Monday, November 27, 2017

End sexual harassment!

So many women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment! This is a large step forward. No longer is male aggression on women to be born silently. The guilty can now be called out.
We have known for a long time that as many as one in three women have been harassed or attacked by men. But men, on the whole, have not understood this statistic. They have not been willing to understand that of every three women they know one may have been subject to more or less serious sexual violence. We should have known a long time ago that women we know, women who are friends, or relatives, or coworkers may have been injured seriously by male aggressions.
During the last presidential campaign a video surfaced of the then candidate Trump boasting of kissing or groping unwilling women. Candidate Trump excused his behavior as "locker room talk." The significance of such an excuse has not been understood so far.
The discussion of violation of women has focused on individuals on movie producers, on actors, professors, on employers and others. Aggression against women is discussed as the immoral and exploitative actions of this or that man abusing his power. When Donald Trump mentioned "locker room talk" he reminded everyone that these individuals could only act as they did with impunity in a culture that demeans women.
Everyone is part of a culture. In ours, sexual attacks on children are not acceptable. They do occur but if the culprit is found no one will say, "oh well, men will be men." But if the victim is a teenager or a grown woman people – mostly men – chuckle and change the subject. The amazing and terrifying frequency of sexual assault on women is possible only where such attacks are tacitly permitted.
This culture has different themes and some of them have roots in the distant past. Despising our bodies is one theme. Bodies are somehow thought to serve only sexual purposes and are somehow dirty. Bodies need to be hidden. Bodies are not beautiful, or graceful or dignified. Bodily functions cannot be talked about. One source of that contempt of the body is in the Judeo-Christian religion that regards those parts of us that don't seem to be bodily – mind, spirit, soul – as immortal and valuable and has nothing but contempt for the body where all these immortal functions live.
Sexuality in that culture is just plain dirty. What is more, woman's sexuality is seen as seductive. It was she who gave the apple to Adam. Had he been by himself, Adam presumably would have remained pure. It was the woman who seduced him to discover his and her nakedness. Human ambivalence about sexuality became one tool for denigrating women.
In our culture ambivalence about sexuality becomes a tool for asserting male power over women. Women are supposed to be "modest." In many situations such "modesty" involves strict dress codes for women. The requirement for modesty still remains even in the West where female nakedness is daily used to sell products. But here men have the power to define what modesty consists of, which woman is "easy" or a "whore." Male attacks are justified by complaining about women not being modest.
Not only is power in the hands of men but women are to varying extents treated as property. If a man wants, he can touch a woman's body or grab or kiss her. She would be rude or a bad sport to complain. Women are frequently a possession of one man. But often also they are a possession to be touched and hugged and kissed by any man. We have a special term for that--she can be "manhandled."
Power comes with being male, with owning male genitals. Transgender persons raise the ire of men because such status undermines masculine identity and thus blurs the clear lines that are thought to legitimate the male domination of women.
Power goes with wealth, with being white. The women who have come out to complain about male attacks are mostly white, mostly well-off. We have have heard much less from poor women and women of color. They cannot afford to loose their job. But studies show that 80% of female Mexican farmworkers in California, 50% of Chicago female hotel workers, 40% of female fast food workers say they have been sexually harassed.
Cultures don't maintain themselves automatically. They are not natural phenomena that will thrive if only the conditions are favorable. Cultures need to be maintained. The locker room talk needs to continue. The same sexist jokes need to be repeated over and over. Men need to continue to believe that their worth as persons depends on the size of their penis and the frequency of their orgasms.
Ostracizing this film producer or that actor will not affect serious change. It will titillate for a while, it will encourage wagging tongues. The self-righteous will be encouraged to overlook their own failings, their own sexism. The Bible thumpers can once again exhort us to return to their particular orthodoxy. But then it will all be forgotten.
The changes that are now beginning to men's sexual domination can only be made permanent if the culture changes that allows that sexual domination. Every man must make major efforts to overcome their contributions to the patriarchal culture that makes women into sexual targets and men into sexual predators. We must cease denigrating women. We must speak out when others do.