Finally, sexual harassment is out from behind the curtain

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

I think that Trump was indeed the catalyst for women speaking up against sexual predation. During the campaign for President of the United States, his chuckling denial of any harm done by grabbing women below the belt . . . in fact that women like it . . . was the incubator of women’s public outrage.

Several women – 17 to date – have accused our President of sexual misconduct. Many of us were stunned that the whole world wasn’t stunned, but the campaign went on and guess who won. It took more than a year for a trickle to turn into the flood of sexual harassment cases erupting into the world media. More than a year for the outrage to build to exploding status, and there is enough behind this first wave of outrage that predators may soon have to take to the woods, again.

And Donald Trump? His presidency will fall from the weight of his disrespect for women. There will be shaming, which will go down in history. There will be no glory for him in the days, years and centuries to come. He will be a version of Trump the Hun, having massacred a culture, in many ways.

There are other points of view, of course. From a periodical called The New Criterion, a 2017 article was titled “On the role of radical feminism in the decline of civilization.” It sounded like it might have an opposite point of view from modern feminists who would settle right now for equal pay and treatment as well as a cease and desist of grabbing, touching, innuendoing and threatening. In order to read the article, I had to subscribe to the magazine, which I did not do, so I’m not sure what point was made. It probably had something to do with witches.

The instances of sexual aggression from men against women cover all political persuasions and all professions and all incomes in all countries. This is nothing new to women. It seems to be startling to men, at least some men. At least enough to make them mum on the subject if they in fact are not discrediting the women’s stories as lies. In my estimation, this kind of rebuttal marks them as guilty.

I know plenty of stories, my own included, of men’s bad behavior. In the past I didn’t know any women eager to tell these stories. If they told, they might get fired and for sure would get a bad reputation.

Until now. It is the safety in numbers and that many of the misused are famous that started pushing the curtain aside. There is not any big desire to lie about something that heretofore would have made the female look like . . . what are the names they call us if we tell? Besides “liar,” there would be “slut,” “sex-starved,” “thrown over by some man,” “fallen,” “jealous,” “asking for it,” “crazy,” “nymphomaniac.” Oh, and “bitch.” Not to mention my favorite, a snide remark from the Prez that translated to his being insulted as to be accused of groping someone that ugly.

What constitutes sexual harassment is often debated – among men mostly. Most women agree that if the behavior is unwanted it’s sexual harassment. It’s akin to “Negroes” wanting to be called “Blacks” or “African-Americans.” Someone asked my sister in the ‘70s, “Well, what the heck do they want to be called?” And she answered, “Anything they want.”

Surviving in patriarchal cultures has always been a trial for women of all races, looks, body designs, intelligence levels, heritage, wealth or power, poverty or weakness. If there was a time of equality or a time of goddess rule, it was before recorded history, which is decidedly patriarchal. For example, surely women wrote during the last four million years. But aside from a couple – the Greek Sappho around 600 B.C.; and the 14-century mystic Julian of Norwich – those who got away with writing something wound up being lumped under “Anonymous.”

In a list of the top female writers in history, it begins in the 1700s. In the list of the top male writers, it starts about the fifth century B.C. When I was in college my philosophy professor didn’t like it that there were women in the Canon (the body of Western culture contained in books, music and art). There aren’t many anyway, so I believe his distaste for Jane Austen, the author of at least 15 books that eventually became widely revered, must have been some personal Freudian problem.

Once men quit hitting on women in a thousand unwarranted ways, the next step might be that we succeed in gaining gender parity in the workplace in positions of authority as well as in pay. Because of their power over, men have been able to get away with bad behavior — against women and other underlings — with impunity. If we have as many women in authority as we do men? It’s a thought. Things might change.

The biggest hopeful thought is this: that the culture evolves into decency, that it does not stay here in oppression or power-over, in any form. When our son was a freshman in high school, he came into the kitchen one afternoon and said something cocky about how low my blouse was buttoned. In a family where no hitting, violence or yelling had ever happened, my husband was suddenly in the room and had his son against the wall with the demand, “Apologize to your mother.” “Hey, hey, I didn’t say anything,” was the teenage response. His dad tightened his grip on the shirt of the kid who was about six inches taller than him and said again, “Apologize to your mother.” He did and was sent to his room, presumably for the rest of his life.

I thought it was overbearing behavior by his dad, but he merely looked at me, patted me on the shoulder and went in and sat down again in the living room.

A couple of years later, our son arrived home one evening about midnight, came into my office where I was working and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. He proceeded to tell me a story of his friend getting a girl drunk so he could have his way with her. My son argued with the kid that he couldn’t do that, it had to be mutual or not at all. The other kid did it anyway.

The friendship waned and eventually died when my son saw this boy, now a man, put down his wife. That once-friend of my son’s was one kid who never got the right acculturation, never learned that females are due respect just by the fact of their humanness. If we don’t teach this to both our boys and girls, we are doomed to sexual harassment extending into the far future.

Keep this anecdote below in mind when you think of sexual harassment in high places:
“Wow! Just think — in a couple of years I’ll be dating you!” ~1992, Donald Trump quoted in the Chicago Tribune speaking to two 14-year-old girls.

He was 46.

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