Triggers Be Gone

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I have projects to do, work to get done, as Fall in Minnesota is a time of great industry and preparation. Up here, we know without any doubt that winter is coming – and I’m not talking about Game of Thrones.

But this year, I’m struggling to stay focused on all I need and want to accomplish. Because of crass politics.

I’m feeling gutted and drained. Exhausted and sad.

This woman, who has been married for 36 years – to the same man, with two children well-launched and a couple of careers in the rear-view mirror, and a next chapter underway – is experiencing long-buried memories and feelings from my young adulthood.

We came of age in the 1970s. In fact, my 40-year college reunion is this fall. It was a time when we women believed we had achieved some semblance of equality. We were no longer limited to teaching or nursing careers. We could be anything we chose in this wide-open world.

Sure, my mom talked me out of going in to medicine. It’s too demanding, she said. How will you raise a family, she said. Choose a career with more flexibility so you can give your husband the attention he deserves, she said. Insidious and effective.

So I chose journalism as an honorable profession. Seeking out truth, justice, and the American way to ensure powerful people didn’t take advantage of The People in this democracy of ours. (Don’t snicker – I grew up in Ohio where we were taught to pursue things like that.)

And along the way I experienced most of what the 1970s and 1980s were known to offer. OK – I didn’t actually smoke pot because every time I tried to inhale anything, I threw up.

Yes – I engaged in activities that expanded the 1950s definition of what being “a good girl” meant. I believed we were coming of age in a time when women and men – as equals – could go to parties, could have cocktails, and even share off-color jokes.

I violated my mother’s warning to never say or do anything I wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper. I was young, ambitious, and admittedly stupid at times. And I own it all.

I dealt with the bar manager named Bubba who told me to stop wearing a bra under my work t-shirt by laughing and ignoring his entreaties. After all, I was working two jobs to pay my $300 a month rent and I wasn’t going to let him keep me from earning good tips.

And yes, I learned the value of a well-placed knee or loud screaming when the word “No!” was being ignored.

I began in TV news as women moved on air. If you could read and were moderately attractive, you could anchor the news – in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Men still ran the newsroom and made the big decisions – but we were telling stories that changed laws and influenced important opinions. And I knew in the early 1980s to never go into Charlie Rose’s studio alone.

I moved from journalism to public relations and public affairs as I believed even business deserved to have its story told. And that’s where I learned about corporate America and the choices some women made to gain access to the C-Suite. I learned to be the second person with an idea – after all the men spoke – so I could be heard.

We ignored a lot of behaviors – the innuendos, the handsy hugs, the kiss on the cheek that somehow landed on the mouth. We excused it as adolescent immaturity well into our 30s.

Mostly we blamed ourselves.

“I must not have been clear enough.” “How did I lead him on?” “What did I say to make him think THAT was a good idea?”

“I shouldn’t have had a beer.” “I shouldn’t have laughed at his jokes.” “I shouldn’t have worn make up, that dress, those shoes.”

When I was a young adult in the 1970s and 1980s, women made excuses for the bad behaviors of men. Now finally, bad behavior, abusive behaviors are being called out for what they are and were.

Not only are young women today saying “That’s enough!”, but many in my generation are finally saying, “Nope! It was never OK to prey on women, to push beyond a No, to ignore women’s voices, to talk down to, and generally objectify women.”

Last week, when we learned that even Bill Cosby isn’t above the laws against rape, we experienced again the awkwardness of high school through vivid and contested testimony in front of Senators who struggled to be human.  

And still – winter is coming, and there are things to accomplish before that happens.

What I know is the best way to get things done is if we do it together – men and women, drawing from our unique talents and strengths, treating each other respectfully and without vitriol or power perversion. I’m working for a future where that’s not too much to ask for.