Men and women are designed to do one wondrous thing that has nothing to do with writing noteworthy books or painting masterpieces or directing prize-winning plays–though yes, all these endeavors often have to do with our sex drives. We are constructed to generate and protect other, smaller beings made in our images so the race might go forward. Nature does not care who is with whom, and whether we are well- or ill-matched. Nor does it care about gender confusion, inequality, preference or appellation. Nature isn’t involved in the nature-versus-nurture argument. What it dictates is that sperm must meet egg, and that our children and grandchildren repeat the process ad infinitum.
Some of us—me included—do not have children. I’m fine with it, though I recognize that we childless ones are the aberrations looked upon with a degree of distrust and suspicion, pity, and occasional envy. To most, we have gone astray by not properly recognizing and acting upon our real purposes in life. We have failed to understand the joys of procreation—not the act, but the result. We are surplus beings who’ve not made the grade.
I mention all this because we are once again dealing with issues of sex, unwanted sexual advances and harassment, mostly by males and directed at females. We are acknowledging the elephants (there is more than one) not only in the living room but in society as a whole. Sadly, there is nothing new about sexual harassment, and I suspect once this particular storm has passed, we will once again tolerate the actions of a Trump, a Weinstein and, for that matter, a Bill Clinton or a Kennedy.
The issue is that almost everything today is awash in sex. The biggest money-maker on the Internet is porn. Advertising, fashions, entertainment, all promote sex. We dress for sex; we lower our caloric intakes for sex, straining to stay slim and emulate people sexier than we are. Women don heels to emphasize the shapes of their legs. Psychologist Paul Morris ran experiments with women wearing heels and discovered that “with heels, there is a reduced stride, and increased rotation and tilt of the hips. Without any of the other usual indicators of attractiveness, this change in gait alone made the study participants find the heeled-females more attractive.” Some women, a woman friend told me, “refer to their heels as ‘come fuck me’ shoes.”
Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses, writes of lipstick that anthropologists believe red lips serve as a reminder of the labia, which “flush red and swell when they’re aroused.”
We idolize women’s breasts and women wear bras that support and enhance; they display deep cleavage so their breasts are noticed. One long-standing study “holds that breasts evolved as a signal to men that the woman attached to them was nutritionally advantaged and useful, and thus a promising mate.” A 2004 study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found that women with large breasts have a higher level of the hormone estradiol mid-cycle, which could increase fertility. Yet feminists say looking at a woman’s breasts is insulting. In fact, a recent article in Time magazine suggested that even commenting on a woman’s appearance is now verboten.
All this, of course, has both nothing and everything to do directly with sexual harassment but it has a lot to do with confusion.
Is confusion at the heart of harassment? No, of course not, but the issue is, well, confusing. What’s allowed? What is marginal? What’s out of bounds?
Here’s something else. There are despicable guys in finances, in sports, in government, in business, in society as a whole. They take advantage of whatever situation they believe they can benefit from. Some are out-and-out criminals, and others merely push the envelope of what is acceptable. Sexual harassment, which cannot always be easily identified, is a field where they exercise their skills and say, “Who, me?” if they’re challenged. These guys are the minority, regardless of the cant voiced today. The fact is good guys outnumber bad guys by a thunderous margin.
Here’s another concern. We are beside ourselves with anger, but our outrage has the scent of a favorite great aunt’s sachet. We know the stench of this issue well. We have explored harassment’s every nook and cranny on numerous occasions. It has no secrets from us. Our outrage, so often called upon, is fatigued.
We know how to fix the problem. We won’t because the price is simply too great. It would require us to pass and enforce laws no elected official wants to pass and no officer of the law wants to enforce.
We’ll probably try anyway because it is right to do so, but more than likely, the laws will stay in committee, because they must be laws that don’t discriminate, that don’t punish the ignorant or the innocent. They are laws that must be black and white with no room for quibbling, laws that say, “This is okay, but this is not!” They must be reasonable and workable laws that can be applied by a passing policeman who is certain a violation is in progress.
We’re going to try to legislate sex and it will be a glorious boondoggle with millions of words and headlines and TV specials. Such laws have been proposed and enacted possibly more often than have attempts to legislate theft and murder. Oh, and you should probably know that your representatives on The Hill “make their own rules about the handling of sexual complaints against members and staff,” reports the Washington Post. “[They pass] laws exempting it from practices that apply to other employers.” These are the folks you’re going to trust to enact legislation protecting women from sexual harassment? Really?
So how will we change things? I don’t know, but I’d suggest putting away the sharpened knives and the brushes that paint all men as part and parcel of the problem. Most of us are decent people; we are not members of the rape culture; we do not touch or talk to women inappropriately, nor are we sex-starved imbeciles with permanent erections. If you believe we are, then accept that you helped make us that way.
The reality is that we have a deep, abiding respect for women. Our moms were women. Our wives and sisters and, if we have children, our daughters, are women. We love women. We love how they look, talk, and handle themselves. They are our bosses, our coworkers, our friends and our lovers. We are lost without them. We want their counsel and their reasoning, which is different from ours and often wiser. We revel in our dissimilarities, and we learn from them daily. We know that deep down they’re stronger and tougher than we men are. We cringe when they’re harmed, physically or emotionally. We seek revenge. We are neither hypocrites nor misogynists. Women shouldn’t be misandrists.
One last thing—don’t necessarily trust the media to report what is happening on this oh-so-sensitive front accurately.
A prominent newspaper recently printed a story accusing Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel of alleged sexual misconduct. Wiesel died last year and therefore could not respond to the accusations. The paper printed a retraction the next day but of course the harm was done. Wiesel, an exemplary man, is now tainted.
To Be Continued