The issue of sexual harassment is now front and center stage. Accusations run the gamut from horrifying to ridiculous. There are anxieties, as growing numbers of individuals, mostly men, have been accused of misconduct . The list of miscreants expands on a daily basis.
It was fairly easy to stay focused through the first dozen or so grievances. Then came the deluge. With this blossoming came questions: Was the sexual misconduct recent or did it occur 30 years ago? Was it violent or “merely” inappropriate? As more and more names are revealed we must ask: “ was there a certain amount of acceptance that marched in lockstep with the transgressions?”
There are those who believe that the urgency for reform has been diluted by the continuously growing list of offenders. Unless the details are particularly sordid, like the door lock under Matt Lauer’s desk, it becomes a story told and retold beyond its ability to be shockingly effective.
There are those, of course, want every guilty man to be exposed and punished. That is one point of view.
This issue, however, is not quite that simple. Many men and women were raised in times when sexual flirtation was not only accepted, it was celebrated. Many a woman has preened and encouraged attention, of a sexual nature, from men.For many years, a woman was, for the most part, valued and judged by her ability to attract male attention. Women were warned to hide their intelligence and talent. After all, it was important to allow the man to fan his ego at the expense of female competence.
It is reported that this situation was one that was humiliating for fair damsels. Try telling that to Anne Boleyn, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Marlena Dietrich, Angie Dickinson, and Madame du Pompadour. Regardless of the outcome, these ladies were well aware of the advantage they held between their legs. These were not pathetic victims. Rather, canny, manipulative, boldly confident women who understood what it took to be dominant. While their approach may not have been prime, they did manage to shake the balance of power.
Clearly, what once was, is no longer, tolerable. Sexual intimidation has been against the law for more than 50 years. So much for that! Up until this time the laws were enforced only in cases of rape and other violence. For a very long time the sexes operated according to a bewildering array of social mores.
The explosive effect of the “Summer of Love” in Haight-Asbury in 1967 challenged long-held attitudes toward drugs, sex and boundaries. It was deemed generous to have sex with strangers and shaming to be called “uptight”. This was the Messianic Age, the Age of Aquarius. The “New Age, Hippie” trend lasted through the 70’s and left behind a legacy of confusion about sexually appropriate behavior.
The result was a sexual Pandora’s Box that could not be resealed. If it was okay to have sex with anyone, did that not mean that those with power had the right to expect compliance from those they were erotically drawn to? As a yearning for possessions took hold in the 80’s many men viewed women as objects they could buy — through promises of protection, wealth and job security. Women who did not understand the value of their own independence often believed that this was the only road to take if one wanted to reach certain lifestyle goals. Success was a power tool that was used to get sex.
It is obvious that as women became financially independent they felt more empowered to reject unwanted carnal overtures. However, those women were often raised by women who believed it was best for a woman to hide her light under a barrel. It is hard for anyone, man or woman, to shed ideas and values which they were tutored to accept and believe to be true.
All of this begs the question, “How do men and women signal their mutual attraction in a way that is neither insulting or harmful?” The norms have changed but the new guidelines have yet to be defined.
Being friendly is often interpreted as an invitation. This happens on both sides of the gender equation. In fact, there are few who dislike being told that they look good if the comment is minus a display of lecherous intent. That becomes a question of interpretation. There is no way to measure when the line has been crossed.
Is it wrong to pat someone on the back in consolation or encouragement? Again, it is a question of purpose and perception.
Sexual attraction is a part of nature and is not going away anytime soon. When the interest is mutual, the ensuing dance is exciting and delightful. The operative word here is mutual. Numbers of men and women believe that the man should initiate the communication. Determining mutuality is tricky, and one side may pretend to welcome the attention in an effort to be courteous.
Most agree that stalking and violence are illegal and demeaning. Nonetheless, the law has been known to ask the woman (the usual object)to prove that she did not welcome said attention from the man. Justification and denial are common on both sides. The complexity of the reasons for behavior are far beyond the scope of knowledge of ordinary individuals in ordinary circumstances.
If it is universally accepted that “no” means “no”, that would help a lot. The chance of such agreement is unlikely. If sexual rewards were not expected for kindnesses offered, that would also be beneficial. Learning to be generous without presupposition of payback makes sense — large numbers of people do not understand that concept. The accepted lack of restraint exhibited by those who hold the power implies a denial of the need for prevention.
Now that the conversation on sexual harassment has begun, it is incumbent upon us to clarify what constitutes mutual respect and a sense of safety. A broken egg can’t be unbroken (thank you Humpty Dumpty).
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Copy & Paste Parenthetical Check paper for grammar errors
Fitzgerald, L. (2017, April 4). Still the Last Open Secret: Sexual Harassment as Systemic Trauma. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from tanfonline.com
Jackson, M. (2017, November 19). When Does Flirting Become Sexual Harassment? Retrieved December 9, 2017, from bcc.com
McKeever, N. (2017, November 13). How Unhelpful But Accepted Social Norms Fuel Sexist Assault Against Women. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from independent.co.uk
Weller, S. (2012, June 14). Suddenly That Summer. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from vanityfair.com