Should dirty songs and jokes be cause for guilt?
When I was young, my family left New York City. My secular, atheist, culturally Jewish family believed in social justice for all, causing me to wonder why we moved from the city to the suburbs, which had a very low integration factor and still does. My father was a school administrator in Harlem. One day a year, he would take my brother and myself to visit him in school. I don’t know if he did this to address the lack of diversity in our lives at that time, but it worked to the extent that the aspiration for a more socially just world has never left me.
My great-grandmother was an American Communist Party member who seemed to always discuss improving the world for everybody, yet could never elaborate on how it could happen. While I understand how activists come to feel this way, it does not attract my support.
I know that life is harder for my wife, an overweight African-American woman, who has been unemployed for nearly three years. I work many part-time positions and still rely on help from my family, because my wife is unemployed. A few years ago, I went to Africa for a friend’s wedding, and upon returning, forecast internally that our lives together would become ideal. Ms. Michaels would keep her position, and I would expand my business, finish my doctorate, and our worlds would open up exponentially. However, this was when the economy closed down. I had depended upon my wife to provide stability to me. I had never wanted to be the breadwinner in my household, and now I am and have been for quite some time. Should I feel guilty for wanting an equal partnership in my marriage, and feeling forced to take on a role for which I’ve not been prepared?
When I went to college, I went to learn how to improve the world, not to network or look for the best career opportunity. We had a family business, which began to stall before my senior year of college, so I went home to assist with it—and with no accompanying regrets. Then one day I realized I wanted to have a family, so I began answering newspaper personals.
I remember my first date—in college. I made the mistake of asking three college men how to treat women on dates. They said that women are very interested in being touched, and while I was far from criminal, I know I didn’t make my date comfortable. In retrospect, she was a saint for saying we’d be friends after it, and we did. I met my first girlfriend the summer before my senior year of college
I’ve actually discovered later, from various sources, that women often communicate more subtly than men; I don’t know why this happens, but I was not behaving naturally on my first date; I was being influenced by those whom I regarded with respect, wrongly so, at least in this particular area. In retrospect, I’ve wondered if there were other women who may have been interested in me years ago–whose communication methods I didn’t notice. I am not very good at self-promotion to this day–socially I was always uncomfortable approaching people who had power over me, and because I wanted a family so much, women had great power. My wife still does.
College was a great time for me, even though I didn’t lose my virginity until after graduating. (Yes, that does happen for some men!) Also, my first time was with a woman I never saw again. Yes, that happens to guys too! I actually was depressed at the time, but didn’t realize it until after we “did the nasty,” and she wouldn’t return my calls.
In college I found another family that gave me unconditional love, a singing organization–an all-male singing organization. They are still my family. Thanks to their keg parties, my grades took a dip in college, especially my freshman and sophomore years–yet I still have no regrets.
We traveled together, even overseas, and in addition to singing in concert, we would also sing songs not intended to be heard by anybody other than us or our sister organization, an all-female choir. The songs were intended for us and our friends only: given that we were men, the lyrics were often related to women and referred to them in a sexual manner. Other topics of the songs included homosexuality and abortion. Laughs abounded over drinks on bus trips. To us, there was nothing malicious about it. Women in our sister organization often joined in at parties, and would periodically sing songs about us, too. All was fine with us.
My freshman year, a poster campaign was orchestrated against our organization saying that because we were all-male, that we had to be a sexist organization. Fraternities seemed not to get the same treatment. Had the designers of the posters known about our hidden song repertoire, it might have imparted impetus to the activists, whose motives I appreciated then and now. I do not favor activity that degrades women; however, I presume that my wife doesn’t either, and she thinks some of these songs are hilarious!
The year after I graduated, I was informed by a younger member of my family that such songs had been outlawed by the new director. Apparently one member of the group, said he would report the songs to the college president because he was offended by them. As a result, these songs are now legend; what can I say? I miss them. Should I feel guilty?
I’ve become friends with many people online who are activists advocating various forms of social justice, feminism being one. I don’t consider myself a feminist, not because I don’t advocate what feminism is about: I consider myself an advocate for social justice of all kinds. I’m against racism too, but does that mean I didn’t laugh at racist jokes growing up? I can’t deny that some of my greatest experiences in life may be criticized by feminist activists as perpetrating gender discrimination and inequality.
—Photo Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr