I’m sure many of my readers have been alternately indignant, annoyed and amused by the unending series of accusations of sexual harassment that have come out of Hollywood, Washington D.C., and other hotbeds of power and influence. Initially, I was cynical about them . . . but I’ve been thinking a great deal about the subject, trying to analyze my reaction in terms of the time in which I grew up, attitudes during that period, and how things have changed. I thought you might be interested in the way I see things. You’re free to disagree, of course. Perhaps we can get a useful discussion going in comments to this post.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the “flower power” generation embraced so-called “free love“, aided by the sudden availability of truly effective contraception (i.e. “the pill“). Sex was now largely free of the risk of pregnancy, so that women could indulge in it without fear of conceiving an unwanted child. Added to this, Hugh Hefner and others of his ilk propagated the idea of sex without love as a physical act devoid of moral or ethical issues, apart from the basic one of consent. “If it feels good, do it!” became the mantra of a generation, and “situation ethics” largely replaced traditional morality in the popular consciousness. Conservatives, of course, were outraged, and continue to be so.
The trouble is, there really was a double standard – it was just hidden from view. The news media simply didn’t report many of the scandals that today would blare at us from every outlet. President John F. Kennedy was sexually promiscuous and an abuser of young women. Rev. Martin Luther King was a serial adulterer, irrespective of his faith’s condemnation of sex outside marriage – although his stature as a secular saint still leads his followers to actively condemn any attempt to report that fact. I could cite innumerable examples from the period. Suffice it to say that the rebellion against conventional morality was right when it accused the older generation(s) of hypocrisy. To a very large extent, they were hypocrites. They were pointing to the splinters in the younger generation’s collective and individual eyes, while ignoring the planks in their own (cf. Matthew 7:1-5).
Growing up in the latter part of that generation, I, too, was exposed to the sexual turmoil of those years. I was never all that promiscuous, but I certainly wasn’t faithful to the Christian norm. Almost all of us – men and women alike – postured, acted out, and sought to manipulate each other to get what we wanted. We were no different than any generation before us, I dare say, although we were more free to act on our impulses. Men wanted sex, and pretended to offer love and commitment to get it. Women ultimately wanted love and commitment, and offered sex to get it. In that respect, nothing’s changed, even today.
What has changed now is the rise of feminism as a philosophy. Whilst I believe that radical feminism is as much a disease as men who classify all women as “sluts” or “bitches”, I think feminism has had one beneficial effect. It’s helped women realize that intellectually, they’re the equals of men, and deserve to be recognized as such. Sure, they have physical and emotional differences – and vive la difference, say I! – but the other side of their personalities had for too long been dismissed, even denigrated, by too many men. I’m glad that’s changed.
What we’re now seeing is a refusal by women to kowtow any longer to men in powerful positions. From time immemorial, men have used positions of power and influence to dominate women, aided by societies in which the status of women was maintained at an inferior level. Initially this was, of course, based on physical differences; men could hunt, gather and fight better than women because of their superior strength, and therefore demanded a superior position in the tribe or society because of that. As societies moved from muscle dominance to mind dominance, the former retained its grip on culture for a very long time . . . but inevitably, that began to change. The transformation is still in process.
I still have to fight vestiges of the “old way” in myself. I was born and raised to a British couple who were raised in pre-World-War-II England, with its social class structure and norms. My father expected, and demanded, to “wear the pants”. My mother surprised him – perhaps “shocked” would be a better word – by obtaining her doctorate at the same time he earned his, and demanded greater equality at home. He bitterly resented this, and there were many very loud arguments between them. We children were caught in the backlash, and our childhood was rather dysfunctional as a result – a fact still reflected in the relatively distant relationships between us as siblings. I still have an instinctive expectation of “wearing the pants”, partly due to my upbringing, partly due to having been born and raised in Africa, where the circumstances of life had led to a patriarchal attitude that still dominates there. I’ve tried hard to overcome it, but I recognize that the root attitude is still lurking in my subconscious. It takes effort to keep it contained. (My wife helps! She’s American, not African, so we’ve had long discussions to understand and overcome our cultural differences.)
When I began reading accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s peccadilloes in Hollywood, my initial reaction – and, I think, that of many men – was that the women concerned knew what they were letting themselves in for when they tried to break into that world. The so-called “casting couch” has long been a metaphor for the entertainment industry. However, I’ve taught myself to analyze my reactions . . . and I found myself in a quandary. The fact that the “casting couch” environment exists does not mean that it’s right. I was, effectively, condoning by my tolerance something that my faith regards as gravely sinful. That put me in an invidious position. By not taking a stand against sin and wrongdoing, I was, in essence, giving it a free pass.
That’s the quandary many men face today. Too many of us have been raised in the expectation of “wearing the pants”, just because we’re male. That no longer applies – and it’s right that it shouldn’t. We no longer live in that sort of society. If we encounter TEOTWAWKI, perhaps it will return . . . but until then, we’re going to have to rethink our situation. What’s more, too many of us were raised in an environment where “free love” and “if it feels good, do it!” were the order of the day. We were expected and encouraged to act on our impulses. Some men even glory in the so-called “pickup artist” approach, which regards women as targets of opportunity. However, love isn’t free any more, and feeling good is not a reason to do “it”. Things have changed – but our attitudes, in most cases, have not.
I’m not saying that men are exclusively to blame for this situation. Women, too, have to examine their attitudes and responses. We’ve all seen incidents where women level accusations of sexual harassment, even rape, at a man, only to find them disproved when they landed up in court. Others have not (yet) gone to court, but are dubious by virtue (you should pardon the expression) of a lack of credible and/or verifiable evidence (for example, Roy Moore). Other women delight in “leading men on”, only to scream “Rape!” when the man takes the invitation too far. Their reaction ignores male psychology and biology. They expect a man to behave like a woman in such a situation. He won’t – he’ll behave like a man. Some women even glory in flaunting their sexuality at men, but expecting them to still respect them as women (for example, the “slutwalk” phenomenon – contrast that with this, for example). I have news for them. If a woman dresses like a whore, most men are going to regard her as one.
We seem to be at a crossroads. Older forms of sexual morality and social interaction are crumbling in the face of changing societal roles. New forms have yet to evolve to replace them. As a result, accusations are being leveled against people (of both sexes) who would angrily deny and reject them on the basis of the older moral and ethical standards in which they were raised. Weinstein’s exploitation of the “casting couch” has a long and storied history in Hollywood, and before that in other forms of entertainment all over the world. Victorian attitudes towards men and women, hypocritical as they were, were not confined to England, but common in the New World as well. How can we get past that history, and move on to something better?
I hope the current situation will lead both men and women, and those on all sides of the political equation, to reconsider who we are as human beings; what our relationships with each other should be; and where we should go from here. This is as much a learning opportunity as it is a scandal. I hope and pray we can use it to best effect.