How I’ve come to embrace being called a B*&%$.

To start with not many people have called me a bitch to my face. I’m sure many more have said it behind my back. I used to find it quite irksome. Yes it would irk me (Did anyone get that Two and a Half Men reference?! Love that show).

Then I grew a second layer of skin and got over it.

In case you weren’t aware sexism is alive and well even in the liberal Northeast.

I recently had a client’s husband call me to discuss my “method of billing” a.k.a asking for money owed to me for services already rendered via an electronic invoice. Seemed pretty harmless to me when I sent it to them. He took this tone though, the “Settle back little girl while I explain to you how the real world works with us big men folk doing all the heavy lifting and don’t worry your pretty little head about stuff like billing and money, and by the way how about you put your boss on the phone because I’m sure he and I will compare penis sizes and talk about the futility of females doing math…” I mean he didn’t say that, but that was the gist. I smiled and in my sweetest voice possible I said,

“Sir, I very much appreciate your call, but I find it completely unnecessary unless you have a credit card number you’d like to give me over the phone instead of just inputting it into the invoice I sent you. Was the invoice too complicated for you to figure out? I know some people just are not tech savvy and that’s okay. You mentioned my boss; I don’t have a boss, I actually own this practice, and from where I’m sitting this situation makes perfect sense to me. You owe me money. Please pay me.”

There was silence for a moment on the other end. Then he gave me his credit card number.

These occurrences happen on the regular. I hate to generalize but it’s generally men who come into my office confrontational and attempt to put me on the spot and make me feel intimidated and uncomfortable in my own office.

I’ve sat with more than one man in my office, often the father of a teenage client, who has said “I’m not trying to intimidate you but…”

If I was not a nurse practitioner, perhaps if I was an MD, and perhaps if I was a middle aged white male they would not act this way. But I’m not middle aged or male or an MD.

I have wild curly hair, I wear colorful and sometimes tight clothing, I expect to be looked at in the eye not the chest (though I do have a big chest which I know in our society is called a distraction and should just be hidden…yawn and eyeroll). I do know my shit and thankfully I can say I graduated from an Ivy league school when these lovely gentlemen demand to know where I went to school.

There’s more to me than that moment though of being put on the spot, an entire eleven years of nursing is behind me in those moments and an entire thirty three years of living. 33 is young yes, but I’ve seen a lot.

I’ve held children’s parents as they were told their child is dead. I’ve put IV’s into kids who weren’t breathing and who were on the cusp of life and death. I’ve seen my fair share of death, dying, abuse, neglect, and quite possibly the worst of humanity. So some jerk coming into my office pontificating and waving his phone at me with WebMD pulled up showing me why I’m wrong and he’s right…well yeah I’m going to roll my eyes potentially and then educate you on why WebMD may not know as much as me and feel free to call me a bitch on your way out the door.

I used to be intimidated which was the very goal of several male individuals I’ve encountered in my career. But I’m not now. Because I know what I don’t know. If I don’t know something I have no issue saying it. If I think people need a second opinion I say it. If I think I do know something, I also say it. Take it or leave it. I also have a loyal following of clients who refer their family members to me, their friends, their partners, and that I think is the best compliment I can receive.

I’m not going to shut my mouth because my intelligence makes you uncomfortable. That’s a you not a me issue.

The incredibly painful aspect to this though is the message I received growing up was that an intelligent strong female is a bitch. That there is no place in the world for my boobs when they are attached to a brain and a face and a woman who will point at you in the face and tell you “My face is up here.” (Yes I did that. At the nurse’s station to a resident in front of the entire emergency department staff.) I used to feel shame around my intelligence because it just wasn’t sexy or fun or admired.

That this message has not changed for girls in the past thirty years is freaking depressing. That we elected someone who normalizes sexual assault pisses me off. And no I won’t shut my mouth about it.

I recently watched Nanette (because I literally watch it once a week), a stand up comedy show by Hannah Gadsby. She ended the show by NOT relieving the tension. By making profound and gut wrenching statements and self disclosures and then pointedly saying, I’m leaving you with that tension, it’s yours to hold to feel and figure out. That resonates with me.

I’m leaving people with tension because I’m not going to be quiet about discrimination and sexism. Because what’s most important is that I want to be the role model for some teenage girl who is being told her intelligence is not sexy, that her ideas are too bold, and she should just try and be nicer. Because seriously screw that noise.

Intelligence is hot. There’s a whole kink devoted to it! Sapiosexuals are attracted to intelligence!

My ideas have gotten me a successful business, a beautiful family, and I will continue to think boldly and outside the box because dreaming big is necessary. Be nice? Sure. I can be nice, but I will also call bullshit when I see it. I will play hardball when I need to. And in the words of the great and wonderful Pink: I Won’t Back Down.

Some one online recently told me to not be angry about discrimination. I also think that’s bullshit. Don’t tell a minority to not be angry. It’s rude.

Do I think I should carry that anger all the time and let it define me and let it guide me in interactions with others? No. But when my wife is disowned by her family, when my children have never met their grandparents because of their intolerance, when my wife is told to unpack a carload of firewood because she’s gay, when my transgender teenage clients are told to get out of their homes by their discriminatory parents…yes I’m angry. Yes I have a right to be. Until you’ve walked the walk of a minority don’t presume to think otherwise. That’s called white heterosexual cisgender privilege. Check it.

So what can we do with all this information? Educate our young girls. Don’t stifle them into boxes of pink with bows and niceness. Let them explore all of themselves. Let them be “nasty”. Let them stand for something. Encourage their exploration of their intelligence. Don’t tell them they are pretty when you see them; ask them what book they’ve read recently and tell them they are smart! Don’t define yourself, your daughters, your friends in the narrow confines of “female” in our society.

Let your hair be curly and wild, let your cleavage show, while simultaneously quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and discussing neuroscience. Be brainy, be sexy, and if needed be angry. Because we need to keep feeling angry and not numbed to what’s happening in our country. Don’t be numb. Don’t live in a bubble. Acknowledge the problems.

Be part of the solution.

#VOTE

“But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it. And we need you keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives. And to all the young girls, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.” Hillary R. Clinton

 

 

 

 

Raising Boys and Toxic Masculinity

I was watching this show on Netflix with Tony Danza. I’m a Tony fan. There was this scene though that made me turn it off. Tony’s out at a bar with a group of friends. A beautiful model walks in and sits at a booth alone. Tony gets up and struts over to her, and sits down in the booth. He then propositions her. She says No. The scene goes on far too long with Tony continuously asking her to give him a shot, making sexual innuendo’s, and the girl continuously saying No, trying to avoid eye contact, wishing he would leave. He eventually gets up and struts back to his table and says something like, “She’s not my type,” and everyone laughs.

I don’t think it’s funny. That to me is toxic masculinity. Because he’s a man, and she’s an attractive female, he has the right to make her uncomfortable by asking and propositioning multiple times instead of walking away the first time she said no. It was supposed to be funny. I felt my stomach churning and my skin crawling.

I’ve been that girl. Not a beautiful model unfortunately, but the girl being asked by a guy and being told No, and then being asked and asked until I have to be rude and then I’m called a bitch or whatever. When really it’s on the dude.

Walk away when a girl says No. Respect the No.

My wife and I have been harassed and hit on at bars together, and we’ve told men we are married, we have no interest, and they continuously have approached us. To the point I took a swing at one guy (Back when I was young and impulsive and way before being a Mom, because I would never advocate violence!!). But his disrespect of my No’s repeatedly, following me around the bar, blocking my path from the bathroom when I didn’t know he followed me there. These are all times that my No has not been respected and the man who I’m saying No to gets angry, defensive, and even more vulgar instead of just walking away.

Tony Danza was possibly the most unattractive man I have ever seen in that scene. I will never watch another episode of that show. Toxic masculinity is a term I don’t like. Because I want my sons to have positive masculinity. I want them to embrace the aspects of themselves that are masculine. But if they ever disrespect the first No from a girl. I will kick their ass.

Part of being masculine is being able to walk away with grace. Positive masculinity is respecting a woman’s No and smiling, and saying, Have a good night, and walking away. Not pursuing and pursuing and devolving into a defensive ass.

Raising a man is complicated. Masculinity can be carrying oneself with confidence but not being aggressive. Standing up for oneself and protecting others, but not demeaning others or protecting some one who doesn’t want or need protection. It’s being honest but not rude.

Our society wants a man to have the dominance of John Wayne, the mystery of Johnny Depp, the beauty and humor of George Clooney, and the dignity and intelligence of Barack Obama. We have set up these impossible standards while also demeaning masculinity by putting the word toxic in front of it. Without actually thinking about how as a society we actually prize masculinity just not when it crosses into sexual harassment and sometimes even when it crosses into perhaps what’s considered demeaning of feminism. It’s freaking complicated. And a lot as a Mom of boys to consider.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I marched in the ProChoice rally when Bush was President. Rode overnight on a bus from upstate NY with no one I knew. I saw it on a  bulletin board, and I called the number and they came and picked me up. One of maybe thirty-five liberals in upstate NY. I’ve stood for girls and women personally and professionally. I’ve had my job threatened when I brought light to the rampant sexism at a hospital I worked at. I take a stand when needed, and always hope to shine light into the darkness.

So color me surprised when I popped out twin boys. What the hell was I supposed to do with them? Turns out I fell in love with them. They force me to re-examine my beliefs about masculinity. They force me to question the term Toxic M. and their very existence challenges me to do better. What I’m learning and exploring is not a battle between men and women but just an embracing of healthy femininity and healthy masculinity in whatever form that takes for people.

I will foster confidence and intelligence in my sons. But I will also instill in them respect and consent and the beauty of a man who can walk away with grace from rejection. I won’t teach them that all masculinity is toxic. Because I disagree. But I will help them explore masculinity that can pair with femininity and not squash or diminish it.

It’s a tall order. But I’ve always been up for a challenge. And if in forty or fifty years they are up for a nomination to the Supreme Court. I’ll sleep easy knowing there will be no skeletons in their closets because they were taught better. No means No. Start it young.

I am lucky to have examples of positive masculinity in my life over the years. The bad have left scars but the good, well they give me hope for my sons. There are positive masculine men out there. I am related to some, treat some as clients, and know some as friends and colleagues. To the positive masculine role models out there. Thank-you. Just as we need strong women; we need strong men. Because they will help set the example for our young boys. Examples we desperately need in this reign of toxic men.

 

 

**** the picture was five years ago. My Dad is a Vietnam Veteran who was MIA and experienced and witnessed the horror of war. He then spent his career in the army National Guard. My Dad would essentially walk through fire for me if I asked. That’s something I always knew. I sort of thought all men would be as respectful, caring, and protective like my Dad. Unfortunately I was wrong, but I can say he is an example who is part of our lives of a great man for my sons and I.