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Volume 5, Issue 7  |  January 24, 2020


You Must Remember This: The Me-too movement

By NANCY GARDNER

The Me-too movement has made everybody a lot more sensitive to certain gender issues, especially where there is a power discrepancy. I have been pretty fortunate in that regard. In the corporate world I experienced a certain amount of sexism, but I never had to fight off heavy-handed approaches of the sort that have recently undone so many powerful men. I had male superiors make it pretty clear that if I was interested, they were willing to forget they were married, at least for an interval, but when I didn’t respond that was the end of it. No penalty imposed.

It’s the same thing when I look back to high school. There was a teacher of Spanish who had a reputation for looking down girls’ blouses. He never looked down my blouse, but at that age there was nothing to look at so that doesn’t necessarily exculpate him. It did seem like he spent quite a bit of time bending over certain girls, but they weren’t the best students so maybe he was just helping them, and his good motives were misinterpreted. Certainly there was never a public reprimand – although that, as we have learned, doesn’t necessarily default to innocence. There was another situation involving a female gym teacher. Our senior year she wasn’t there which, since she was a good teacher, was initially a disappointment. Then I was told that she had become “too friendly” with one of her students and was transferred. As soon as I heard that, I was glad she was gone. The student was one I often competed with for places on teams. If the teacher and she were chums, the teacher might have given her a spot we were both vying for. Good thing she was removed. It was only some years later that I realized the fuller implications of the situation.

Neither of the high school incidents directly involved me, but there was an encounter earlier that very much did. I was probably nine. We were living on Iris in CdM, and I was walking over to Larkspur to see if Susie Hubbard wanted to play. A boy of 13 or 14 said hello, and when I stopped, asked if I wanted to...it was a word I had never heard.

“What?”

“Do you want to ----?”

We went back and forth a few times, with me still not catching the word, but he obviously wanted to play and he was there and I didn’t know if Susie was home. A bird in the hand, as they say, so I invited him to come play with me in the garage where I had a sawhorse with a saddle pad, a trapeze and other things we could do. Once there, I told him I had to tell my parents where I was and what I was doing. I left the garage and went in the house where my father was.

“There’s a boy I met. He’s in the garage. He wants to  play...fork? Fox? I don’t know.”

I may not have known the word, but my father certainly did. I don’t know if I ever saw him move any faster, but fast as he was, the boy had run off. My father couldn’t find him, but he reported the incident, and since it wasn’t the first time, the police were able to track the boy down, and he was sent away for treatment.

My parents reminded me about strangers, even young ones, but other than that they downplayed the event, so it was quite a few years before I heard the word again, and a few more years before I understood what exactly the kid had proposed which makes me think not just of my close escape but of how much cleaner our language was in those days. I never heard swear words at home.  My father might have muttered an occasional damn, but that was it. My mother not only didn’t swear, even proper terms could be too much for her. I remember her telling a friend that her 5-year-old granddaughter, “calls her you-know-what by its real name.”

Hardly the case today. The word that flummoxed me all those years ago is so common now it’s almost like punctuation. There probably isn’t a 9-year-old alive who hasn’t heard the word many times – that, and all the rest of them. I’m not sure that our discourse has benefited, but I suspect that today most 9-year-olds if addressed as I was might not understand the actual meaning of the word but they would know it wasn’t nice. Hopefully, this would result in a swift kick to the shins of the proposer and a quick escape. 

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Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, lon-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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