Of Predators and Prey
With the recent rash of revelations out of Hollywood, Alabama, and Minnesota pertaining to sexual misbehavior, we have a perfect opportunity to have a national dialogue, and actually make some changes. Of course, we have had many opportunities for that dialogue before (remember Anita Hill?) and we seem to be almost supernaturally able to forgive, forget, and return to business as usual. Then the next incident arises and we are shocked, shocked I tell you, that this is going on, and has been going on for so long. How is it we didn’t notice? How could these men be so predatory without someone knowing? (I’ll tell you a secret – people did know. Lots of people knew about Harvey Weinstein. Lots of people knew about Roy Moore. And since Al Franken was not alone when he misused his proximity to a sleeping woman, it is likely that people knew about that, too.)
One interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it is observed across the spectrum. It is neither liberal nor conservative, but infects both parties. It is often seen as being a function of men achieving power, but it takes little more than a simple perusal of your local newspaper to see that men who are not in a power position are also abusing women sexually. If you still doubt it, just sit around and listen to women for a little while. You will hear things that will make your toes curl. So, yes, you knew, too. We all know. The women are frequently faulted for doing nothing, but for the most part, women are aware of the further abuse that awaits women who report men’s predatory sexual behaviors. The fear of further assholery awaiting them for doing the right thing is enough to keep them shut up. And even if people do believe them, it’s a case of “boys will be boys” or “you should be flattered”.
The question that comes to mind is, why? Why do otherwise decent people sit around and do nothing while women suffer? It’s easy. People know it, they see it, but they simply don’t consider it abuse. Much of what women suffer is in plain sight. The slights, the digs, the jokes, the suggestions, all of it plays out under our very noses, and is simply part of the fabric from which our daily lives are woven. We are raised from birth not to recognize or care about the sexual bullying, because it is just part of our society. It’s part of being human. The men who “get away with it” are often seen as being the manliest men, the ones who don’t take no for an answer. But not taking no for an answer, well, that’s the very definition of rape.
Don’t believe me? Read this very website. An article on this site by a liberal man, one of the most liberal men I have the pleasure to have known, a man who is kind, a man who is decent, a man who would certainly consider himself a feminist, contains a prime example of the way society operates, and no one says much or thinks much about it. In this article, this fine man shares with us that his life in a wheelchair presents him with a perfect opportunity to ogle women without them knowing it. He can watch women from a vantage point that most men would love.
Most people would say, so what? Not such a big deal. He isn’t hurting anything just looking at them. I suppose that might be the case. But he is hurting something by talking about it. He’s making a joke of putting women in a situation that would make most of them uncomfortable, make them feel more like an object, and make them cringe inside at yet another violation of their autonomy. In addition, it would make them suspicious of all men in wheelchairs, which can do nothing positive for disabled individuals who may have to rely on assistance from a wide variety of people.
This article, and the lack of outrage it engendered when it was first published on another site, is a symptom, and a symbol, of a society that fails to respect women or recognize them as fully autonomous adult humans. It is a symptom, and a symbol, of a society that regards women as objects of pleasure for men, rather than recognizing their right to go about their work day without being ogled, or groped, or leered at, or flirted with, or…worse.
I have little confidence that this moment will prove to be anything more than any of the other “moments” we have had that would lead us to a better world where women were treated with respect, dignity, and humanity. And the reason I have little confidence is that I have observed humans for too long to believe they care. Things are the way they are because too many people want them that way. So we will quickly deal with Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Al Franken, and then move on with relief, telling ourselves this was some sort of aberration, and ignoring the female voices crying in the wilderness of rape culture.
The time is now. The place is here. The hero is us. It is our mission, if we choose to accept it. Let us not make it Mission Impossible.