When I was about 11, I went to the beach with my grandma. A man who worked at the hotel there wanted to show me something, alone. First he showed me the flowers and butterflies of the garden. Then he asked if I knew that all men had a thing, and he pointed to his pants. I felt uncomfortable and froze, then I left, and found my grandma.
She told me not to be alone with men, that they would do something to me. She warned me even though I never told her about what he said. I thought I would be in trouble.
Somehow, still, she seemed to know that he tried to be inappropriate.
She told me men cheated, they only wanted one thing. It seemed to be true. But she took responsibility away from them, and made it seem like they couldn’t help themselves. You show a bit of leg or are alone with one, what do you expect?
My grandma told me about men: To keep them at a distance, and let them do nice things for you, but don’t give them a damn inch.
My other grandma told me different things about men.
They were disappointing. They didn’t make enough money. They didn’t keep you in the same kind of luxury that your father could. She had a totally different background. She had had a lot of money as a child, and married a working-class man. No more jewelry, no big fancy house—just work, hard work, and four children.
One saw men as perverts who sucked the life out of you…who wanted sex like an adult, but functioned like a child…who needed a woman to moderate his feelings, do his chores. Women were the stronger sex, and so we had to help men, out of pity.
The other saw men as failures, as creatures who should provide, but who ultimately did not live up to the hype. The past was golden, youth was golden, and the future was just one of hard work and pain. She felt cheated. Her life was supposed to be more opulent, more glamorous.
We made Thanksgiving dinners while they sat and watched football. We sweat from the heat of the stove and they got the leg, the choice cuts. My grandmothers and aunts wondered what life would be like if they never got married, and then asked when I was going to tie the knot.
It’s strange today to hear men gripe about how modern women don’t do what their grandmas did.
All I can think of is: Of course not.
Our grandmas are not examples we follow—they are cautionary tales.
We have to make our own lives, without expectations of anyone else to drag us down or save us.