It has been reported that former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein claims that any bad behavior toward women was due to his having come of age in the 1960s, as did I.
I was desperate for a part-time job to see me through my senior year in college. My major in philosophy, minor in classical languages, did not figure prominently in the qualifications sought in the want ads I scoured.
The exception was a small, all-girls private high school that had unexpectedly lost its Latin teacher. Being the only available human on the Eastern Seaboard who knew Latin, I was hired on Friday and started teaching sophomores on Monday.
All the 10th graders took Latin, so I taught them all in two sections. I was the only male within miles. Through the year, I came to know these students as something more than “private school girls.”
I came to know them as bright, sometimes brilliant young scholars. In an all-girls school, girls were the leaders, the top athletes, the undisputed masters of science, math, and the humanities.
We held contentious debates about not only the Latin of Caesar and Cicero but their views on society, citizenship, war, friendship, and love. I tried to stay a tiny step ahead of them and cannot say I succeeded very often
In the spring, a big dance on the horizon, the student council president asked me if I would chaperone. I said yes and received the shock of my life.
There they were, these extraordinary, articulate, battle-worthy young women, thrust among a bevy of awkwardly preening guys, and acting like … like what? I don’t know, like people in their first moments emerging from a coma, maybe.
I could not believe what I was witnessing. They portrayed themselves as subservient, airheaded, willing to laugh at jokes that would have gotten me laughed out of their classroom.
The following Monday, I stormed into that classroom, slammed my book on the desk, and asked, “What was going on at that dance?” They were themselves again, fighting back against my accusations that they were wrong in acting so stupid around those boys.
They told me I didn’t understand. They had to act that way. Boys don’t expect or want girls to match or outperform them. “So?” I asked and was informed that this is how it was if a girl wanted a boy to pay attention to her.
I felt a fury that day that has never left me. That fury has served me well, I think, in my marriage, in the raising of my four children, three of them now professional women, and in my interactions with my nine grandchildren, six of them girls.
I believe in treating women as equals, as persons of dignity and value. I raised my daughters and affirm my granddaughters as worthy of respect and capable of any achievement to which they aspire.
I believe these things not because I read somewhere that I must, but because I saw with my own eyes the breathtaking incandescence of a classroom full of girls and saw it often enough to recognize just how ordinary it is.
If Mr. Weinstein had dropped by that all-girls academy for even a day or two, perhaps the ’60s would have molded a different kind of man.
Orlando R. Barone is a writer in Doylestown. firstname.lastname@example.org