I have a bad habit.
It’s a routine. A ritual, if you will. Every morning on my way to work, which is 45 minutes away on a streak of green lights, I listen to the Johnjay and Rich morning show. This isn’t something to brag about. It’s a syndicated radio show broadcast from Phoenix and carried in a bunch of Top 40 stations up and down the west coast, because local stations are less and less likely to want to invest in local humans to read traffic reports and play college frat pranks.
I don’t know why I crave their yammering in the mornings, but it’s as necessary as coffee and a Fage Greek yogurt with a spoonful of granola. I can’t defend the show as intelligent or enriching in any way. The DJ’s speak at an 8th grade reading level, say “irregardless” and don’t know who wrote The Great Gatsby. But there’s a shameful, dirty, reality TV-like draw to the celebrity gossip tidbits and relationship takedowns that my pre-work zombie, commute-zombie self craves.
One of the regular segments of the show is Group Therapy, in which any listener who isn’t feeling enough humiliation and trolling from, say, posting their life problems on Reddit or Something Awful, can get “advice” from other callers. Problems run the gamut from whether an individual should quit their job that day to whether a woman should choose her best friend over her sister for maid of honor. Normally I’m happy to let my eyes glaze over as I query up for one of five thousand lights between my house and office (fun fact: Tucson has no city freeway system! Surface streets only!). The last cache of people I want weighing in my life are the same people that leave all-caps, emoji-filled comments on Johnjay and Rich’s Facebook page.
Okay, I kind of follow them on Facebook too.
Last week, as my Corolla was ascending into the Catalina Foothills, the Group Therapy guest was introduced as Erika, a young woman working as a receptionist at a gym. I imagined the receptionist at my gym, who is always on the phone when I hand her my tag and went off on a rant about people and their damn TV choices when I asked if she knew which machines played E! and its Sex and the City lunch hour during my cardio time instead of Fox & Friends. Erika had been asked out by a personal trainer at the gym a few times, and now he wanted to take her out on Valentine’s day. I was still yawning and trying to decide between a tall and grande latte in twenty minutes when I heard her say, “I just don’t think I’m pretty enough to be dating him. He’s so hot, but I’m just normal. Why would he even want to look at me?”
Suddenly I was not only awake, but possessed. Possessed enough to pick up my phone and dial the numbers repeated so many mornings. Not only did she sound exactly like I did up until a few years ago, and on bad days now, but she was in the hands of these misogynistic asshats. Guys who couldn’t bring up a woman they knew in real life without the caveat that “she’s so hot” or “freaking gorgeous” or “has the most unbelievable body.” No woman is worth mentioning to them unless she fits these descriptors—even when women call up to share a story about their worst job interview or grossest roommate or whatever the topic of the day happens to be, they’re often asked to share their Facebook or Instagram account and are critiqued accordingly. In short, Johnjay and Rich are part of the systemic dismantling of female self-esteem that our society depends on to keep the fashion, fitness, beauty and entertainment industries maintaining their sales and the status quo.
This was my chance, I thought. I could call out Johnjay and Rich on their bullshit and plead that Erika discover some source of self-worth outside of the microscopic definition that pop culture perpetuated. The phone rang, and the radio intern answered. From listening every morning, I’d heard that she was “really hot” and had slept with a drug dealer.
“What would you say to Erika?” she asked.
“I don’t think it matters whether she goes on the date or not,” I said. “What Erika really needs to worry about is her self-image.”
“So true,” she said. “Can you hold?”
I sat for 15ish minutes, while other callers skated on the superficial edge of the issue. “You’re probably hotter than you think!” I rehearsed my speech over in my head: “There’s so much to a woman besides her looks. And YOU, Johnjay and Rich, are part of the problem.”
The familiar voices cut back onto my phone: “Tabitha! What do you think Erika should do?”
“I don’t think Erika should go on the date. Either way, it honestly doesn’t matter, because the important issue here is her self-esteem. Because if she can’t find a way to value herself that doesn’t involve her appearance, she’s in for years of selling herself short in relationships, her career, and her life.”
I took a breath, and was about to go on with “AND YOU!” when Johnjay jumped in. “Well said, Tabitha,” in the same voice that people talked down to Hermione at Hogwarts. As if he knew precisely where this was going, like a feature of his advanced chauvinism was femdar.
“I don’t think she was done,” Rich chuckled. And without another word, they launched into Mariah Carey’s new single and how much it sucked.
I hit the END button as fast as I could, feeling my face flush behind my MAC foundation mask. Had I just been patronized? Patronized by the same guys who do commercials for hair transplants and laser treatments?
Well, yeah. What else was I expecting? To bring down a Clear Channel empire with one random morning phone call? Thank god they’d cut me off, I realized. I may have been sincere, but that never wins against sarcasm. I felt like my ten-year-old self again, the little girl who was way too earnest for her own good, who cried over the plights of rainforests and whales and wanted to throw a benefit carnival for muscular dystrophy. I discovered apathy way too late, and my bleeding heart was an easy target for the cooler, aloof-savvy kids.
And furthermore, what did I expect Erika to do with my heartfelt old woman advice? “Wow, I guess I really DO need to work on my self-image and direction in life. I’m never going to find fulfillment in beauty alone. Thank you so much. You don’t, perchance, have a memoir-in-essays dedicated to this struggle, do you? Because I’d love to read that.”
Oh well, I thought, settling into my desk with a (tall) latte and granola-yogurt. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the world isn’t as enlightened or progressive as those you surround yourself with. There’s still a lot of work to do to change the conversation. Work that isn’t going to be easy on morons like Johnjay and Rich. Plus, it’s not as if anyone I know actually listens to that garbage.
As my computer booted up, my desk phone rang. The caller ID revealed it as our company receptionist. “Hello?” I answered, my spoon aloft.
“Hey Tabitha! I know this is going to sound like a weird question, but… were you on the radio this morning?”