Today is October 15, 2016. On this rainy day (here, in Vancouver, BC), most of North America and, perhaps, much of the world is tied up, on some level anyway, with the goings-on with the U.S. presidential election. I’m no different.
So, here’s the deal: I am Canadian–but I also possess a U.S. citizenship. (This is due to my father’s volunteering to dodge bullets for Uncle Sam during the Vietnam War. He was one of about 10,000 Canadians who answered the call of adventure and, to quote Private Joker from Stanley Kubrick’s (my old boss) Full Metal Jacket, “…see exotic Vietnam… the crown jewel of Southeast Asia. …to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them.”
Anyway, for his troubles, he and his immediate family were awarded U.S. citizenships. Consequently, I was able to live and work, and attend university and graduate school in the U.S..
So, why am I establishing this, backstory, this exposition?
To establish context.
- Again, I am Canadian. I was born a Canadian citizen–although, I was so abroad, in my mother’s home country of Italy. While I’ve lived in six countries, I now live in Canada and plan to spend the rest of my days here.
- It’s well into the 21st century. The Mad Men 1960s have come and gone. As have the free-wheeling 1970s. Hell, even the Reagan 1980s and the milquetoast ’90s are well in the rearview. It’s modern times now.
Or it least it should be.
We’re nearly two decades into 21st century, but what did this Canadian spend a large part of the last few days talking about?
- The U.S. presidential election.
- Grabbing pussy.
I won’t regurgitate the blow-by-blow laundry list of asinine things that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said or done in the last few days. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then Google the news and get caught up.) But let’s talk about this whole grabbing pussy thing. (Again, Google is your friend here. Try “Trump, Grabbing Pussy”)
Look, I’ll be frank: I’m tempted to rant (intelligently) about how a sort of wholesale ignorance of the rank and file citizens of the U.S.–by far, the majority–helps ‘create’ someone like Trump, but I won’t. (Too late?) Instead, I want to focus on one thing and one thing only: the fact that a fairly well educated, white, middle aged man has to still, in 2016, identify himself as a ‘feminist’. I hate it. In fact, I hate the word and everything about it.
I hate that I have to actually designate myself as someone who doesn’t consider someone ‘less’ (or more) simply due to their gender. The fact that I have to–regularly–actually explain that I believe that women should have the same rates of pay in the workplace, access to education, freedom to make choices about their body, access to political process, and, basically, be acknowledged to have the same basic human rights as men in this day and age is absolutely bewildering and, frankly, dispiriting. I hate that I have to go out of my way and say ‘I am a feminist’ to make this clear. I would rather just say, plainly, I am a citizen of this planet. But a feminist, apparently, is what I am. (Frankly, the fact that there has to be any designation or label for someone who sees all people as having access to all rights and privileges is beyond baffling.)
But, before I go any further, let’s get some full disclosure out of the way: in my experience, the most influential people, the most talented people, the people that have had the most impact on my life–that have impacted what I do, how I do these things, and why I do them–have been overwhelmingly women. Most of my bosses in my career(s) have been women. The most talented people I have ever known have been women. And, truly, the strongest people I have known have been, by far, women. Hey, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of guys I look up to as well–just read some of these blog posts–but if I had to get into some stupid bean-counting, bean-sorting bullshit, the women would end this contest with a commanding victory. It’s just the way it is, fellas. Sorry.
But that doesn’t mean I favour women in any given situation. I don’t. I don’t favour anyone. Hey, it’s an equal opportunity world with me; I dislike everyone equally. (That’s me channeling Oscar Wilde, by the way. Insert nervous laughter here.)
But let’s get to this silly bit of wordplay by Mr. Trump. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I spent my formative years in the 1970s. And you also know that I was raised by a single mother. Now, picture this: a newly divorced, attractive, Italian woman, in her early thirties, new to North America in 1973. The mid seventies was a heady time: free love, freedom of expression, bell-bottoms, aggressive sexual mores, the advent of disco and accompanying social scene, more drugs, more alcohol, muscle cars, 8-track tapes… I could go on and on. Let’s just say that it probably was an interesting time to be a young, newly single attractive woman, freshly liberated from an abusive marriage, her prison doors let open onto the wild west of the American west coast of the 1970s.
Me? I was just a young boy, but I can remember one thing clearly about the changes that came about after my parents divorce, all happening whilst we relocated to the U.S. from Europe: my mother’s wardrobe. Suddenly she went from dowdy Italian mother and dutiful wife, to the uniform of Women’s Liberation: pant suits, miniskirts, long go-go boots–you name it. I didn’t entirely understand what was happening in my parents life, but I came to an understanding what was happening to my mother: she was finding herself. And she liked what she found.
And there were other things that tipped me off. Those round containers I would see in the bathroom medicine cabinet, for example. Those little carrying-cases of ‘vitamins’ as my mother called them–The Pill dispensers. I saw those containers with the circular arrangement of pills in my friends’ bathrooms too. They were everywhere.
I can remember thinking, back then, assuming, as I saw people like Gloria Steinem on newscasts, interspersed with images of women marching, their Women’s Liberation banners waving over their heads, that by the time I became an adult–over a dizzying decade away–that this would all be, finally, over; that women, men, would truly be equal to each other.
But here I am, forty years later, hearing an actual candidate for the most powerful position on the entire planet talking about how he would grab women by their genitalia, their ‘pussy’. While a shocking number of people–both women and men–just stand idly by and shrug their shoulders.
My mother is gone now. And that movement never happened. She never saw it in her lifetime.
Sure, there was some progress–better pay, more rights, more opportunities for women overall–but nothing in the way of fulfilling the promise offered in those hopeful years of the 1970s. And, as much as I wish my mother were here right now, part of me is glad that she died (just) before the baffling, bewildering, and worrying rise of Donald Trump the presidential candidate and the ‘legitimization’, or, at least, defence of his worldview. She would have been horrified.
As a Canadian, all I can wish for is the best for my American friends. As citizen of the world, all I can wish for is that the world becomes a kinder, more peaceful, and, ultimately, safer place for all of us to be who we want to be on this short ride on this mortal coil. The ‘American’ in me–whatever amount a citizenship of that country that was bestowed entails–just wants it to all be different.
And as a man?
All I can do is try my best to be aware that I live in a world custom-built for me–particularly me: a white, blue-eyed, middle-aged, well educated man–and do my best to even the ledger the best that I can. Let’s face it, everything is built for my comfort, my approval. I am the archetype of the stakeholder, the decision-maker, the consumer. Middle aged, educated white men make more money, are given more opportunities, and are more trusted than any other ‘type’ of person on this planet. The game is mine to lose. But I’ve won before I leave the house every morning. All I have to do is show up.
Make no mistake, I know this. I know that when I’m in the queue at the coffee shop, or the bank, or am walking into a car dealership–and particularly if I’m coming from work, if I’m wearing a suit–I will get all of the attention. And have.
I don’t know how many times I have had to ‘correct’ tellers and salespeople, to remind them that a woman was ahead of me in line, or, worse, if I am with a woman and we are asking for, say, directions, or asking about a product or service, to remind them to, please, speak to both of us, not just me. I am a middle aged white man. And the world, I’m sad to say, is built for me–not your daughter, your sister, your aunt, or your mother.
Apparently, my cognizance of this issue, of the way things are and the part I unwittingly play in it, and my sincere stabbing at the status quo’s windmills, makes me something of a feminist. That’s fine, but what I really want to be is a person. Just one of the notes of this symphony we’re all contributing to–which, right now, sounds kind of wonky. But I’m hoping that, soon, it’ll be great, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, ‘Ode to Joy’ great. That we’ll all just be part of the same song.
Because, goddamnit, I don’t want to be a feminist. I hope the day will come when I don’t have to be.