Rick Magee The ego boost of slaying dragons
We have a dragon in our back yard. It stands about 5-feet tall, stretches 8-feet long, and it’s made of logs and a couple of hay bales. My son and I built it a few weeks ago, and we spend many afternoons defending the tree house from dragonish assaults and saving the yard its depredations. On some days we launch fusillades of arrows. On other days we prefer to fight in closer quarters as we unsheathe our swords and charge the scaly beast.
At this point, my son’s only quest is to grab the pure, primal joy 5-year-olds find in running around and smacking things with sticks, and he doesn’t require anything as cliché as a damsel in distress to fuel his dragon battle fire.
The other day as I fired arrows at the dragon’s hay bale flanks, I was a bit preoccupied with current events, which led me to think of my own dragon fighting days. When I was in graduate school, my friends and I would regularly head for a bar on Friday evenings to grab some relaxation away from our books. One evening, our group of 10 or 12 whittled away quickly to just four of us — two young women, me, and a guy from our classes we did not know well.
At one point, the guy got up from the table to order another drink, and the two women told me that he wouldn’t stop grabbing and fondling them when I wasn’t looking. My first response was embarrassment: How could such a thing happen on my watch? My second response was fueled by bravado and Guinness: I would slay the dragon who dared assault my friends!
I confronted the guy. Denial, then defiance. What was I going to do about it? Neither woman was my girlfriend, he said, so it wasn’t my business.
In the annals of bar fights, this one ranks near the bottom in terms of violence, excitement, and daring. It was over practically before it had started, and the guy mumbled something about my parentage and the women’s morals before he left.
My only big moment of macho posturing left me feeling a bit depressed by its boring anticlimax. The next day one of the women called to tell me that she had bruises on her sides and breasts from the guy grabbing her, and she was glad he had decided to leave.
Since then, the incident grew gradually into a funny anecdote, the story about the mellow Californian who got into an altercation in a bar. It’s earned a few good laughs, but it’s not the real story.
As I have watched Dr. Ford endure the wrath of America’s right wing by coming forward to accuse Judge Kavanaugh of assault, I have thought about my dragon-slaying story and the problems inherent in such tales. I, along with other well-intentioned dragon-fighters, have rushed into battle with more bloodlust than common sense. We get so wrapped up in our own dubious heroism that we fail to see that the story is not ours. It is not a tale of a valiant dragon slayer but the story of a society that allows and even encourages dragons to roam.
Back in 1843, Margaret Fuller asked if the man “protecting” a woman by keeping her confined to the domestic sphere has ever bothered to wonder if she “was satisfied with those indulgences.”
I’ve come to realize that protecting by slaying dragons is an ego boost, but it doesn’t solve the heart of the problem. Instead, we need to listen to women’s stories, believe them, and hand the sword over.
Rick Magee, a Bethel resident, is an English professor. His column appears monthly in Hearst Connecticut Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org