Sitting in a tree stand seemed an ironic setting to internally debate one's masculinity and its role in society. After all, few institutions are more representative of old-school American manliness than deer camp.
Yet, there I was, hunkered in a tree last week on a frigid morning in central Wisconsin, contemplating the inherent oppressiveness of my machismo.
White House reporter Glenn Thrush had just been suspended from The New York Times after several women said he had a habit of making drunken passes at younger female journalists. Hollywood gatekeeper Harvey Weinstein faces scores of allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Woman after woman has lined up to tell 40-year-old stories about GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore's reported pursuit of underage teenagers. The career of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, was in jeopardy after a woman said he groped her years before seeking office. And Iowa Senate Republicans were on the verge of releasing a secret, astoundingly brief memo, detailing a culture of cat-calling and sexual comments reinforced by the very power of those accused of the behavior.
The brutality of the male libido has long been ensconced in basically every organized society with a written tradition. The pervasiveness was expressed in myths of sexually aggressive gods and hyper-masculine heroes who took what they wanted. To this day, centuries-old fairy tales are steeped in a tradition of the ravenous male libido and its desire to control -- to lord over -- women.
Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf hoping to lure her to bed. Dracula and his insatiable appetite for flesh.
Every story about a damsel in distress oozes with a sense of female powerlessness in a world where only men hold agency.
In the past century, Disney may be the trope's most prominent purveyor. "The Little Mermaid" was released in 1989. In it, Disney's script remained unchanged from previous iterations where placating a man was the fastest route up the social ladder. A woman should remain quiet -- in this case, literally mute -- pretty and submissive. Only then would her prince charming swoop in to control her, if only in a more opulent setting.
This history didn't merely rise from the ether. Darwinian biology notes the varied reproductive strategies of the sexes. Selection would favor women who amassed offspring, due to the substantial time and energy involved. Men, able to sire multiple partners at a time, would, instead, genetically benefit from collecting a harem. This dynamic probably accounts for most of human history. Such a state remains well-established among the great apes, with whom human share 98 percent of their genome.
And yet, here we are, in an important moment where true equality hinges on acceptance of humanistic maxims that can't exist if that predisposed id, from which men have championed and benefited for eons, lives on as an excuse. Men are not, and cannot be, mere bots programmed by their own genetic history.
A few weeks back, a co-worker accused me of sexism in the middle of the newsroom. She had watched for a year as I periodically strolled from my office and conversed with the one man in her quad. She had asked more than once for me to include her in the banter, especially as the structure of the newsroom's editors underwent a reorganization. My hackles immediately went up when she lodged the allegation.
Mine was the tone-deaf response befitting of a child staring headlong into a mirror that exposed his own privilege.
This past week, I sat in trees and deer blinds. I hunkered down from the wind and did my best to remain quiet. And I thought.
I thought about rebuffed drunken advances. I thought about my willingness to crack jokes with male colleagues. I thought about my own buy-in to a system that, for eons, rendered women property to be bought and sold for the enrichment and political gain of the men who dominated them.