In DESIGNS FOR LIVING, columnist Marlowe Granados dispenses sound advice in a noisy world. Send your rants and pleas to [email protected] for Marlowe’s consideration.
For a while now, I’ve been steadily losing my ability to endure men. It feels involuntary: a shudder of exasperation that courses through me without warning while a man is speaking. This wouldn’t be too much of a concern except that it’s getting in the way of my ability to work under male bosses.
It never happens right off the bat . . . I guess I have to get to know them first. The first time it happened, the anger developed slowly, and my manager’s behavior somewhat warranted my response. Now, though, I notice the feeling coming out around almost every man in my life, including my father.
I just began a new job, and my frustration grew so much by my third training shift that I actually snapped and talked back (which I would ordinarily say is a response completely removed from my sunny, people-pleasing disposition). My boss is a good guy and caring, but I can’t help but fixate on the times when I feel he is not only making unfair and inaccurate estimations of my intelligence, but also searching for/inventing things to call me out on, like asking me random math questions. I am a biologist by training, and this job is in retail.
He doesn’t dislike me and has told me that he thinks I’m extremely capable. I just can’t stop bristling when he gives me instructions or advice, or even when he speaks in a certain tone that sets me off. It’s embarrassing. I feel guilty, but I’m tired of smiling and nodding when all I want to do is scream. Any advice to help me get over myself?
An involuntary misandrist
Dear Involuntary Misandrist,
In the 1949 George Cukor film Adam’s Rib, Katherine Hepburn stars as a lawyer representing a woman who shot her husband in the shoulder when confronting him with his mistress. While discussing the case with her secretary, Hepburn remarks, “A boy sows a wild oat or two, the whole world winks.” The line captures what I had not been able to pinpoint about my feelings in certain mixed company. What got under my skin was this wink. A chummy and sometimes gleeful pat on the back for behavior that at the very least can be obnoxious.
When I was fifteen or sixteen, unsupervised and acting like a street urchin in New York, I was hanging around someone who was considered a “purveyor” of downtown culture. A couple of guys hung around him, too, who were a few years older than me. One night they were feeling cocky and one of the boys spat on my girlfriend while we were walking. Not just a little spit—the amount that one saves for when there’s a target in mind. I was indignant. My friend took napkins to her jacket to wipe it off and was too sweet to know how to respond. I remember being so disgusted while our Purveyor did nothing but shrug it off with an amused grin. He would gesture towards the boys and say, “They’re the future of New York!” And I remember stamping my foot and screaming, “They’re from Bel Air!”
I did not know the word misogyny, and I did not entirely understand feminism, but I still claim this memory as my villainess origin story. All that fire and no power at all. I remember looking around thinking everyone there was stupid, shallow, and none of this was cool—a disenchanted turn for a teenager who had put this kind of world on a pedestal. The curtain was drawn on the facade that was some sort of cultural authenticity, when really it was just a hierarchy of men that would pass the baton from generation to generation, and me and my friend were decoration, easily crushed and stepped on.
If that is the beginning of my story, I can only say that the experiences since have accumulated into a tightly wound ball of yarn that will inevitably keep growing larger over the course of my life. I know the exact feeling you describe. I guess it’s something like a seething, insurmountable grudge. Each experience compounds, and on my very worst days it’s like tickling a bear. This is all to say that how you are reacting to men at large is very normal, and in fact healthy. There are some people out there who will invariably grate on you, and as platitudes go, men can be very irritating!
There’s something in the air, where complaints about misogyny are made to seem passé and unfashionable. Since I have better style than most of those naysayers, I am pleased to report that it is perfectly fine to complain about misogyny and to not let anyone make you feel bad about it. Personally, it is my belief that if you’re going to be earnest about anything, it should be hope and anger.
Of course, I can sit here and say “Don’t take it! Leave!” but that advice isn’t up to the complexity of living in the world and needing a job. Some people need small reminders that what they’re doing is not only annoying but bad etiquette. For some reason, if you say someone lacks decorum it makes them straighten up their back more than if you accuse them of any kind of systemic impropriety. I guess people don’t want to seem undignified. If he asks you a math question, just say, “I’m not in the mood to entertain today” and go off to do a task. There is a certain skill that forms after a number of these inconveniences that I will call “withering unaccountability.” There is nothing more terrifying than a woman who can go from sunny to cutting at the drop of a hat—and with nothing to pin on her! Get to know your anger from all angles. A little rage can be enlivening.