I yelled at my husband last night. Not pick-up-your-socks yell. Not how-could-you-ignore-that-red-light yell. This was real yelling. This was 30 minutes of from-the-gut yelling. Triggered by a small, thoughtless, dismissive, annoyed, patronizing comment. Really small. A micro-wave that triggered a hurricane. I blew. Hard and fast. And it terrified me. I’m still terrified by what I felt and what I said. I am almost 70 years old. I am a grandmother. Yet in that roiling moment, screaming at my husband as if he represented every clueless male on the planet (and I every angry woman of 2018), I announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead. If one of my grandchildren yelled something that ridiculous, I’d have to stifle a laugh.
My husband of 50 years did not have to stifle a laugh. He took it dead seriously. He did not defend his remark, he did not defend men. He sat, hunched and hurt, and he listened. For a moment, it occurred to me to be grateful that I’m married to a man who will listen to a woman. The winds calmed ever so slightly in that moment. And then the storm surge welled up in me as I realized the pathetic impotence of nice men’s plan to rebuild the wreckage by listening to women.
As my rage rushed through the streets of my mind, toppling every memory of every good thing my husband has ever done (and there are scores of memories), I said the meanest thing I’ve ever said to him: Don’t you dare sit there and sympathetically promise to change. Don’t say you will stop yourself before you blurt out some impatient, annoyed, controlling remark. No, I said, you can’t change. You are unable to change. You don’t have the skills and you won’t do it. You, I said, are one of the good men. You respect women, you believe in women, you like women, you don’t hit women or rape women or in any way abuse women. You have applauded and funded feminism for a half-century. You are one of the good men. And you cannot change. You can listen all you want, but that will not create one iota of change.
Not once. Bastards. Don’t listen to me. Listen to each other. Talk to each other. Earn your power for once.
The gender war that has broken out in this country is flooding all our houses. It’s rising on the torrent of memories that every woman has. Those memories have come loose from the attic and the basement where we’ve stashed them. They are floating all around us and there is no place left to store them out of sight. Not just memories of sexual abuse. Memories of being dismissed, disdained, distrusted. Memories of having to endure put-downs at the office, catcalls in the parking lot, barked orders at a dinner party. And, for some reason, the most chilling memory of all, the one Christine Blasey Ford called up and that we all recognized: the laughter. The laughter of men who are bonding with each other by mocking us. When Ford testified under oath that the laughter is the sharpest memory of her high school assault, every woman within the sound of her voice could hear that laughter, had heard that laughter, somewhere, somehow.
When good men like Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) give heartfelt, sincere speeches about how we must listen to women, I don’t know whether to coo or laugh or cry or yell. Think about “listen to women” as a program for change. It says to women: You will continue to suffer these abuses, men will continue to do disgusting things to you, the storms will keep coming, the tide will continue to rise, but now, we will listen and help you rebuild.
Pay attention people: If we do not raise boys to walk humbly and care deeply, if we do not demand that men do more than just listen, we will all drown in the flood. And there is no patriarchal Noah to save us.
Victoria Bissell Brown, a retired history professor at Grinnell College, lives in Haverford Township, Pa.