“Here’s to the liars and the cheaters and the cold mistreaters, to the mama’s boys who can’t take a stand,” warbled Danielle Peck in her 2006 Billboard chart-topper. “To the superficial players, the I-love-you-too-soon-sayers, if you hear me girls, raise your hand — let’s have a toast, here’s to finding a good man!” From Beyonce’s catchy “All the Single Ladies” (If you like it, then you should have put a ring on it!) to Katy Perry’s iconic earworm “Hot ‘n’ Cold” (Stuck on a roller coaster! Can’t get off this ride!), our pent-up sociosexual outrage as mistreated and much-put-upon women against the misogynistic powers-that-be is a force to be reckoned with. I defy you to scroll through your iPod playlist without stumbling upon a few such frothing-at-the-mouth gems as Taylor Swift’s “Picture to Burn” or Kellie Pickler’s “Best Days of Your Life.” (Country music in particular, it seems, has the market cornered on this brand of feminine angst; one has only to wonder if Jesus took the wheel before or after Carrie Underwood dug her key into the side of that poor schlep’s pretty little souped-up four-wheel-drive.) Musical theater would not be complete without one such man-hating showstopper in every musical. Romantic comedies would not be complete without one such charming but heartless sociopathic rat-bastard of a character. I believe that men get screwed over by women, sure, but if popular culture speaks for anything, women are getting screwed (figuratively and literally) by men in exponentially increasing numbers — and WE ARE PISSED. Chivalry is dead and men, if we are to believe our cultural conditioning, are little more than sadistic walking penises out to destroy everything in their path. They are lying, cheating heartbreakers who think with their dicks, objectify women, play mind games, send mixed signals, don’t know what they want, and refuse to commit. Just eavesdrop on any conversation on the Metro between two or more female participants and you will hear ample evidence to support this conclusion.
While there is an element of truth to such generalizations, hasty stereotypes are the hallmark of little minds; a healthy sense of balance is called for. We know the truth (to paraphrase Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird), and the truth is this: that some men lie, that some men are immoral, that some men cannot be trusted — but this is a truth that applies to the human race, not just to stupid boys and their stupid boy penises. (Okay, a loose paraphrase.) Some, perhaps even most, men are unfeeling assholes, just as some, perhaps even most, women are manipulative bitches. We all occasionally get dumped, we all occasionally get hurt, and we all occasionally have our fragile hearts unceremoniously stomped upon, dragged through the mud, and run through the nearest paper shredder. It’s called life. And the best part about it is that it goes on.
Moreover, the thing about growing up is that it often necessitates unpleasant confrontations with our own stupid selves. “We are pessimistic,” writes English phenomenological existentialist (yes, that is a real thing) Colin Wilson, “because life seems like a very bad, very screwed-up film. If you ask ‘What the hell is wrong with the projector?’ and go up to the control room, you find it’s empty. You are the projectionist, and you should have been up there all the time.” In other words, finger-pointing is one of our most elemental childish reactions — blaming all our personal woes on our parents or our exes or our environment or our ecosystem, and women are the worst culprits I know, mostly preferring to weep into a vat of Häagen-Dazs instead of putting on their big-girl pants and confronting the source of their pain. And while I like abdicating personal responsibility almost as much as I like shopping for shoes, it’s about damn time we all stopped wearing a wishbone where our backbone ought to be and quit blaming society at large, the media, the porn industry, the American public education system, the Christian right, or the lunar calendar for the fact that men treat women like crap. Men treat women like crap for one very simple reason:
Women let them.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not some antifeminist crackjob. Simone de Beauvoir is my homegirl and while I may order amaretto sours at the bar, I’ll punch you in the face if you think I can’t pound a Guinness with the best of them. I think it’s idiocy bordering on criminal in this enlightened century that we still blame rape victims for dressing provocatively and consider women who have had multiple sexual partners whores while exalting men as gods. And I am certainly not saying that men don’t need to step up, take ownership of their own behavior, and stop acting like selfish dickheads. But we as women seem to have a faulty understanding of what true feminism is. As Georgian feminist Mary Wollstonecraft once put it, it’s not about having power over men; it’s about having power over OURSELVES. No, you are not to blame for the men in your life treating you poorly, but when you consistently accept that poor treatment as the status quo without a word of protest, you categorically forfeit your right to victim status. “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing,” writes Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning: “your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” And so I challenge you to ask yourselves: how many times have you decimated several forests’ worth of Kleenex because a man used you for sex, strung you along, couldn’t make up his mind about you, dumped you for no good reason, caught you in the cross-fire of his own quest for self-actualization, or committed any number of similar offenses which should in fairness get a guy’s man-card revoked for life? How many hours on the psychotherapist’s couch have you spent blaming your drug addiction/eating disorder/clinical depression/general psychopathology on some man or other who done you wrong? How many bad relationships have you nursed far longer than their life expectancy because the one thing more unthinkable than living with him was living without him? How many broken hearts have you suffered as a completely avoidable consequence of jumping feet-first into a situation you knew from 500 yards away was a trainwreck waiting to happen?
Well, I heap well-deserved albeit politically incorrect personal castigation on you for your own stupidity. Shame on you — and on myself — and on all of us. You’re a person, not a puppy dog; don’t leave your bullsh-t detector set to “silent.” Doesn’t return your calls? STOP CALLING HIM. Won’t commit to you? STOP SLEEPING WITH HIM. Treats you badly? BREAK UP WITH HIM. Doesn’t love you anymore? STOP WASTING YOUR TIME. Man up, delete him from Facebook, cut your losses, and move on. People as a general rule live up to exactly what you expect of them and no more, so the only way to be respected by men is to start commanding that respect. You are not the helpless love-child of Daisy Buchanan and Marilyn Monroe, so quit acting like it. Can you imagine Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher sobbing in bed for a week obsessively checking her phone messages and drowning her sorrows in chocolate-chip cookie-dough over some stupid thing some stupid boy did? Of course not. Why? Because they had more important things to do.
So don’t put up with people who are reckless with your heart. Don’t hand over an all-access pass to your mind, your time, your emotions, and your body to anyone who abuses the privilege; it’s like crying about your house getting burgled when you keep leaving the doors unlocked. We like to think we can have it all — and we are kidding ourselves, even as we defend our delusions to the death. We scoff at men who hold the door for us, then wonder why they don’t do it anymore. We hold up heroines like Katniss in The Hunger Games to our daughters as the feminist ideal — strong, self-sufficient, in need of nothing or nobody, literally dragging her love interest around as a useless dead weight – yet can’t figure out why men won’t fight for us. Most importantly, we spent the better part of the 20th century clamoring for our right to sexual expression and free-love and now bitch about how men don’t commit when we give them everything they want free of charge. We like to fancy ourselves innocent little lambs led to the slaughter, but we are more like Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, placidly watching a monster of our own creation escape the lab and wreak havoc on humanity. We have accepted and enabled male mistreatment for years, and we are rightly hoisted with our own petard.
Ultimately, I challenge you, along with myself, to cash in your chips and stop playing the blame game. “She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her,” writes Naomi Wolf. There is nothing sexier than an honest woman; let others know you will no longer stand for their cruelty or carelessness and divest them of their power. Chase after your own dreams with a billy club and start being the best possible you you can be; the rest will fall into place. Stop coveting the cryptorchids and hold out for a hero. Real men honor their commitments, keep their promises, and love you for exactly who you are — squidgy bits and all. Wait for a man who “compels your strength, makes enormous demands on you, does not doubt your courage or your toughness, who does not believe you naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat you like a woman” (Anais Nin). Wait for a man whose world is a better place just because you’re in it. You are worth nothing less.
Stop settling for sour cream and salsa when you deserve the whole enchilada.