Relax, Ladies. Don’t Be So Uptight. You Know You Want It

Remember the ’80s, when men preferred Hanes and could legally rape their wives?

Credit: Fanatic Studio/Getty Images

InIn 1982, Donald Trump was 36 years old and he preferred Hanes pantyhose. Not because other leading brands constricted his balls, but because women belonged in dresses; it pleased the male eye.

If you’re a Gen-Xer, you undoubtedly remember these ads. For nearly two decades Hanes ran television, print, and radio ads as part of their Gentlemen Prefer Hanes campaign.

As for your preferences, ladies? No one gave a shit, least of all, you. You were happy to tuck that ass in Hanes if that’s how gentlemen preferred it. Why? Because you, Gen-Xer, were socialized not to see a problem with this campaign. Even if you did see a problem, what were you going to do about it in 1982? Form a hashtag army on Twitter?

Gen X. We came of age with movies like Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Revenge of the Nerds. Date rape scenes were “funny.” Harassment meant you were “hot.” Getting pinned to a wall by a guy at work, at school, or a party was normal. Relax. Don’t be so uptight. You know you want it.

The good old days, back when the F-word stood for “fag.” Back when sexual conquest was a lauded male sport, when blue-balls deserved pity and blondes were a punchline. Remember this one: What does a blonde put behind her ears to make her more attractive? Her ankles! Our adolescence played out on the set of a racist, sexist, bigoted America. Don’t believe me? Watch Sixteen Candles again. Or this old commercial for Pepsi. Or this commercial for toxic masculinity — oops, I mean Nissan. If you’re nostalgic for the great films of your youth, I recommend keeping your VHS copy of Heathers and Teen Wolf buried in the garage.

Movies, ads, and TV shows of the ’80s were tailored to give your dad a testosterone boost and teach your brothers to be men. Strong, no-bullshit men, the kind who say what they think and take what they want. Grab ’em by the pussy kind of men. No way was your brother gay. Or you. Unless you were into threesomes. A girl could be into another girl, but only to feed the male gaze, then it was hot. If two women truly loved each other they were going to hell. Read your Leviticus, but first, let me ask you a little something: You’ve got pretty red hair. Is it naturally red? Why don’t you let me see if the carpet matches the drapes? Relax. Don’t be so uptight. You know you want it.

Images: Hanes

SStephen King published It in 1986. A new movie adaptation recently hit theaters. My friend took her 13-year-old daughter who loves all things scary. A week later I saw her daughter with the book tucked under her arm. I pulled my friend aside and whisper-screamed: The book isn’t like the movie! An 11-year-old girl has sex with six boys, one after another! It’s a huge plot point. Stephen King explains his 1986 child orgy scene like this: “Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.” Who am I to correct a living legend, but here it goes: Mr. King, times have not changed regarding those issues. We have changed the times.

Here’s a question for the Gen X women who voted for Trump: Is it possible you were conditioned to support men like him? Consider this before you call me a libtard and click off: In 1963, only 23 percent of Americans approved of the March on Washington where MLK delivered his (now beloved) I Have a Dream speech. The majority of Americans were against the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. died with a 75 percent disapproval rating. Spray all the OxiClean you want on America, that stain isn’t coming out.

Here’s a fun game. Ask yourself: What strongly held opinion of mine will my grandchildren one day struggle to understand?

No one thinks of themselves as a byproduct of a generation. Your parents and grandparents, sure, they’re byproducts. (Exhibit A, your grandmother’s helmet-shaped perm.) But not you. You’re aware of the trends and social attitudes of your generation, but your thoughts, proclivities, and the votes you cast are entirely your own. Or are they?

Every generation is a slop-sink of prejudices, norms, and ideologies, and since we humans are more sponge-like than rock-like, we naturally absorb our share of generational sludge. Tobacco-smoke enemas were all the rage in the 18th century. Stomach ache? Heart stalled? Typhoid? Doctors blew smoke up your ass. The United States performed over 40,000 lobotomies between the 1940s and ’50s, more than any other nation.

A lobotomy turned Rosemary Kennedy, JFK’s 23-year-old sister, into a drooling toddler. Born with mild learning disabilities, Rosie was prone to outbursts. Add a beautiful figure, a bubbly personality, and a winning smile to the mix and the Kennedys had themselves a little problem, being a prominent Catholic family and all.

Rosie’s father took the advice of respected male medical professionals of his day and had his daughter lobotomized to, you know, “stabilize” her personality. Lobotomies quickly went the way of the Easter bonnet. As for poor Rosemary? She got washed away with other moth-eaten trends of her generation.

The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port on September 4, 1931. Rosemary is on the far right. Photo: Richard Sears in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, via Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Speaking of moth-eaten trends, did you know husbands could legally rape their wives until 1993 due to a little something called the marital rape exception? North Carolina was the last to agree that a married woman has the same right to control her body as an unmarried woman. And then there’s Tennessee. It took the state until 2005 to repeal a law stipulating rape was only rape if the husband armed himself with a weapon or “any other article fashioned in a manner that would lead his wife to believe it to be a weapon.” Gee, Tennessee. It took you until 2005 to acknowledge the only two articles a man needs to “fashion into a weapon” are his fist and his penis?

We are all byproducts of a collective mindset. Those who question the mindset of their time and shine light on its moral defects are considered malcontents. And yet, it is malcontents like MLK who are (later) lauded as heroes — not for upholding America’s values, for shaping them. Here’s a fun game. Ask yourself: What strongly held opinion of mine will my grandchildren one day struggle to understand?

The 23 percent of Americans who supported civil rights in 1963 knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t accidentally do the right thing. They weren’t accidentally on the right side of history. Instead of bullheaded allegiance, they questioned, examined, and took a knee to the moral defects of their time.

RRemember Andrew Dice Clay? He was big in the ’80s. He made jokes about choking his wife unconscious during sex, and killing homosexuals and immigrants. He delivered lines like, “Women are always looking for someone to treat them like the pigs they are,” and the audience went wild.

In a 1991 review, critic Roger Ebert describes Clay’s audience like this:

You never see anyone just plain laughing, as if they’d heard something that was funny. You see, instead, behavior more appropriate at a fascist rally, as his fans stick their fists in the air and chant his name as if he were making some kind of statement for them…

Who were these Dice fanatics? You’d expect them to be mostly male, but they weren’t. Women loved him — except for a few malcontent bitches like Sinead O’Connor, who couldn’t take a joke. (She canceled her appearance on SNL in May of 1990 because she refused to appear on the same show as Andrew Dice Clay.) Relax, Sinead. Don’t be so uptight. You know you want it.

If you were a woman in the ’80s and you didn’t laugh at boys being boys, you were never going to get yourself a husband. In 1986, the cover story of Newsweek struck terror when it predicted that single, 40-year-old women had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married. Other news publications Paul Revere’d the message and panic swept the ‘80s.

Single women were presented with two choices: You were either marriage material (compliant and fun, a go-along gal!) or you were one of those militant ERA lesbian types doomed to die in a one-bedroom with your cats.

Besides, Andrew Dice Clay claimed his “face down, ass up” misogyny was all an act; the Diceman was just a character. The real Andy didn’t hate women and immigrants and would never tell gay kids to kill themselves. Except Andy wasn’t the first comedian in history to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row — the Diceman did that. A journalist in a 1990 Washington Post article said Clay deserved more pity than scorn because his “comedy of hate” came from deep insecurity. We should feel sorry for him. After all, Clay went on Arsenio Hall’s talk show and cried. Poor guy. I hope someone gave him a hug after that.

Look, I get it. I was 20 years old in 1990. After my boyfriend punched me in the eye, he cried too. I held him until he felt better. I told friends I’d stupidly walked into the corner of an open cabinet. Because, like the Washington Post in 1990, I understood it was my job to help men feel better about themselves. It was my job to understand that their gross, abusive language was just locker room talk. Most men don’t mean to hit us or rape us or verbally abuse us. They don’t really want gay people strung up and hung. It’s just a macho act, you know? Like the Diceman. Besides, if women don’t like that sort of thing, why do they go for guys like that? Or vote them into office? Or make them Supreme Court justices?

The lesson? All you uptight bitches need to take a chill pill.

The Anita Hill hearing was my first encounter with overt feminism. I was 21. I listened as she testified and was vilified by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and the media. America didn’t believe her. In a 1991 New York Times article, one woman explains why she doubts Anita Hill: “She might have thought some of this stuff up in her head. Women have a tendency to do that sometimes.” Others brushed her off as an embarrassing spectacle. So what if her boss talked to her about porn, bestiality, and pubic hairs. Relax, Anita. Don’t be so uptight. You know you want it.

Anita Hill is sworn-in before testifying at the 1991 Senate Judiciary hearing on the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

I was working as a receptionist. A mid-level manager made a habit of bringing his wife’s underwear to work and showing them to me. He carried them in his suit pocket. He’d linger at my desk describing that morning’s copulation. I’d respond in ways the ’80s taught me: Laugh and roll your eyes or make a maternal tsk-tsk face.

Anita Hill lost. Clarence Thomas was confirmed. The lesson? All you uptight bitches need to take a chill pill. Men like to have a little fun. No harm in that, is there? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

HHave you ever known someone who hasn’t changed their hairstyle in decades? They still have the bangs they had in seventh grade? There are people who haven’t changed their views since seventh grade, either. We shouldn’t use our present-day ideas and perspectives to judge the distant past (the Parthenon was built by slaves), but if someone drags an antiquated moral norm into the present, they should expect to be held in account.

To my Trump-supporting friends back home who responded to his “locker room talk” with a maternal tsk-tsk face — and to the growing #WomenAgainstFeminism movement — do you know who started the first rape crisis center? And who fought to criminalize the rape of a child? And who started the National Sexual Assault Hotline? I’ll give you a hint, it was not the good brethren of this country. A grassroots movement of feminists did that, a handful of women broke their silence and go-along gal compliance.

Harvard had a men-only library until 1967, barring women because they “distracted from serious scholarship.” Harvard did not wake up one sunny morning and decide to open the library to female students. A feminist changed Harvard’s mind. Her name was Naomi Weisstein. She and a handful of friends dressed in skin-tight leotards danced and blew trumpets in front of the library windows shouting, “Distraction? We’ll show you a distraction.” Naomi died in 2015 at age 76. She was never famous, just one of many unsung feminists who stuck her hand down the drain and cleared the sludge for the rest of us.

The idea that we no longer need feminism is absurd — it’s the equivalent of technology stopping at the floppy disc.

Makes you wonder why more women didn’t join Naomi in front of the library. But there have always been women who rally against their own rights, as there are today. We are two camps. In one are the Naomi Weissteins with their trumpets, in the other are the women who would still be riding side-saddle in a dress if it weren’t for the rights won by their malcontent sisters.

Do the #WomenAgainstFeminism think progress arrives naturally, like a pubescent girl’s first menstrual cycle? A surprise to all, a day for hugs and mixed feelings? I’ve watched their YouTube videos and read their Tweets. Feminism is no longer needed, they say, egalitarian is the way to be. Do they know women were forbidden to wear pants on the Senate floor until 1993? Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman to serve as a United States Senator, showed up to work one day in a pantsuit. The entire Senate is on record audibly gasping.

I wonder… would today’s anti-feminists be yesterday’s anti-suffragettes? #WomenAgainstSusanBAnthony

Want to know what a feminist is? A feminist is a person who, instead of being the docile pet of their generation, rears back and bares their teeth. The idea that we no longer need feminism is absurd — it’s the equivalent of technology stopping at the floppy disc.

It isn’t shocking that women of my generation helped vote Grandpa Trump into office. But I’ll admit, it is shocking to watch this mother tell her young daughters that men groping women is “no big deal.” She looks to be about my age… I wonder if she saw Andrew Dice Clay in concert?

Hey, I bet she remembers this one: A man is being arrested by a female police officer, who informs him, “Anything you say can and will be held against you.” The man replies, “Your tits!”

Relax. Don’t be so uptight. You know you want it.

Columnist for Human Parts. I believe in Dog. @IWorryAboutYou

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