a lot of material.
Once, at a former job, when a companywide campaign meant to encourage employee initiative was announced, a colleague of mine approached management with a question about a long-held company policy. The response from management? “I don’t know, but I can say that far greater minds than yours are at work.”
It was sad. We laughed for a week. We’ve been laughing at that one for years.
America is a young country with – to say the least – an ambitious goal: liberty and freedom for all. The upward mobility that my parents enjoyed was a good start, but the American reality of today is a smidge different. We aren’t there yet, not in terms of gender equality.
A couple of weeks ago we went to dinner at a newer, trendy place. I stopped a waiter shortly after we arrived and asked, “Could you tell me where your ladies’ room is?” He looked to be in his early 20s, was polite, friendly and gave me a genuine smile as he answered, “We have two restrooms for our guests’ use. You may use which ever one you like.”
He couldn’t have been any nicer, but he was mansplaining to me how they don’t adhere to gender norms there. I didn’t mind about the bathrooms, but I thought I picked up on a little ageism there. He was so vibrant and healthy, showing off how he could work a job where he rushed around all evening, remembered orders, multitasked, and lifted heavy things.
My generation used the expression, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
I hear the millennials don’t like it. I learned in a work sensitivity training session that they are also offended by “Kill two birds with one stone.”
I guess the message I’m getting about my gender equality issue is “Get in line.”
And the correct line at that – don’t go asking which line to get in based on any demographic information. No, no.
Like it or not, there really is more than one way to skin a
cat tomato. Better? I used to imagine a world that evaluated both men and women based on their actions and accomplishments. Now, I see a world less defined along gender lines. It’s a better way to solve the problem, but either way, we still have a long way to go.
In the meantime, we’ll argue, we’ll fight, and we’ll laugh. The freedom to fearlessly satirize, mock and lampoon is one of our most prized liberties. In many countries around the world, poking fun at your leaders can get you fined, imprisoned or worse. A world where you’re punished for making a joke about a politician is truly a foreign land for Americans.
I once heard someone say that women’s paths are not straight. It seems the path to equality won’t be straight either. As our reliance on pigeonholing (Gosh, no offense intended here, pigeon lovers.) people decreases, our new freedoms will blur lines and cause more confusion in the already confusing arena of gender and sexuality.
Which leads me back to that SNL “Women Good, Men Bad,” skit. It ends with cast member Nora Dunn, delivering the final punchline. Near the end, a rowdy Donahue audience member, played by Kevin Nealon, becomes verbally abusive and harasses the guest panel. The exploited women are attracted to him with one asking, “Do you need a lift home?” As Nealon continues to heap on the abuse, Dunn playing the enlightened, lesbian, clinical psychologist cranes her neck to get a better look at Nealon’s character and delivers her line.
“Any sisters like you at home?”