Early in the evening, nearly midway through a damp, drizzly November, I drank giddily among blue-state friends in a city so far to the eastern edge of Washington that it’s practically in Idaho, expecting to celebrate again, as we had eight years before, an American precedent.
The next day I started crying and didn’t stop for three months. I couldn’t read the newspaper; could only glance at the headlines before I had to avert my eyes; could not bear to see social media posts that expressed outrage I shared. I tried to be consoled by those braver souls who had determined to march and fight, to protest and Tweet, but I was beyond solace.
Most of all I couldn’t look at the face of that man. Could not look at his face, or hear his voice, or speak his name. And even so, I saw him everywhere. Because while I wanted to believe he’s an outlier, an extraordinarily fortunate son of wealth who has risen far beyond his level of competence, his privileges are quite ordinary, his habits of mind and behavioral tics ubiquitous. Women know this man. We know him well.
He’s the man who, whenever a woman disagrees with him, shakes his head and in soft, sad tones says, “She’s mentally ill.” Or, “She needs help.” Or, sometimes just, “She’s crazy.”
He’s the man who is quick to assign blame and never accept responsibility. He is never in doubt of his own rightness, his own righteousness.
He tells others what they should be doing. Many of his sentences start, “They just need to.” He always has a solution, a fix, a better plan.
He looks bored when other people speak, animated only when he holds the floor. If a woman asks a question, he addresses his answer to the other men in the room. His impatience causes him to interrupt, to cut off, to correct. He does not ask questions. He never needs help. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he’d rather read about it than seek an expert.
He says, “I’m not a racist, but” and then goes on to make a patently racist statement. He claims he never witnesses acts of sexism, and then compliments a woman on her shirt. He believes his wandering lust is a gauge of empirical merit, his advances encomiums of approval. He pats his big belly with affection, likes what he sees in the mirror.
He brims with confidence; the word humility is not in his vocabulary. The act of self-criticism is performed, if at all, only at night under cover of darkness, and never mentioned aloud.
Sometimes he loses his temper. He becomes vexed when people just aren’t getting it, aren’t getting with the program, aren’t getting his point. Maybe he raises his voice. Maybe he uses language laced with invective and profanity. Maybe he types out messages filled with capital letters, exclamation points, and grammatical errors. Or maybe, his prose remains calm and quiet, attempting to be measured but unable to hide the dismissive rage that simmers.
He takes credit without acknowledging the contributions of others. He is the pack leader, the alpha, the silverback who thumps his chest.
He has told us we’re too fat, too skinny, too loud, too meek, too aggressive, too stupid, too brazen, too dumpy, too snarky, too much.
He has told us to let our hair down, to wear tighter dresses, to wear less revealing clothes, to use more make-up, to take off the face paint, to calm down, to get over it, to lie still, to do it faster, not to stop, to stop. He has often told us to stop.
He has told us our feelings are wrong, that we’re too sensitive, that we take things too personally, that it’s not all about us.
He has cut in front of us, cut us off, cut us down. He has listened to us apologize for things that were not our fault without ever realizing our aim was only to appease, to soothe, to calm. He has never once said he was sorry.
His values he spouts with smug zeal. His certainty is ferocious. He follows politics the way he does sports, with full-throttle conviction that his team should and will win. He embraces the battles, coaches from the sidelines.
He says he just chooses the strongest candidate. Gender doesn’t matter to him, and he hires the man because he’s more qualified. The man is almost always more qualified.
He would never speak about women that way, would never talk about grabbing pussies or say he just couldn’t help himself. He would never use the words, “she was asking for it.” He pushes from his mind memories of late nights, drinking too much and standing too close, sinking under the sway of alcohol and testosterone, falling under the spell of a girl so ripe, her lips so wet and full, kissing her, pushing her against a wall in a dark corner, his hands, his hips, finding her even as she squirms away. He believes she’s just as turned on as he is, believes her body betrays the words she stammers, the way she pushes him away. Every time he has wanted a woman he believes she wants him too.
We know what he knows but cannot admit: The impetus for everything he does and is and says is fear. He has not done enough, will never have enough, will never be enough. Someday someone will find out, will call him on it, will prove that he has not done it, earned it, deserved it. His puissance will be challenged, his impotence discovered.
He is as terrified as he is dangerous.
And he is everywhere.