My husband and I were getting new eyeglasses. He selected his new frame right away. It wasn't that easy for me. As I browsed and tried on frames, the optician made comments to my husband.
      Optician: She's going for the expensive ones. Better check your wallet.
      Husband: You take American Express, don't you?
      Optician: (Chuckles) I hope you have a high credit line?
      I didn't think the comments were funny, but I needed to concentrate on selecting a frame. I tried on a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and asked my husband for his opinion. He just shrugged.
      Optician: (To Husband) So, what do you think? That should hold her for about six months before she wants to buy something else.
      I was doing a slow burn by the time I confronted the man.
      Me: Your references to me are insulting. I'm not a horse that's too expensive to board or a child who wants too many toys. For all you know, I make all the money and give my husband a small allowance..
      Optician: Do you make all the money?
      Me: No, but I make enough of it to take it elsewhere for my glasses.
      I picked up my prescription and walked out the door.
      Optician: (Muttering) Women!
      My husband ran out to the parking lot after me. I was already in the car. He got in too.
      Husband: What's the matter with you?
      Me: You didn't notice anything?
      Husband: No. Are you okay?
      Me: No.
      Husband: What happened?
      I carefully outlined the dialogue between the optician and my husband with the meticulousness of a court stenographer. When I was done, my husband responded.
      Husband: Gee, Hon, don't you think you're overreacting?
      Me: No, I don't. It happens all the time, this and worse, and you don't even notice. I really thought that male attitudes toward women were changing, but it seems like a damn conspiracy against us!
      Husband: It is.
      Me: No, I mean a concerted effort made as a group to keep women from achieving equal status and purposely undermining our sense of self.
      Husband: I know what you mean, and you're right.
      Me : Very funny.
      Husband: You don't believe me.
      Me: (Playing along) When do you attend the meetings?
      Husband: My weekly basketball game. We only play for an hour. The rest of the time is devoted to our meeting. You know Walter? He's the regional leader>
      Me: When did all this start?
      Husband: Ancient Greece.
      Me: No, I mean when did you start?
      Husband: 1971
      Me: Why 1971?
      Husband: That's when I was invited to join. It's quite an honor.
      Me: What's the name of the organization?
      Husband: I can't tell you. It's a very old secret.
      Me: Since Ancient Greece?
      Husband: Right
      Me: And you say it all began back then, huh?
      Husband: That's what I understand.
      Me: And how do you know this?
      Husband: There are documents from the 5th century B.C. asserting that women are superior. So every effort must be made by men to keep them from reaching any significant power.
      Me: Where can I read this Greek document?
      Husband: Any college library. It's public knowledge.
      Me: Where is it kept -- in the men's room? Anyway, what does that have to do with what the optician was implying?
      Husband: It's one of the first principles. Reinforce the insecure self-image.
      Me: So that's what he was doing! Of course! This is getting interesting. What are some of the other principles?
      Husband: Another one is limiting advancement through exclusion. You know, the old boys network. There are lots of ways to maintain control.
      Me: Lots of ways, huh?
      Husband: Lots. Like disinformation. You know the general rumor that women sleep their way to the top?
      Me: Yes, so . . .
      Husband: If that were true, there wouldn't be so few women at the top.
      Me: My God, this is worse than unbelievable! This is believable! (Deep breath) You were telling me about these . . . uh . . . principles.
      Husband: Oh yeah, here's a simple one. Divide and conquer by keeping women competing with each other for men's approval. The latest device is the fitness craze. Oh, and the fashions you see in music videos.
      Me: Haven't there been any setbacks? What about women getting the vote?
      Husband: That was no big setback. We still choose all the candidates. Birth control was the only real setback. When a woman had eight or ten children, it was nearly impossible to survive without a man. It wasn't smart for a woman to challenge authority.
      Me: A woman's biology was her destiny. That must be why the abortion issue is so important.
      Husband: How do you think Clarence Thomas, a black man, married to a white woman, could be confirmed to the Supreme Court by all those conservatives?
      Me: So it was just another issue of control.
      Husband: I think you're catching on.
      Me: But there's still one thing I don't get. It was a very close vote.
      Husband: Almost any of those men would have changed their vote if it was necessary.
      Me: I guess they wouldn't want it to look like a conspiracy.
      Husband: Now you've got it!

Carol Hatfield
"The Realist," Winter, 1992

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