I am going to tell a true story here, and one that I hope is meaningful with respect to the larger discussion taking place here on dkos as of late. It's a story of how I grew up, became comfortable with who I am, and stopped being chauvinistic and homophobic. A lot of it has to do with the lessons I learned from my wife, who is tough as nails, and helped open my eyes a bit.
Today, my wife is a pacifist, artist, and Buddhist. She wasn't always that way though. When I first met her, she was a martial arts instructor at a very rough gym in Chicago. The kind of place that draws macho, testosterone heavy, tough guys like myself (at the time). That's where we met. It's also where I learned an awful lot about women, and I think became a better person. A lot of that maturing has to do with her.
So anyway, I love to brag about her, and if you're interested follow on below.
Twenty years ago I considered myself to be a pretty tough guy. I had played played football, lacrosse, and wrestled in high school. In college, I played lacrosse. I had been a Marine and a paratrooper. I worked as a mason's tender in the summers during high school. My opinions toward women came mainly from what I had been taught by the men around me, role models. They were mostly working class macho guys, starting with my dad.
He taught me that women were to be treated differently. They were never to be hit or bullied. I was never to swear or make foul statements in front of women. I should open doors for them and call older women ma'am. Essentially, that real men treat ladies as though they are delicate.
From the older men around me, I learned that women were targets. In the lunch hours or roach coach breaks on construction sites, the men I looked up to told stories about their exploits with women. "Check out the ass on that one. It looked even better from behind last saturday"
In the Marines, I was taught a neat trick. To paste pictures from Hustler and other magazines on the back of my map for "use" in the field.
Of course, I knew and dated many women before meeting my wife, but they seemed to reinforce what the men had taught me. I noticed friends of my playing the helpless and dopy part, when I knew they were neither, to attract men.
In any case, that is how I had learned about the relationships between men and women before I met her.
It was in a very macho and dirty gym in Chicago. I am not talking about Tai Bo here, I mean actual black eye bloody nose Muay Thai, UFC, and Boxing. When my wife joined, she was discouraged. They told her that it was a real gym and she can find the exercise stuff elsewhere. The gym owner, however, one of the toughest men I have ever met, said that he'll teach her, but didn't have time for weaklings or quitters. This was exactly what she wanted. I did not join the gym until several years later, when she had already established herself somewhat. So, here's where the lessons began.
Lesson One: Red Man
Over time, my wife proved to be a very tough person, and she developed into a very talented fighter (undefeated even). Her presence at a gym that was dominated by professional male fighters attracted other women. In time, she convinced the owner to let her start a self-defense class intended just for women. She typically had more than 30 students in it. She would often ask the male fighters that we knew to come and help out by playing "red man." In this exercise, the men would dress up in ridiculous red outfits, covered from head to foot in pads. We would get in the ring with a female student and act like we were going to assault them. My wife encouraged us to be aggressive and even talk smack to make the scene realistic. She usually chose some of the largest fighters (heavyweights), but I was the only experienced fighter available that day.
I immediately realized how different the gym (and life) experience was for women than it was for men. It must have been so intimidating just training in a gym with these macho and violent men all around. In the red man ring, the women became crazy emotional. I thought I would be sparring, but I became the outlet for all of the pent up anger, fear, and frustration that these women felt about their relations with men. There was screaming and biting and kicking and crying. Holy shit. After the session, I learned that nearly every woman in the class was assaulted to some degree: ranging from sexual assault to groping to men exposing themselves and masturbating. I thought perhaps that is what attracted them to the class, but it seems their experiences were the norm for women in general. It was an eye opener for me.
The lesson wasn't over for me though. After the red man session, I decided that I could be some kind of advocate for women, a protector. My further experiences taught me that attitude was really not much better. Women don't need super hero protectors, in fact that is condescending. That leads me to the …
I am jumping ahead here because my diary is getting long. I will merely tell you a final story about my wife (still before we were married).
We were at a party. My wife and I had just recently started dating. Many of the fighters, male and female were at the party. At that point in time, my wife had gone from being the "girl" at the gym, to one of the most respected people there.
In any case, this dweeby jackass guy started harassing her. He was clearly intimidated by her. He was speaking very condescendingly to her about her exploits as a martial artist and telling her that she didn't look all that strong, how would she handle a man in real life? One of the male fighters noticed this and pointed it out to several of us. He just said "Oh, this is gonna be good" Not one of us had any inclination that my wife needed any assistance, every one of us knew she didn't.
Then, the asshole grabs her arm and says "For example, what would you do if I did th …" but before he even got the word out she had him in an arm lock, then she threw him against the wall and got him in a frontal choke hold. Then, she looked in to his eyes while he was struggling and said loudly "THAT's WHAT I WOULD DO" then she threw him to the side and said "Now you know asshole." The dweeby creep left immediately.
The guys around me started laughing and saying "that was awesome!" I had an epiphany though. I knew right then and there that this is the woman I wanted to marry.
I was not and am not intimidated by her, I am challenged and made better by her. It's been 15 fantastic years that we have been married.
So my lesson is that women don't need protectors, the don't need providers. They need a society that that views women who are resourceful, strong, intelligent, and independent as role models. We need to teach men and boys that those are the type of women that they should want to marry. Women who will challenge them and teach them something. I know I prefer the relationship I have had with my wife to anything I could have experienced with a Stepford wife.
12:39 PM PT: WOW! Thanks for your comments everybody. Sorry that I posted this and sort of ran, but we had a family gathering this morning and I finished this just before we had to leave. I am very happy it went over well. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.