First, let’s discard the conception of fairness. Fairness is a human construct that has little to do with reality. Life isn’t fair, that’s a given. It’s not fair that women live longer than men; bear pain better, recover from trauma and illness more quickly than men, and have reserves of fat allowing them to last longer during famine. According to a Guardian interview of Steven Austad, a researcher studying aging, “Pretty much at every age, women seem to survive better than men.”
That’s not fair at all. The Guardian story goes on to say, “Men are treated as superior to women in virtually every regard: They’re thought of not only as physically stronger, but smarter, better suited for leadership, and overall deserving of better treatment. All of this is based on the faulty idea that men are just better equipped for modern life, a notion Austad’s aging research challenges.”
So why is it men are considered more aggressive and violent than women? Jesse Prinz, a City of New York University professor, believes that, “Both men and women want to obtain as many desirable resources as they can. In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn’t allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather. But things change with the advent of intensive agriculture and herding. Strength gives men an advantage over women once heavy plows and large animals become central aspects of food production. With this, men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions.”
Shall we blame sexual harassment on the development of agriculture? Why not. It makes as much sense as any other explanation.
Perhaps, as has been often suggested, it’s a question of power. Most of the power in our world is wielded by men.
The same study appears to establish that, “Men are more xenophobic than women, because they are wired to wage war[…] and one disturbing study shows men endorse war after being primed with a picture of an attractive woman, which suggests that male violence has a sexual motive. But the link between sex and violence may derive from the fact that sex is often coercive in male dominant societies.”
All this would seem to say we have institutionalized our worst habits. War and other violence, cheating and theft as practiced by the wealthy and made legal by them, poverty, sexism, racism. Why not harassment?
Now notice the preponderance of the words ‘appear,’ ‘seem,’ ‘perhaps,’ and ‘believe.’ I point this out because all of these statements are assumptions, save the ones about upper body strength and those that can be proven statistically.
We can also say with a great deal of certainty that sexual harassment is cultural. My friend Beatrice Hamblett, the photographer and writer, remembers walking through neighborhoods in New York when she worked at Colombia. “The abundance of catcalls, whistles, and sexual comments varied depending on the ethnic make-up of the neighborhoods I passed through,” she recalled recently.
Women who have traveled will tell you, for example, that on the streets French men may comment and whistle softly, but they won’t touch a woman, while Italians will touch. Germans press too close in elevators and buses. Japanese are known for groping females in the subways. Greece, interestingly, has a legal description of sexual harassment: “When any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs with purpose or effect of violating the dignity of this person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” It’s a start, but since it does not deal in definitives, the Greeks themselves call it The Ostrich Policy.
What does this prove other than sexual harassment seems to be as international as Coca Cola?
We’re back to the beginning.
French women have recently launched their versions of the #MeToo hashtag, #BalancetonPorc, which loosely translates to Dump Your Pig.
Personally, I’m not sure what to make of the hashtag campaigns here and abroad. This is the sort of social media action whose effectiveness I question. I do know that in France, the incidence of domestic violence accounts for a sizeable percentage of the country’s crime-induced deaths, and that the government there has for the past 25 years tried—not very effectively—to come to grips with sexual harassment.
Now I’ll suggest a theory of my own.
We men are afraid of women. I’d even go so far as to say, we’re terrified of their powers. What we fear, we try to control, and isn’t that what sexual harassment is, a form of control? Some of us–a minority, I’ll say again–the boorish ones, the ones who are the most frightened, the ones whose very manliness is suspect both to themselves and to others, will harass women because it makes them feel strong and superior.
Men, at the cortex level, know perfectly well that without women, we’re nothing. There’s a reason for poems, and chansons d’amour, and legends of love. We adore and worship women. In the most primitive of ways, we know that all women are goddesses. They do what only divinities can do: create life.