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Joe's Neighborhood

What should a woman not have to do?

5/14/2014

joes1Wading into the dark waters of women’s issues is not a good idea, especially for a male. I know this. Why not just stay up on the bank where there are no snakes, no quicksand, no danger? This seems a no-brainer. But, unfortunately, I also believe in the magic of four events. If four similar events call out to you within a short time, even though you are reluctant to wade into the muck, it’s already too late. Just by counting the events and noting the coincidences, you’ve already planted one foot right in the middle of the snakes; you might as well put the other foot in the quicksand. And, who knows? It may be a quick death, although I wouldn’t count on it.

It all began with Joni Ernst. You know, one of the Republicans running for the Senate seat being vacated by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. Yup, it was her amazing ad touting her ability to castrate pigs. A gimmick to be sure. A successful one. In the same vein as the ad, however, I wondered about Ernst’s political position on Planned Parenthood and contraceptives, given her proclivity for castration. Heck, you probably wondered the same thing. But I recognized that thought as silly nonsense. Unfortunately, in short order, along came Sarah Palin pulling me toward the water.

“No one is going to push her around,” Palin said. “She’s not one who’s going to be told to sit down and shut up and let the good old boys do what they’ve been doing… She’s packin,’ and she knows how to use it.”

Yup, that would be Palin stumping for Ernst in West Des Moines. She continued: “Liberals like to claim there is a war on women. Little chicks who need little sugar daddy government to take care of us. Liberals make it sound that women are defenseless. Well, (Joni Ernst) is a pistol-packing Harley rider.”

Yikes, what was happening? Palin was causing me to think about what women should do in this day and age. What are women’s aspirations? Where does feminism go next? Palin’s vision of women (who she admiringly calls “Momma Grizzlies”) is that they should be strong, aggressive and up for a fight. The term “defenseless women” is coined by Democrats to entice women into being subsidized by the government — according to Palin. Interesting notion. I mean, who doesn’t admire strong women? Of course, do strength and aggression put bread on the table? Is any safety net needed for single moms or women caught in poverty because of health problems or other reasons? Is aggression really the only missing ingredient for women to succeed in the world? And is carrying a gun ever the answer?

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See, I was starting to fall over the edge into the water. What did I tell you? And I was given a decided shove by an event in Washington, D.C.

A panel of self-styled conservative women were discussing feminism at the Heritage Foundation. Mona Charen, a columnist for conservative publications, forcibly argued that the real concern by women should not be the lack of women in powerful positions, but “what is happening with men.”

“The decline of marriage has damaged men, women and children,” Charen said. “Family disintegration is the problem… The decline of stable families is hitting boys disproportionately hard.”

Charen then rattled off statistics supporting these conclusions. Having read of these findings before, I am hard-pressed to disagree with her. Few would disagree that children generally do better with intact families. Period. She goes on to argue that single women with children are exposed to all sorts of dangers, which is why government programs are attractive to them and why they vote for Democrats. Marriage is the answer, according to Charen. And who caused the problem for women? Charen tells us: “Feminism must take the blame.”

If you set aside Charen’s provocative language, we are left with her proposition that marriage is what society needs for the stability of the family. That makes some sense. I wonder, however, if she goes far enough. Is the lack of two-partner families just a symptom of greater societal problems like poverty? To say marriage is the answer to family disintegration is like telling a person to stop coughing to cure their cold. I don’t think it works that way.

And then the fourth of my magic four events occurred, pushing me right into the dark waters.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, successful TV personalities, co-wrote a column in The Atlantic. They assert that the reason for the disparities between women and men in the workplace is because women have less self-confidence than men.

“Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence,” they wrote. “No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. All of that is the bad news. The good news is that with work, confidence can be acquired. Which means that the confidence gap, in turn, can be closed.”

Is that it? Is self-confidence the piece that will bring high-powered positions to women? Can self-confidence really be learned by action? Isn’t this just a variation on Palin’s Momma Grizzly? And what about Charen’s concern about marriage? How does that tie into this workplace disparity?

My head was spinning. Four visions concerning what women should do. I could no longer ignore it. So, I did what any man would do. I went to the gym.

Henriette stands behind the main desk — the mother of this gym in Holland. With her pale, freckled skin and reddish-blonde hair, she could be the poster woman for the word “Dutch.” And like the Dutch, she does not tolerate the intolerant, including me when I get on my high horse. You want advice? She is the go-to gal.

Henriette told me a story.

“At the start of the war, my mom was engaged to marry a Jewish man,” she said. “He was sent away… She feels so awful and sad about it. It was a strange time. Everyone wants to survive. After the war, she met my dad. He was a smooth talker. She thought he was the best man ever.”

But soon after the marriage, Henriette’s father started acting strangely.

“He wrote with lipstick on the walls, ‘my wife, she is dirty,’ because there was some stuff left around the table,” Henriette shared. “It started as mental abuse and then physical abuse. When it was done, he cried and said he was sorry. ‘I hope you can give me another chance.’ My mother was pregnant. Her dad was in prison because he built bunkers for the Germans during the war. Soon she had two kids, three kids, four kids, and I’m the fifth.”

When Henriette begged her mother to leave her father because of the abuse and his philandering, her mother stated that she had nowhere to go. So the abuse continued.

“My brother and I have the most hitting,” she said. “The three older sisters had less. My brother is stuttering. When my brother didn’t say words, my dad looked for reason to beat him up. He shaved his head one side so everyone could see that he did something wrong. My brother left when he was 15. All those years go by. And I left at 16.”

Really.

OK, what should a woman do? I certainly don’t have the answer. Not that I would object if you are a married, self-confident, Harley rider. Or even an unmarried, shy, bicycle rider.

What should a woman not have to do? Mmmm… how about survive? CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.

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