Gender, Sex, and Power

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, and those soon to retire find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after retirement. Her public lecture on this subject is titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, available by clicking here, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class. Click here for her website:

Now, on to my blog:

Male & Female LionsSo much has been in the news lately about sexual harassment. That encompasses unwanted sexual attention ranging from remarks, gestures, innuendos, touching, all the way to rape. If you’re a female, most likely you’ve been the recipient of some behavior on this continuum at some time in your life. If you’re a male, you, too, may have experienced it, or you may have someone close to you who has. Today, I have a guest blogger, Janet Maker, who was inspired to write about her own personal experiences with sexual harassment.  Here is her post:

Gender, Sex, and Power
by:  Janet Maker

Recently I got a hug from my male yoga teacher and I felt myself stiffen, even though I knew that the hug was affectionate and not the first move in the direction of sex.  I was sure of this for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that I am 75 years old.  Nevertheless, I still had the hypervigilant reaction that had been ingrained in me over most of my life.  I was never raped or beaten.  I never even had my career threatened by men.  I just had the usual stuff:  Between the ages of about 12 and 50 I would regularly be on the receiving end of unwelcome overtures, fortunately not from employers, but from pretty much everyone else– from doctors to auto mechanics to the husbands of my friends.  I’m sure I was not exceptional—I was attractive but not a great beauty, and I know I was not giving mixed signals.

Here’s the thing that was so crazy-making: Except for the husbands of friends, who were easy to deal with, I could never tell them the truth.  The truth was that in most cases I was not physically attracted to them; I did not feel any “chemistry;” or as the Brits say, I did not “fancy” them.  I was always afraid that if I told the truth their minds would snap and they would become violent.  So I made up excuses.  When I was very young I tried telling them that I was frigid or a lesbian, but I soon found out that those excuses did not deter them.  The only thing that would usually work was to tell them that I belonged to another man.  There were times I couldn’t do that—for example, I would sometimes accept a date from someone who looked interesting but for whom an attraction did not develop.  So I had to figure out strategies to parry any overtures until I got safely home.  I don’t mean that all men were wolves, but I felt I always had to be on guard.

Once in a while I received overtures from women, but that was not the same kind of problem at all.  I could simply tell them that I was not attracted to women, and that would generally be accepted with no hard feelings.

I wondered if this issue was a generational thing, so I asked my 30 year old daughter if she and her friends felt they could safely tell men that they were not attracted to them.  She said no.

The question made her recall her first experience with sexual harassment.  She was eleven, and we were Christmas shopping in our local mall.  She wanted to buy a gift for me, so she asked if she could go off alone.  I agreed, and I showed her where I would wait for her.  After a while a woman showed up with my sobbing daughter in tow.  My daughter told me she was going up the escalator when a man grabbed her bottom.  She was terrified; she found a woman and asked for help.  We made a police report.  Of course I knew that the police wouldn’t do anything, but I wanted my daughter to feel that she had been taken seriously.

I had a friend once who had a gay male couple living in the apartment upstairs. Sometimes when they would argue they would end up in a fistfight, and I felt almost jealous.  I did not want to fight, but I did want the satisfaction of knowing that I would have an equal chance of winning.


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Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via VisualHunt /  CC BY-ND


Filed under active seniors, Baby boomers, gerontology, healthy aging, longevity, reinvention, retirement, second acts, seniors, successful aging, wellness

4 responses to “Gender, Sex, and Power

  1. Roger Trammell

    …an interesting female perspective on a problem that’s always been around and is just now coming under public scrutiny. All it took was for women to be courageous enough to stand up and speak truth to power.

  2. good subject & post, Janet & Lee Gale. Just read the early 1970s classic, “Fear of Flying” by Erica Jong. She talks about how being single could be dangerous for women. Sad to think that things haven’t changed all that much…

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