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2017: Our Year of Sexual Reckoning

2017: Our Year of Sexual Reckoning
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BY DON PORTOLESE

BREAKING NEWS: Yet another individual has come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct by the comedian, Louis C.K., only this time it has hit much closer to home. Lawyers for C.K.’s right hand have charged the comedian with sexual assault. While some of these incidents coincide in date, time and proximity to those of his other victims, it appears that the extent of the sexual abuse suffered by the hand went much further.

Through sign language, the hand has recounted some chilling details of the evenings where Mr. C.K. commanded it to perform salacious acts on his own genitalia: “It was like I was part of him, totally under his control and unable to defy his twisted will,” said the hand through an interpreter. According to the hand’s lawyers, the level of detail and the nature of these acts seem to go well beyond anything yet endured by C.K.’s other victims.  

Asked about the incident, C.K.’s left hand had no comment.

Yes, I am being dangerously facetious with an extremely sensitive topic. Certainly not the first time. However, I feel compelled to speak out about the current spate of allegations that are surfacing with ever-greater frequency as our society comes to terms with some of its worst demons. Before laying out my points, I will preface everything I have to say with this undeniable and personal truth: MEN HAVE USED THEIR POWER OVER WOMEN IN SO MANY DISGUSTING WAYS THAT IT MAKES ME ASHAMED TO BE A MAN.

That said, I think that in some cases our response to these allegations may be leading us down a road fraught with pitfalls that many, because of their anger, are unable to fathom. As absurd as separating Louis C.K. from his own hand is, it seems that some people are now asking us to do precisely that. Rather than push men (and women) to truly examine all of the factors related to this serious problem, the current response seems to be asking people to deny the role of our socialization, to deny how our biology plays a part in this. For there are no doubt social and physiological factors that influence the way we interact with each gender. While I will not go into them here, I think it is important that they are taken into consideration. In some ways, men and women are simply wired differently and this accounts for the difference in how they approach the world and each other. While no excuse, failing to take this into account may prevent us from fully solving this problem.

Sadly, enough, I believe that if most men thought hard enough, they could recall a time when, at the very least, they hadn’t treated a woman as well as they should have. A recent poll by The New York Times indicates that some 25 percent of men admit to some form of sexual misconduct involving women in the workplace. While this is certainly a disheartening figure, by focusing on this as solely a gender issue, we lose sight of the fact that this whole thing is bigger than men. This is really a larger issue about how we treat each other as human beings, and how our society forces us into roles that do nothing to further equality between the sexes.

The reality is that this problem is not only rooted in the dark souls of oversexed and unscrupulous men. There are gray areas in our society that are not so clearly defined. The fraying male/female dynamic has been so deeply woven into the fabric of our society that some people don’t seem to understand how intertwined both genders are in its propagation. This construct pervades every facet of our society: politics, advertising, sports, movies, T.V. and the internet. Everywhere women and men co-exist, share office space, share oxygen is a potential setting for another act of sexual aggression unless both sexes work together to uproot this problem.

In order to do this, we need to clarify the difference between a sexual indiscretion and sexual assault. Advances that are “unwanted,” “uninvited” or “not encouraged” are being treated in a similar manner to serial rape and this can seriously diminish the legitimacy of this very righteous cause. Don’t get me wrong, once thwarted, a man must cease making sexual advances. Those that insist are the problem, and if they continue those advances or react with hostility when rejected, they need to be dealt with more effectively by our legal system. Acting on one’s impulses is one thing; how men handle rejection, quite another.

There is a big difference, though, between a sexual sociopath and an ignorant male who doesn’t realize the effect of his words and actions. Men say and do some extremely hurtful and derogatory things involving women. We have used our power to exploit and repress women. This has been the prevailing dynamic, and it must change. However, dismissing men as incapable of this change is not the way forward. Like women, men do have the capacity to learn and to understand the effect of our actions, so we can become better people. Male-bashing, while certainly cathartic, does nothing to further that end. That can only happen with dialogue. Positive dialogue starts when people start looking at others as individuals rather than collective enemies. When moments of indiscretion are equated with pathological manipulation, many men feel alienated from causes such as the #MeToo movement that don’t seem to understand aspects of their masculinity or even want them as members.

We also need to better define the boundaries for men and women. As a society, we cannot tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind in public or professional settings. However, what happens outside those spheres depends a lot on our own actions. Men need to stop preying on women (and other men) and attempting to put them in compromising positions. Women need to recognize when a situation makes them vulnerable and deal with it immediately when possible.

Women finally have the weight of justice on their side, but justice cannot be the only way we deal with sexual improprieties. If our every intimate encounter has the potential to become the basis for litigation, what is the solution? Should men and women never act on their sexual impulses lest we subject ourselves to legal repercussions? Should both parties sign affidavits or other legal documents prior to engaging in any physical contact with one another? Should lawyers stand vigil over every intimate encounter to make sure no lines have been crossed without mutual consent?

Once again, we need to look at this from a humanistic perspective. Despite coexisting for as long as we have, neither gender seems to truly understand the other. We both use our physical attributes to subjugate the other. We seem to be more focused on understanding our differences than what we have in common. Men need to consider women as their equals and better understand and root-out the subtleties of male oppression. Women need to disavow themselves of the idea that they owe men anything. However, they also need to understand that using their wiles to exploit men may improve their situation in the short term, but it’s an overall loss for the feminist cause. This antiquated male-female dynamic must be brought down; men and women need to move beyond it. In order to do this, we need to stop using our own sexuality against one another.

We have finally reached an era where women feel safe about calling men out on their aggressively sexual behavior. More importantly, society is finally taking women’s allegations seriously, and some very disgusting men have fallen from grace as a result. Nevertheless, calling men out is not going to be enough. In order to destroy this dynamic once and for all, it is going to require us to examine both sexes, and, ultimately, both genders are going to have to work together to solve this problem.

Unfortunately, the guilty-until-proven-innocent rush to judgment is not helping matters. While I have no doubt that most of these men are guilty, there are many who deny the allegations or experienced a completely different version of the events than what was reported by their accusers. Those that may only be guilty of minor improprieties can say nothing to satisfy the requisites of their inquisitors. Men are even being called out for not blowing the whistle on other men. Some men claim they never knew. Some are no doubt lying. However, just as women felt powerless to turn in these people (or did so but were not taken seriously), so too did men fall victim to the power these people held over them. Powerful people wield power over both men and women. Just as women were unable to come forward about these sexual transgressions, many men also found themselves in similar situations facing the same professional retaliation. Rather than single out people for being complicit, we need to understand that, while men deserve the bulk of the blame, we are all complicit in the current state of our gender relations.

While we’ve been bringing industry moguls, cultural icons and politicians to their knees, have we brought the true monster any closer to justice? Our advertising and media industries are very much a part of this equation. How both genders are portrayed in our media is by far one of the biggest contributors to this problem. Sex sells, and, willingly or not, women are generally the sales representatives. Whether it be a billboard, display window, a bus rolling by, the glossy page of a magazine or a porn site, it’s impossible to avoid provocative and hyper-sexualized images of women. While men create the demand and are often the proliferators of this imagery, men are not the only ones obsessed with the female image. A large portion of this imagery is created by and marketed to women.

Our unhealthy obsession with the female image only makes our entire society think of women as sex objects. How women look and what they wear are more important than what they have to say, and this simply has to stop. It’s time for both sexes to consider how the media is perpetuating myths and stereotypes and work together to curb this trend. I am not advocating censorship, but I think that we could all benefit as a society if products were sold based on their merits rather than the attributes of the person advertising them. More importantly, if women want to diminish this sexualized perception, then they too must work to change how their image is being used by the media.

We are at a serious juncture when it comes to male/female relations and hopefully on the verge of an important shift in the power paradigm. For there is no denying that part of this is about power. Power men have wielded over women for far too long; power that has kept women down and still does in so many ways. Power that in women’s hands could be a whole new approach or, sadly, the same old thing.

My hope is that women handle this power better than men have, because, if they do not exercise the judicious wisdom that is their birthright, this whole thing could move beyond justice to a place where men have taken us too many times before. A place where naming and blaming prevent us from getting to the root of the problem. A place where nuanced thinking and constructive cooperation are rarely exercised. A place where things can only boil for a while and then congeal back into the way they once were.

2017 was our year of sexual reckoning, and I sincerely hope that 2018 brings us closer to a world where both genders are respected and treated with the dignity that they deserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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