(this ain’t a ‘moment’)
Robbie Burns Day – 2018
I gave this Toast to the Laddies at the home of Ken & Setenay, where we gather every year to celebrate the poetry of Robert Burns and others by reading aloud our favorite works. We march behind the haggis, drink scotch together, eat neeps and tatties, and fill our bowls from a vat of delicious vegetarian chili, anachronistically served. The fellow who was to give the Toast to the Lassies was unable to attend this year. So mine to the laddies was the only toast given. Because of its vulgarity, I did not read aloud the contents of the text message mentioned. That text message is reproduced here.
Well, lassies. Well, laddies. Fasten your seatbelts, because I’m going to get right to it.
It’s been strange days for the likes of us lately, hasn’t it? So much conflict, so much tension exposed in the news. So many secret crimes - against women and girls mostly - all in the open, all of a sudden. Never have we seen the laddies lose public esteem so precipitously, in such numbers. Key figures in sports, in culture, in politics. You know them. Bill Cosby. Louis CK. Poor, foolish Al Franken. Even Garrison Keillor.
How strange it all seems. How disorienting and upsetting. Setenay and I were talking over lunch about it, and that’s when she asked me to give tonight’s toast to the laddies. A toast to the laddies being the last thing, at the time, on my list of things I felt inspired to do.
So, being a contrary sort of woman, I said, ‘yes.’ This is my toast.
Here’s a story.
When I was nine, I was walking my little dog one morning, and a man drove up and called me over to ask for directions. I approached his car, and he had his dick out. It was surreal for a little girl, to see this homely object. I remember his pubic hair puffing out of his zipper. I had not seen pubic hair before. Or an erect penis. Both were unappetizing in the absolute. Gross. And frightening.
I walked away very fast, pulling my little pug-dog along by her leash. Again – I was nine. Of course, that was not the last such encounter I was to have, growing up in New York City. Far from it.
Here’s a different sort of story. Different, but still an example of what certain laddies feel entitled to do, or to say to a lassie. The sort of thing a lassie would never say to a laddie.
In 2017, a man I counted as a contemporary, fellow artist, and friend took me out for drinks. He was rattling on about his experiences on Tinder, his swipes, his hook-ups. I must have glazed-over because he stopped for a moment, looked at me, and said in all earnestness, ‘but, Amanda, at your age, you’re invisible, aren’t you?’
Later in 2017, my friend’s 25-year old grad student roommate sent me a text message with a sexual proposition so ugly, my friend expelled him from the household. The text read, ‘how are you? i wish i could come over and watch youtube in your bed and relax, then fuck you in front of your dogs.’
This roommate – I am old enough to be his mother. But he thought it was absolutely fine to assault me with a text message, for whatever uninvited reason, in 2017. This hyper-educated, professional young man.
So – between the ages of nine and 56 – there have been decades of this. These unprovoked shocks. And I am sharing here only the lighter fare. I’m leaving the physical violations out.
Another story, jumping back in time again. My first day in first grade, the first thing another student said to me was when the little boy sitting at the desk in front of me turned around and – apropos of nothing – declared, ‘I’m a boy, I’m better than you.’
He was telling me something I didn’t know yet. But he believed it. He was so certain. And I could feel a wound in me opening up. A question. Was this true?
Is this true?
He planted doubt in me that day, a terrible doubt. And the more I was in the world, the more that doubt was affirmed by the aggressive acts of other individuals and the persistent rigidity of cultural structures, the harder I pushed against it.
And I tell you now – the push has proved exhausting. And it never fucking ends. On the street, at home, at work. I look at my road ahead, and I feel despair. And if I told you, laddies – if any woman told you – if we were totally open and honest about our lives and what we endure year after year, lifetime after lifetime, you would want to tear the grass from the earth with your teeth.
Or – more likely – you simply wouldn’t believe us. You wouldn’t believe it could be as bad as all that.
Until, perhaps, now, with the #MeToo movement. Oh, the many sins of many men revealed, beloved heroes brought down by their misbegotten, unquestioned sense of what their rights are above the rights of the woman sitting beside them.
It’s crushing to hear about it all.
One feels – aha! At last.
One feels – oh no! I don’t want it to be true. I mean, I knew, I knew it was true. I just didn’t want it to be that true.
One feels – not vindication.
#MeToo has been such a big topic lately. I was at a holiday dinner with friends, and we were all talking about it. I spoke of some of my own #MeToo experiences, things that happened at work and elsewhere. A man at the table, tall, white, with liberal-looking hair, said, ‘your sample size is quite small.’
He said, ‘I have never abused a woman.’
He said, ‘I don’t know any man who has.’
He said, ‘I am a feminist.’
He said, ‘And – anyway – in your stories, what is the common denominator?’
The room looked at itself. Somebody said, ‘men?’
He said, ‘No. It’s Amanda. Amanda, it’s you. You are the common denominator. Your bad experiences are the result of your bad choices.’
The room froze.
And I said, ‘Fuck you.’
I then said, ‘Fuck you.’
The two best possible words. So good, I spoke them twice. I couldn’t believe I’d said them in a roomful of middle-aged, educated, mostly straight, mostly white, professional people. People just like us here tonight.
My friend, Vivek, a gay man of color, said, “Bill – you’ve gone too far.”
Vivek was the only person present who spoke up for me. Besides myself.
Later, as I was leaving, Bill made an aggressive apology. He caught up with me in the foyer. We were alone there. He was taller than I, and he kept stepping forward, into my space, looming, apologizing, trembling.
Trembling with what? With rage?
I said, ‘hang on now, you are pushing on me,’ and I put my hands up to indicate a physical boundary. He said, in a loud voice, ‘Oh, what – you’re the victim now? You’re the victim?’
I said, ‘Do I look like a victim to you?’ I grabbed my coat and left. Walking down the street, I found myself laughing aloud. I sat in my car, aghast & amazed. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing. The way we women do.
Because – well. Let’s look at what this feminist man said:
He said, ‘your sample size is quite small.’ Discrediting my data.
He said, ‘I have never abused a woman.’ Asserting his data.
He said, ‘I don’t know any man who has.’ Asserting his data.
He said, ‘I am a feminist.’ Asserting his superior expertise in the matter.
He said, ‘You are the common denominator. Your bad experiences are the result of your bad choices.’ Blaming the victim.
He said, ‘You’re the victim now?’ Here, he was apologizing.
VIvek also left the party and followed me home in his car. Once we got there, we embraced, laughing. Just dying of laughter. And I said to him – ‘now I get it. I finally understand what white fragility looks like.’
And it’s true. I get white fragility now. I got a lot out of that evening.
OK, look. The way women love is maternal. The way we lassies love you laddies, have always loved you laddies, is because of yourselves, of course. All of the wonderful things you are. But it is in spite of yourselves, too. We love you in spite of yourselves, as mothers will do. It is a big job. Don’t think it isn’t. You don’t always make it easy.
So, what kind of a goddamn toast is this? Is this not a moment to shower you all with praise?
No. That’s for every other night of the year.
Tonight, I am asking you laddies to give us lassies a new reason to toast you.
I know some of you. Maybe just a little, but enough to know something of what you have been through in recent times, how you have suffered. Bitterly suffered. The world is a beautiful, terrible place, and no one escapes the horror of its indifference. No one. I know how brave you have been. How strong. I know how you have stood firm for your work, for your communities and your families. I know some of you laddies to be quite principled. Soulful. Gentle. Generous to a fault. Kindly-natured and goodly-hearted. I know a few of you have daughters. And so, I am asking for more. Yes, more.
Typical lassie, asking for more. When will it end!
Here’s the thing.
I know the stories I’ve told tonight are hard to hear. But I’m not a celebrity. I’m not someone in the news. I am someone right here. I am with you.
It won’t do to back away from #MeToo, to disavow it, to say, ‘hey I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me, I would never.’
Brothers, This Ain’t All About You, Personally. There are others.
And it won’t do to say, ‘I don’t know men like that.’
Because, guess what, brothers. You do.
I am asking for you to shake off your hurt feelings if I’ve hurt them tonight, shake off your pride, trepidation and wariness, and to stand up for us, your women, your sisters, your own dear lassies. Don’t stand by while a woman is being belittled or mistreated – even if she isn’t in the room. Speak out.
Call out micro-aggressions as you see them, and macro-aggressions for that matter. Don’t let Vivek be the only guy to stand up for a woman in-a-spot. Hey – I know. I’m strong. I am an accomplished person. I have good posture. I speak well. I have wonderful hair. I look like the last woman on earth to need your help. But, sometimes I do.
This is about something other than chivalry. It’s about decency. It’s about showing up for the lassies. In a consistent, principled way. Out there. In here. It won’t be easy. We know this.
So, laddies, though you have given us lassies much, so much already - give us yet a new reason to toast you. Your opportunity will surely come.
In the meantime – I do lift my glass to you. I lift it in faith, in hope, and in motherly affection, for you are a promising bunch.
I embrace you.
Here’s to you.
Here’s to us.
Here’s to the better selves we yet may become.
1/25/18 Amanda Moody