When I went to sleep last week, it was 2011. At least, I thought it was. The air smelled vaguely of cupcakes (the new pie!). There were 92 female members of Congress. Women were bicyling and engaging in commerce and wandering the streets in pants, or in jeggings, which were like pants but an abomination.
But reading the paper this week, I’ve gotten a sinking feeling, like the opposite of Rip Van Winkle. I’ve become afraid to look out the window. I have this crippling fear that if I leave the house, I’ll be struck by a milk cart or forced to dress up in one of those ghastly Pan Am stewardess outfits and live in an unsanitary mansion.
I am pretty sure it is 1960 out there. Maybe even 1860.
The headlines point to it. Line after line talking about skirt-chasing Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund chief accused of assaulting a hotel maid, and lothario Arnold Schwarzenegger and his secret love child. Lothario? Love child? What year is this?
I don’t think anyone has suggested that Ahnuld was behaving like a slut. Instead, he’s an incurable Lothario who needs to “Keep it zipped.”
Lothario is a friendly word. Skirt-chaser sounds like something you drink after a skirt. Philandering? Womanizing? They roll off the tongue. We refer to them as Strauss-Kahn’s “exploits” and Arnold’s “affairs.” Strauss-Kahn is “a powerful man obsessed with women.”
Even as we are condemning their behavior, the words we’re using speak volumes.
A general rule when it comes to matters sexual is that no word of three or more syllables carries a serious stigma. Engage in carnal relations? Get conjugal? Shame-free and sterile as a pair of surgical gloves. And even as we condemn Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn, these are the ones we use. It would seem from the coverage that men don’t cheat. They philander. They don’t sleep around. They “act on opportunity” because of their Priapism. There are, apparently, evolutionary reasons for them to behave as though they haven’t evolved.
What year is this again? The last time I checked, men were supposed to keep their libidos in check like the rest of us. Besides, if they hadn’t evolved past the point where they’re Reproductively Obligated to drag maids into corners, it’s incredible that we would allow them to handle world finances or govern.
Still worse are the headlines blaming women for the fall of the IMF head who now sits in the Rikers Island jail facing grave charges. And am I dreaming, or did I hear that old argument about the European man’s unquenchable libido? Why is my cellphone working? This can’t be the right era.
It seems that we are operating under the outdated assumption that being a man of restraint is an onerous and painful task, complicated by women’s frustrating tendency to exist and roam around the workplace as though they belong there. How do men stand it, with all these women wandering into their rooms unescorted? It must be unbearable. Of course they had no choice in the matter. They were drunk with power, or there was some sort of simian itch, or something.
They are fathering secret children with their “house staff” and then ignoring them. They are hounding maids in hotels. Maybe the ’60s were an optimistic estimate. Perhaps they think they’re in caves somewhere in the dark.
I thought we had moved past this.
Since when is this revoltingly cavalier attitude toward women even questionably acceptable? And not just any women. The ones who bore the brunt of this reprehensible behavior were women of a different class. They were the Women Who Come To Clean Things, the Women Who Are Addressed By Their First Names Only, the Women whom one can treat with disrespect because one is a Very Very Important Man, and — I’d go on, but I’m convinced there must be some mistake about the decade we’re in.
There’s a distressing “Boys Will Be Boys” tone to this whole affair. Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s $3,000-a-night suite has inspired practically as much ire as his alleged assault.
The double standards persist. I can say definitively that this would not happen to a woman governor, because it is a physical impossibility for women to father children out of wedlock. But if you can’t keep it in your pants, try wearing a skirt. Women who “act on opportunity” are loose. They are called sluts. No convenient evolutionary reasons are offered. Sometimes even the victims turn out to have been asking for it.
“What does it matter, if the economy works fine and the state was governed well? We must maintain the separation between private life and public.” But how? When you do with them what Schwarzenegger did and Strauss-Kahn is accused of doing, they cease to be private parts.
You’d think it would be so simple: Keep it in your pants, everyone! You’re adults! It’s 2011!
At least, I thought it was.