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It Bears Repeating.

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In light of this, the right to fight, I say this……….again.

Originally Posted:  May 10, 2011

We’ve all been asked what our top 10 movies are, right? While mine sometimes change depending on my mood or the barometric pressure, the following have consistently rotated in and out of that Top 10:

  • Braveheart
  • Jaws
  • Star Wars
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Godfather, Parts I & II
  • True Romance
  • Aliens

First let me say I think it’s entirely possible I was a man in a past-life, and an aggressive, swashbuckling, womanizing one at that. But I digress.

If I look at just the movies above I ask myself what they all have in common?

  • Central alpha-male figures? Check.
  • Central alpha-male figures fighting against an alpha-male foe? Check. (I’m making the assumption that the shark in Jaws was a male. I will call him “Buddy”. And Nurse Ratched, well, Louise Fletcher created such an indelibly strong, frightening, gender-neutral character that at the very least she was the personification of “The Man”).

So they all have those things in common except….”Aliens”.

“Aliens”. Has there ever been a more kick-ass, archetypal, hell-hath-no-fury female character in film in recent memory? I think not. There have been attempted copy-cats, sure…but none that got is as right as Sigourney Weaver’s Oscar nominated performance as Ellen Ripley did in “Aliens”.

What fascinates me about Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is she managed to bridge the gap between feminine and masculine power until you forgot the gender stereotypes, and with ease fit into the role of Earth-mother defending her child with the iron-will and steely courage of an unwitting soldier . And all the while….she looked damned sexy doing it.

The reason “Aliens” as a sequel worked so well is that it was no longer just an epic battle between humans and acid-blooded, 15 foot tall cockroaches with detachable, snapping jaws (ugh…still one of the scariest villains in moviedom if you ask me), but because this was a human woman fighting to keep her “adopted” daughter from dying in the clutches of the alien…and the alien, as luck would have it, was ALSO a mother defending her children…er…larvae. So you have all the action and suspense of a sci-fi thriller with the added bonus of watching the most epic of battles: two females defending the creatures within their care.

Remember Ripley’s line when she was in that gigantic robot-suit right before she deep-sixed the alien mother: “Get away from her you BITCH!” I mean, come ON…who doesn’t love a good bitch-slap???

I was thinking the other day about soldiers. Not famous ones like in the movies that I mentioned above, just grunts, troops. Just your average, every-day people who fight the wars that we’ve either told them to by drafting them, or asked them to fight with a pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top. People who go in and fight for the safety and security and well-being and national interests of people they’ve never met, on the orders of still other people they’ve never met. And all of those brave troops who actually fight in combat are only…men.

Why is that?

Has our testosterone-infused government establishment never SEEN “Aliens”?

I know, people, I know…Ripley is not a real person. And neither is the giant, phallic-headed cockroach alien (that we know of…), so I will clarify my question.

Um…just what IS the justification for not having female combat soldiers in the U.S. military?

I’m not a proponent of war. Not by a liberal-longshot. But again, I’m no pacifist. I simply believe that war of any kind should commence only when there is absolutely no other fucking option to protect the masses of innocents. When war, however, is warranted, why can’t a woman fight alongside a man?

Is it because we get our “monthlies”, our “friends” and that would make for an un-sanitary working environment? Because, you know, everyone knows how sterile and sanitary field barracks, and encampments and port-a-potties-if-you’re-lucky and ditches and caves and such are. If soldiers can carry around hand-held GPS’s, they can carry around some Tampax.

Is it because we’re emotionally unpredictable and emotionally fragile; that we can’t take the heat when we’re not in the kitchen? Riiiggghhht. Because everyone knows that while you’re in the heat of battle a woman would surely opt-out of the most hard-wired and primal of animal instincts which is to LIVE, and instead opt-IN for the lesser-known of the primal instincts which is to die while collapsed on her knees in the rubble, head in hands, shedding big, blubbery tears.

Is it because we’re…weak…physically in comparison to men? Now on this point I do not argue the merit itself; women, in most cases, are NOT as physically strong as men. But are we talking about one-on-one duels, here? Are we talking about a prison-yard scene from a B-movie in which the two opponents are encircled by the rest of the chanting group and made to fight to-the-death, or at the very least…to the shame?

Let’s face it, the list of reasons that women are given for not being allowed to engage in combat is a mile long: we’d distract the men with our feminine wiles (sorry, now that DADT has been technically eradicated – FINALLY – the issue of enticement shouldn’t hold water in terms of women/men either), we’re not courageous enough and too cautious (sorry, I’m here to tell you that courage has nothing to do with testes)…and ohhhhhh, just not enough time for the rebuttals to the faux-justifications.

In the end, hard-core military traditionalists, and well…most men… will tell you simply that a woman doesn’t harbor the necessary aggression, stamina and mental fortitude to fight in battle for the love of country. It’s not “in us”. Or to put it succinctly, “Dude…you’re a GIRL!” To those people I say: Have you ever actually seen a woman fight for someone she cares for? Someone she loves? Her honor? Her child? Would you ever want to be on the receiving end of her wrath, especially when that woman is armed with an AK-47 or a grenade launcher? Would you??

Women are nurturers by nature. I believe this to be true. It is not in our nature to voluntarily commit to harm others, regardless of the reasons.

But let me tell you this: love of country’s got nothing on love of family, of child, of personal honor. Look, women should rule the world. That is a given. War and all of its atrocities would eventually cease to exist in that scenario (another post for another day)…so let’s take baby steps.

You put a woman out there on the front lines, a nurturer – and I don’t give a damn what she’s the nurturer of back home: a child, a cat, a parrot, a goat or a plant – and she will fight like a man.

She’ll give new meaning to the term bitch-fight.

Seriously. “Aliens”. Just consider adding it to your Top 10.

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Hold The Door

I was nearing the entrance to a store the other day, and a probably mid-thirties man was holding the door open for two women in their early twenties in front of me, and me.  I said “Thanks” and smiled.  As we walked into the store, the women in front of me chuckled with eyebrows raised and looked back at the man and shook their heads.  I looked at him when he started to walk past me, and he had clearly seen their reaction.  He shrugged his shoulders at me as if to say “Oh, well, can’t win”.  I said “Thank You” – again.

That little episode made me think of this:

Many years ago I was an actor in a play with an all-female cast (save for one small male role).  The play addressed many of the plights and issues which have confronted women throughout modern history, albeit in an indirect manner.  It was a comedy with some heavy undertones, naturally.

As with any gathering of multiple women, there were some very strong personalities at work, which was a good thing…mostly.  We had all become friendly through the process of putting together and producing the show, and I had become close to one woman in particular.  Let’s call her Mary.

Late in the process of rehearsals, nearing opening night, we had a break in our Director’s notes one evening and we all started talking.  The discussion drifted toward sexism and harassment.  If there’s one thing a big group of women can all pretty much collectively rally around is that we hate misogynists and harassers.  What’s not to hate?

At that point we started comparing notes on who’d been done more-wrong by a man, and all of us had these things in common:

  • We’d been touched by a man in an inappropriate, uninvited way.
  • We’d been made to feel like we needed to “give it up” to a boss or teacher in order to feel secure in our jobs or classes (college classes, thankfully).
  • We’d been objectified by many men in an effort to make us feel less intelligent.
  • We’d all been at least verbally threatened or ridiculed by a man when we refused their advances or ended a relationship with them.  And in some cases “relationship” meant all of one date.

That’s eight women with all of those things in common.  We all obviously found this disturbing, but still it was a fun discussion as with hilarity we ripped each of these guys a new one.

At this point Mary said to me in front of everyone else, “I’m so tired of men making me feel like I’m worthless because I’m a woman”.  Most everyone agreed.  I was perplexed though, and I said “What do you mean exactly?”  She went on to explain that she was tired, for herself and all women, that we’re made to feel our self-worth is tied ultimately to what a man thinks of us.  Mary was a self-proclaimed feminist.

“Hmmm…”, I said, “I’m not sure I agree with that, I’ve never felt worthless because of what a man thinks of me.”

She said, “Oh, come on.  You’re telling me that no man in your life has ever made you feel like shit or degraded you to the point where you felt you had no self-worth?”

It was getting a little tense now.

“Has any man made me feel like shit and degraded me?  Yeah, of course.  But have I let that make me feel worthless as a woman or a person?  No.  I really don’t think so.”

“I don’t believe you.”  she said.

“Ok, well you don’t have to believe me…but that doesn’t make it any less true.” I responded.

“Bullshit”, decried Mary.

People were getting uncomfortable now.

“No, not bullshit.  It’s the truth.  I know women don’t get what they deserve in comparison to men, and that we’ve all had to deal with harassment and getting dumped and all of it.  But I’m telling you, not once in my life, not once, have I ever felt like ‘I’m a woman and these men make me feel worthless’.  Not once.”

The conversation went South from there.  And so did our friendship.  Mary clearly saw me as being in some sort of denial about my man-damaged feminine psyche and was angered at my dissent from the “feminist” mantra she espoused – which was “all men want is to either screw, or screw over, women.”

It was a very tense discussion which led me to leave the theatre wondering to myself, “Is there something wrong with me?  Maybe I should feel that way…I’ve known a lot of assholes in my life….hmmmm”.

I’ve always considered myself a “feminist”.  To me the enormity of that word encapsulated who I felt I was:  strong, opinionated, not intimidated by any man’s attempts to diminish me due to my sex, demanding of respect and equality….yeah, I felt very much like a “feminist”.  But not the parodied, cartoonish version of a Rush Limbaughian “femi-nazi”…I mean, I really like my bras.

Then I started to think of some of the things I like about being a woman:

  1. I definitely like my bras.  Not only do I like them, they are entirely necessary to hoist up what gravity has pulled asunder.
  2. I like feeling attractive to men.  And to women too for that matter.  It’s nice to feel as if people appreciate and admire the superficiality of my face and/or body.  I’m pretty much relegated to the realm of “cute”, and while I used to hate that word I appreciate the compliment if given.
  3. I like exhibiting power and strength that doesn’t stem from my physicality, and that I don’t have to rely on my physical self for people to see I have strength.
  4. I like that women can give birth to human beings and men cannot.  It’s kind of the ultimate “up yours…try THAT”.
  5. I like how we are given “permission” to openly express feelings to most anyone on most any topic.  Even though we get ridiculed for it by, men, mostly…I’d still rather be “allowed” than repressed.
  6. I like that our clothes are much more interesting than a man’s.  “Ooooh, look, he’s wearing a dark BLUE suit tonight instead of black.”   Yeah.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  7. I like men.

I do.  I like men.  I think good men can be hard to find…(or, as my Nanna used to say, “A hard man is good to find”)…but when you find them throughout your life, they’re pretty great and you should keep them handy.  I would say that I’ve had nearly as many close male friends as female friends.  And I can honestly say that’s held true for most of my life.

What I don’t understand about hard-core feminists like Mary, or perhaps these young women at the store, is this seemingly instantaneous skepticism regarding a man’s character.

God, yes, I’ve been blindsided by men who I was sure were upstanding and wonderful and caring who ended up breaking my heart, or stabbing me in the back, or groping me instead of wanting to have a relevant conversation with me.

But from an early age we women are trained to expect less from men in “general”…in other words to set the bar very high in terms of what kind of man should be allowed into our female inner-sanctum, because most men just aren’t very…good.

This way by the time they get through our screening process – in theory – they should all be Prince Charmings and every character Paul Rudd has ever played.

But honestly, truly…I’ve known just as many women –  friends or co-workers  – who’ve ripped my heart out or screwed me over in one way or another.  And it can hurt more.  Why?   Because women often let each other “in” willy-nilly for the most part.

I have rarely come across a man I was more afraid of or hurt by than a girlfriend or female colleague who had some sort of hidden agenda or vendetta against me.  The biggest “dick” of a man can’t hold a candle to the biggest “bitch” of a woman.  Sorry.  In my experience it’s just the truth.  Actually, in some strange way it kind of makes me proud:  right or wrong there is power in knowing hell-hath-no-fury as a pissed off woman.

No one I know would ever describe me as being passive, or a doormat, or intimidated, or even remotely capable of being dominated in any way by a man.  If if they did describe me as any of those things, they very clearly have no clue about who I am.

Yes, I’ve been hurt deeply by men I’ve loved.

Yes, I’ve been taken advantage of by men whom I’ve put naive faith in.

Yes, I’ve let a man or two get away with harassing me in a sexual manner in order to avoid an Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas pubic-hair-on-the-Diet Coke-type-thing.

Yes, I’ve occasionally allowed a man to momentarily make me question if I was “good enough” because he didn’t want me in his life.

Yes, I go through periods of extreme frustration knowing I often still have to fight harder and longer in order to get what a man merely has to sport facial and chest hair, to get.

Yep.  All of those indignities and more simply because – I’m a girl.

But I swear to you, not once have I ever tied my self-worth…what I believe I can offer to the world by virtue of my womanhood and my humanity…to any other person.  Not even a man.

My truth is, I really love it when a man offers his seat to a woman.  Or holds the door open for her.  I know many women look at it as a throw-back insult from a bygone era when we were consistently thought of as weak or frail and so we must sit so as not to risk injury to alabaster skin and bones by standing too long, or risk the busting open of the laces on our corsets by pulling on the knob of a door; seriously, I think that must have been a real concern.  Have you ever worn a corset?  I have.  They suck.

But to me, in this era, I see a woman behind that.  I see a strong woman who taught her son that it’s honestly just a really nice thing to do.  It shows an appreciation in some small way for who women are in general….a spontaneous recognition that every single, solitary human being who has ever walked the face of the Earth once grew and lived and was nurtured – literally – inside the body of a woman.  Yeah you can chalk that up to evolution and biology – but we’ve turned it into an art-form.

Or perhaps it’s an appreciation for how we look, or dress, or walk, or smell, or an appreciation for our intellect or the enlightening conversation we just had over coffee, or the account we just secured for our company.

Whenever it happens and for whatever reason, to me those niceties show respect for us, not disdain or pity.  Not anymore, at least.

Maybe I’m reading a tad too far into things here.  Still that’s how I see it.

A lot of men abuse the power they’ve endowed themselves with since the beginning of time.  And let’s face it, they did it because they could; they’ve got us on physical strength and that’s where all oppression of women going back to our primordial beginnings, stems from.  They took advantage of their biology, and did it with what evolution gave them.

But many more men, don’t.

One thing’s for-sure in my world; if a man doesn’t hold the door for me when it’s reasonable for him to do so, I automatically see him as weak.  And when he does hold the door for me, I smile warmly and say thank you.  I think it’s cool.

Maybe he does it as his way of paying “reparations” to us on behalf of all men, for thousands of years of ongoing oppression.

Maybe he does it because he can sense my womanly awesomeness, and it would be pretty damn weird to tell a stranger how cool he thinks she is simply because he can recognize her strength (whether through physical attractiveness or motherlieness or what…) without the need to flex her biceps or pee effortlessly standing up next to a tree.

Maybe he just wants to get laid.  I don’t know.

But he does it because he appreciates…something.

I am a strong woman. I am a feminist.

I suppose this is just my very long-winded way of saying to all of you men out there:  hold the door.

It’s okay.  I’ll thank you for it.

**********

Here are some related articles, agreeing and disagreeing:

The Good Men Project: Damned If We Do, Damned if We Don’t.

Feminist Theory Reading Group: Marilyn Frye – The Politics of Reality:  Oppression

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