In case you hadn’t noticed there are a whole lot of women complaining about sexual harassment all of a sudden. Those accused of harassment, including lots of politicians and celebrities, are feeling more than a little like someone dragged in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In some cases before they have a chance to offer a rebuttal their careers appear to be over; movie contracts pulled and gigs canceled.
In the past women who squawked usually found out why it was a good idea to shut up. In Hollywood their contracts and bookings tended to dry up. A lot has changed in the last year or two, but things have really picked up in the last couple of months. Lots of powerful men have been brought down starting with a number of people at Fox News including Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Men with Democratic Party inclinations have been no less immune. There is Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, of course, with decades of harassing women who sought his favor. Weinstein also gave heavily to liberal causes but seemed incapable of demonstrating these principles where it mattered: in the workplace. Scores of women and likely many more scores we don’t know about have come forward to complain about Weinstein’s harassment, which included crude and obscene behavior that wholly appalls me.
It sure feels like the tables have turned at last. I can’t blame women for not having the courage to come forward but the penalties for doing so seem to have lessened. Women (and in some cases men; last night a man reported being harassed by George Takei of all people in 1981) are fed up. Rules for explicit and implicit workplace and social conduct are being rewritten.
Speaking as a man though it does feel kind of dangerous simply because it becomes a matter of she said vs. he said. It feels like once accused the man is guilty until proven innocent, which is usually impossible. In some cases like Harvey Weinstein his guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Alabama Senate candidate and egregious Bible-thumper Roy Moore back in 1979 initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. He was age 32 at the time and an assistant district attorney in Alabama, probably a position of some status in the community. Three other women also came forward indicating they were minors when Moore initiated romantic relationships with them too.
To me this is beyond reasonable doubt too, as none of these women knew each other, but all came forward to Washington Post reporters when they were tracked down. Having said that I would not be surprised if Alabamans elect Roy Moore anyhow. It didn’t stop them from voting for Donald Trump, whose own extremely checkered past in this area is also beyond reasonable dispute. It sure appears that tribalism these days can excuse pretty much anything, including pedophilia. In any event where there are other witnesses that can report these women told them about these incidents at the time, that’s pretty damning.
Far more men have power over women than the other way around. That’s just the way it is at the moment but perhaps not how things will remain. Having not walked in a woman’s shoes, I can’t empathize. I do have an idea how it feels. I have a gay cousin that either has a crush on me or is pulling an elaborate prank. It makes our relationship uncomfortable, but there is no power relationship to deal with and there’s zero chance that I would sleep with him. So I have just one quasi-relatable experience in my lifetime and certainly nothing I have to deal with on a daily basis. Women don’t pursue me most likely because I have the wedding ring on my finger. But even if I didn’t I’m confident they still would not pursue me. I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of female bosses in my life. They were all positive experiences. I grew to prefer women as my bosses.
Women though can’t help being female. They can’t hide the fact that they have breasts or that their ass is perceived as cute. But really men aren’t that particular. Heterosexual men would put out for pretty much any woman who put the move on them, at least if they worked at them long enough. We do sense though that women don’t want to be harassed in general and so almost instinctively we stay away.
But of course there are plenty of men like Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Louis C.K. who don’t have these constraints on their behavior. There must be something about having power that eggs them on to cross the line. Or perhaps they were boors all along but power makes them believe they will get away with it. Men do like to win, which is why sports appeal to most men. Power distinguishes you from other seemingly lesser men. It generally brings perks and privileges. And it does attract some women. Perhaps they think that since it attracts some women, all women that knock on their door to some measure must want them too.
I mostly speculate because I don’t understand these men. To act like them I would first have to see women as objects instead of people, or at least give myself permission to treat women’s feelings as if they didn’t matter. Even if I could get past these feelings, I still don’t understand why these men would harass women, especially with obscene behavior. I assume I am like normal men in that when women are attracted to me because of whom I authentically am, that’s a big turn on. It’s hard for me to think of a bigger turn off than to force myself on a woman that doesn’t want me. I would want women to think highly of me, not the worst of me. What woman really wants to see you masturbate into a plant?
The shrinks tell us that for these men the real aphrodisiac is not sex, but power. Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do — particularly something as intimate as having sex with you — is a violation not to mention in many cases a criminal offense. If you get sex, it’s likely to be bad because it’s not really consensual. It certainly won’t feel healthy. Perhaps it’s like being an opioid addict and that for many men if you try it once, you can’t quit.
Should we shed a tear for men? In the past this sort of behavior, reprehensible as most saw it, still had some legal or societal sanction. It wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t vote and husbands couldn’t legally rape their wives. The rules of conduct are both explicitly and implicitly changing. Meanwhile, many men feel at some sort of genetic level they are programmed to be this way. They are supposed to strive to be top dog, and being top dog means privileges the other dogs don’t get. To me, this certainly seems to explain our president. I’m speculating that for these men these new rules are all unnatural. Never mind that there are all sorts of laws that seems unnatural but is nonetheless necessary.
Men need to grow up. I’m glad that women are speaking out against those who harass them, and though it still brings some danger to them personally I hope they will continue to do so. We need to evolve, especially those in positions of power. Such men (and women) don’t deserve the privileges of power if they can’t also handle its responsibilities.