The Difference Between Men and Women

goddessSince 1998, I’ve interviewed over sixty people about their experiences of the 1960s, all them ‘baby boomers’ who shared that particular cultural upheaval. The stories have a lot in common. We wanted to break away from entrenched beliefs and stereotypes to embrace a more tolerant view of the world. We saw a responsibility to work for change. We searched out environments where we had the freedom to reinvent ourselves as citizens of a new age.

But recently I’ve reached a startling realization having to do with a striking difference between the male and female narrative. That is, the men I’ve interviewed rarely if ever mention their sexual activities of those times. Women, on the other hand, describe sexual activity as a key point in their lives.

At first I thought this had to do with the natural reticence of men to discuss emotional and/or personal experiences, and their tendency to focus more on activities and interactions having to do with work and other external matters. But it occurs to me now that the difference more likely is a result of the fact that for men, not much of the tradition of male sex lives changed with the ‘60s. (Unless they were gay, of course.)

Not so for women! The Sixties and the Seventies were times of major change in women’s sex lives, and from there, a change in just about everything else as well. Birth control pills meant that for the first time, women could enjoy sex without the overwhelming risk of pregnancy. On the heels of widely-available birth control, the U S Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade meant that even if raped or confronted with the failure of birth control, a woman could obtain a safe medical abortion.

Suddenly women were masters of their own lives. Without the unnatural expectation to wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity, women could focus on education, political action, and career building. For the first time, women could approach men as an equal in the sexual arena, pick and choose sex partners, and be just as promiscuous as men had always been. Not that all women were. The liberation of women had to do with gaining options.

So of course women who came of age in those years would include stories of how those changes affected them. Raised in the mindset of earlier times, women of the ‘boomer’ generation suddenly could set aside the old threats of illegitimate children and the social stigma that inevitably followed such public evidence of out-of-wedlock sex. A female’s identity no longer centered around her role as wife and mother, but rather what she could offer her community in any of multiple roles.

Maybe women are more likely to discuss private emotional experiences than are men. But I think that women of my generation are rightfully proud to be the ground upon which a revolution took place. From this has flowed a wealth of new ideas in the workplace, changes in the arts including erotic literature in a manner never before imagined, and exciting relationship options inconceivable fifty years ago. I encourage all of us to tell our stories so that our daughters and all women coming after us never lose sight of what we have won.

Broken Glass

The storm door rattled in its latch. The broken pane trembled and not for the first time Autura thought the glass would pop out and shatter to the floor. She withdrew her hand from the handle and stepped back.

Branson hadn’t stood up. His muscled frame hovered on the wooden chair as if waiting. As if not firmly caught in the direction he’d taken. As if he might spring up any second, slam his fist into something else, shove her against the wall and assault her with his mouth, his body. A tremor ran through her belly. As if.

Calmly, he twisted off the cap on the half pint and emptied the last of the whiskey into his mug. She wanted to challenge him, argue, yell, throw things, stare him down. But her angry gaze caught on the black eye patch, the eye that wasn’t there, the eye that she had never realized was the place her glance went automatically, some habit of engagement with another human when your dominant eye seeks out its counterpart in the other person. She’d never known how that worked. Now, it seemed like the only damn thing that happened consistently with Branson.

Forcing her gaze to focus on his other eye, his only eye, she met his calculating, sardonic gray stare, his expression of contempt, or challenge, or whatever the hell it was that he felt.

“Go on,” he said quietly. “Get the fuck out.”

She stifled the words that sprang to her lips and turned again to the door. The cracks radiating out from the fist-sized hole blurred with the yellow residue of tape that had long since fallen away, victim of hot, cold, wind, rain. She remembered when the last of it peeled away and hung by a thin edge, curled and brittle. Once it fell, he had allowed it to lie on the threshold for weeks.

“You need to fix this glass.”

Why didn’t she just leave? What was it about him that reached into her chest and held her like a fist? She had shed all the tears, tried everything. Except leaving. Maybe that’s what it would take.

“Why?” he questioned, his voice dry and expressionless. “Everything else around here is falling apart.”

He said it like he would comment on the weather to a stranger. On invitation of his words, Autura looked around the familiar place, the tiny living room where a layer of dust coated the window sill, coffee table, the top of the television. A blanket on the couch where he spent most of his days. And nights. The floors needed cleaning. Prescription bottles, empty crumpled cigarette packs, an Elvis zippo worn to bare metal where the neck should have been, and dirty dishes littered the little table where he sat.

November wind hit the glass again, another sharp rattle as the door latch heaved in and out against its little catch. What would happen if she threw it open, let it bang against the outside wall, let the glass fly into glittering shards to cascade over the wet sidewalk and ground? She shook her head slightly. She knew what would happen. The glass would stay where it fell. He’d walk over it like he walked over everything that used to mean something.

Cautiously, she brought her gaze back to his face, his chiseled handsome face with its gritty beard shadow and the scar by his temple and the angry gray eye, watching. His big hands turned the mug in short increments like the minute hand on a clock.

“Okay, damn you.” Her throat choked on the words. But she was right. She had tried everything else. She grabbed the door handle, popped the latch, and stepped outside. The wind caught her hair and whirled it into the air. Cold pellets of rain splattered her cheek. She turned briefly to force the fragile storm door closed, surprised to see him standing there like a ghost on the other side of the glass.

A fresh flurry of rain dashed against her face and she hurried toward her car. If she looked one second longer, she would lose any hope of leaving. The car ignition sent its gentle ding-ding into the noise of rain and wind. A crashing sound shattered across the yard, and she knew what she would see before she cast her gaze toward him. He stood there in the open doorway, his arms crossed, his gray stare burning across the distance until she could almost see the bloodshot rim, the slightly puffy lid. The storm door lay flat against the outside wall with one last large section of glass hanging at a forty-five degree angle and the rest of it in a thousand pieces on the ground and concrete walk.

She wanted to cry out, curse, beat his chest with her fists. Tears burned her eyes as she slid into her car seat and closed the door. Methodically, she turned the key in the ignition. With great effort, she did not look at the doorway as she backed down the drive and slowly pulled away.