Friday, April 19, 2013

MGTOW, or My Uncle, the Misogynist

I don't usually think of putting a trigger warning on one of my posts, but I will alert anyone who is reading that this post involves incest and sexual abuse (not of a child).

This year my mother's younger brother died.  Aside from my sisters, he was the last remaining member of my immediate family. 

Although my sisters and I were not indifferent to his passing, no one shed a tear.

He died alone, in his late seventies, in a nursing home.  He had been failing for several months.  A social worker handled his final arrangements.  There was no funeral; no one would have attended, anyway.

How did this happen?

Once I adored my only uncle.  Every other Christmas, he swept into our lives from exotic locales: Korea, Iran, Thailand, Turkey.  He worked as a technician for military contractors like Litton.  He seemed to me to be larger than life (and at 6'4" 300#, was an indisputably powerful presence).  When I was a child, he was the only male who showed me physical affection.  "Don't pick her up Ken!" my mother would cry.  "She's heavier than she looks!"  But clinging to my uncle's thick neck, fragrant with aftershave, I was as light as a baby monkey.  He bought me Lincoln Logs; he laughed at my antics.  My sisters and I vied for his attention, but I was always secretly convinced that he loved me the best of all.  I had every reason to believe that my uncle would always be the #1 Guy in My Life.

Time passed.  My sisters and I entered adolescence.  Suddenly our uncle didn't love us so much.  He had a way of scrutinizing my developing body with a hypercritical eye.  He warned me darkly of the dangers of becoming so fat that no man would ever want me.  He no longer had any interest in what I was studying or reading or doing.  When we did engage in conversation, he steered it toward sexuality: his own and mine.  He regaled me with stories of his adventures in third world brothels, of the sexual peccadilloes of his many girlfriends, his own sexual preferences, and all the perils and pleasures of being a randy globe-trotting bachelor

Of course, a part of me was fascinated and flattered that an adult would make me such a confidante, but part of me was increasingly uncomfortable with him.  As a 14 year old in the 1970s, I knew nothing about "appropriate boundaries."  That concept had not yet been coined.  I dealt with my internal conflict by mostly avoiding him.  From a safe distance, I could still "love" and admire him

While I was teaching in Tehran, my uncle popped in unexpectedly from Amman.  While using the toilet, he glimpsed my diaphragm drying on the edge of sink, and let me know in no uncertain terms how "disgusting" he had found the sightDeeply shamed, I explained that, had I known he was visiting, I certainly would have hidden it from view.  My apology hardly mollified him.  Apparently, it wasn't the sight of a diaphragm per se that upset him, but the fact that it was my diaphragmI was perplexed by this.   

Clearly, my uncle enjoyed sharing the details of his own sexual adventures with me.  Why was he distressed by evidence that I was sexually active myself?  Did I not at least get credit for being sexually responsible?

While I was doing a Fulbright in Italy in my twenties, my uncle visited me from Germany.  He offered to take me to the Riviera for three days.  As we checked into the hotel our first night, I found he had reserved a "matrimoniale".  He was visibly annoyed when I balked at this arrangement.  When he complained that I was taking advantage of his generosity by insisting on separate beds, I paid for a separate room.

Later, I met my uncle at the pool, where he coolly appraised my swimsuit-clad body.  "You're one of those fat women who actually looks better without her clothes on,"  he opined.  I dived into the water to escape my embarrassment.  Later, he came over to the pool where I was idly dangling my legs.  He sat down beside me, laid a ham-sized hand on my knee, and invited me to give him a massage before dinner.  As he insinuated his hand between my thighs, it was clear that "massage" was code for something more intimate.

I stammered something along the lines that what he was proposing sounded a lot like "incest.The very word stuck in my mouth like a clod of filth, but my uncle was unfazed.

Indeed, he proceeded to instruct me that incest was nothing new, nor anything necessarily immoral.  After all, the Pope had routinely given 17th century Spanish kings dispensation to marry their nieces.  (I didn't think at the time of pointing out that our family had been neither ruling class nor Catholic for at least 300 years. All I could think of was Sex with Uncle Kenny = eeewwww.)

The weekend went down hill from there.  Needless to say, I couldn't wait to get home.  Bidding my uncle arrivederci at the train station, I urged him to get psychological help to deal with his issues.  I mean, that's actually how I put it, and I said it with great kindness because I mostly wasn't angry; I mostly felt sorry for him; I mostly thought he was just a very, very lonely man with "issues" (possibly stemming from abuse my his mother / my grandmother).  I suppose I thought that my familial duty was to steer him into therapy so that he could learn to have intimate relationships with women who weren't prostitutes (or nieces).

My uncle looked me in the eye rather tenderly for a moment while i was earnestly imploring him.  "You know, you remind me so much of your mother..."  The implication was that it was not me he lusted for, but instead his sister / my mother. 

"Anyway," he suddenly turned away dismissively, his face hardening, "You're too old for me now."  (I was 25.)

I never shared these experiences with my mother.  I didn't trust she would believe me, and I didn't want to poison his relationship with the only person he really loved.

Fast forward ten years later: I accidentally saw my uncle while visiting my mother.  We got into a heated dinner table conversation about domestic violence.  When I declared, "There's no excuse for a man to hit a woman," my uncle flew into a rage.  He reared up, chair clattering across the floor, and raised his huge, clenched fists.  Towering over me, eyes bulging with fury, he bellowed, "Some women NEED beating!  Because SOME women just don't know when --  to -- SHUT UP!"  And then -- and this is the worst part -- he opened his mouth and began flapping his tongue in a grotesque caricature of a nagging woman.

My jaw tingled in apprehension of the shattering blow it was about to receive.  

I fled, barricading myself into my mother's bedroom, and refused to emerge until my uncle had left. Weeks later, I sent him a note, telling him our relationship was "over" until he had gotten "help" for his "anger management."

That was the last time I ever spoke to my uncle in person.  We occasionally exchanged words when I picked up the phone at my mother's house. I was cold but civil, while he nattered on, seemingly oblivious to the chill.

When I heard Uncle Kenny was undergoing a triple bypass, I wondered if I shouldn't patch things up between us; let bygones be bygones.  I didn't want to be left holding the grudge if he died.

However, while I was mulling thusly, my mother mentioned casually-in-passing that my uncle had long been disparaging my character to anyone who listened, i.e., had accused me of being "a slut" who had actually come on to him, and, apparently, had slept with half the Iranian Air Force as well.  Aside from the obvious disturbing question of What kind of mother allows her daughter to be so slandered?, I was mortified to realize that extended family members, many of whom hadn't seen me since I was a child, had been hearing this vile stuff about me for years.  

In the end, I did call my uncle a few weeks before he died.  I wanted to remind him that he had been loved once, if only by a little girl that no longer existed.  He wasn't moved by this gesture.  "I'm not leaving you a dime," he croaked faintly in a voice I could hardly recognize.  "I know, I know," I assured him. "It doesn't matter."  

His will left his entire estate (or at least what could be traced and pieced together) to a Korean bar girl who'd had the misfortune of suffering a debilitating aneurysm in his apartment twenty years before. The social worker did the legwork of locating the girl's family in Seoul; I'm sure they were happy for the windfall.  I was just grateful it hadn't gone to the NRA.

My partner might admonish me for speaking ill of the dead here, but my rejoinder is this:  My uncle cannot read these words, and even if he could, he wouldn't suffer because he would not feel a jot of remorse.  

Anyway, he had an entire lifetime to try to understand and be understood, to love and be lovedIt was his choice to live, and to hate, and to die alone, the same choice being made right now by all those MGTOW.

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