Women have been putting up with piggish men for a long time; do you recall the cartoon showing a helpless woman being dragged by the hair while a caveman says to his friend, “I love these pre-holiday sales!”? For a very long time, the meme of gender relations has been: man is the boss and woman his slave.
Though stand-up comedians told jokes a’plenty about nagging wives and mother-in-laws, what’s actually happened to girls and women in America is no laughing matter: widespread domestic abuse, rape, violence and harassment. The caricature of cat-calling, dog-whistling guys in hard hats giving women a hard time as they walk past is real, a display of male libido conflated with self-identity as a “stud.”
For countless women subjected to aggression and terror inflicted by piggish men, life is filled with trauma and its effects. Sometimes relatives, friends of the family, or total strangers; for too many women sexual trauma’s been committed by men at the point of a knife, the threat of a beating, or risk to a career. The dark side of men is real but largely unacknowledged and most often hidden.
Now the dark side of men is getting its day in the sun; women and their stories of abuse are filling headlines. For piggish men, the trauma is now theirs’: exposure accompanied by embarrassment, humiliation, job loss, and shame. Imagine what Louis CK or Charlie Rose carried inside them–knowledge of their dark side–and the fear of exposure they lived with every day. Powerful secrets cannot easily be contained. As psychotherapist CJ Jung observed in his patients, their darkest secret is “the rock against which they are shattered.”
Men carry secrets, and for that matter, most women, too. Hauled along for many years, sometimes decades or an entire lifetime, the traumatic “shattering” of which Jung wrote is revealed in behavior. Wrapped within psychological self-defense mechanisms, the shattered self seeks coherence by repetitively reengaging with the original trauma, in turn triggering self-protective behaviors which may stretch back to infancy: denial, projection and displacement. None of this is an excuse for piggishness, however.
Seeing piggishness in oneself is easily displaced. Louis CK built his comedy routine around masturbation, while at the same time tormenting women by his actual fixation on it. Donald Trump pridefully boasted to Billy Bush about his prowess and power as sexual predator; were he a comedian, it would have been his “schtick.” Woody Allen compulsively writes and directs Oscar-winning movies about compulsively piggish men, denies he is one of them, yet marries his step-daughter; now that’s displacement! Despite acts of displacement, however, these secrets eat men alive.
Excusing piggish men is not my point, but I do feel compassion for them. To repeatedly degrade and humiliate women and keep it secret is a painful form of emotional self-torture. Fear of exposure is ever-present; relying on power, money or intimidation goes only so far, and to judge by recent disclosures, not far at all any more. For the first time I can recall, women have effectively turned the tables on their male tormentors and though painful and humiliating, it’s a healthy development.
The jig is up. Piggish men need to prepare to openly face the trauma of their secret lives. Welcome to the dark side, guys.
(Correction: It has been brought to my attention that Soon-yi was not, in fact, Woody Allen’s stepdaughter, but the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn. I regret the error.)