There it is. Can you hear it? It’s the sound of one hand slapping. It is the metaphorical slap that women are finally starting to give in place of the physical one they wished that had had the courage to give in the first place.
That sound has been a long-time coming, mostly because the cultural context for male-female interaction has been dominated by a male world view, a perspective influenced by both biological/hormonal as well as environmental/experiential histories. The myth of the superior Alpha Male, unfortunately, still endures in our society.
While some men continue to evolve beyond the influence of adolescent hormones and cultural aberrations and learn to interact with women as respected equals, others still cling to the mistaken notion that women are their inferiors and exist mostly as the means to fulfill their unrealistic fantasies. The worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics are well-populated with ego-driven men who relish asserting the power of their popularity and wealth. These men are many of the ones who are currently being “outed” for their long histories of sexually harassing women.
For women, sexual harassment ranges from an unwanted kiss or sexual comment, to the extremes of rape and pedophilia. But, it seems to me that it is unfair to judge the evil of all incidents of “sexual harassment” by the same standards.
Several years ago, when I volunteered in the Alzheimer unit at an upscale assisted living center, one sad 90 year old gentleman kept trying to pat my butt. Each time I saw him coming, I would try to grab his hand before it grabbed me. Sometimes I succeeded; sometimes I didn’t. He was 90 years old and suffering from dementia. I did not feel sexually harassed.
Like many of the men over 65, he grew up in a cultural context in which men expected men to “come on” to women as an assertion of their male egos. That is why the older politicians and entertainers who have been notorious for the sexual harassment of women don’t think it’s such a big deal. They don’t have a clue that the really big deal is that they never grew out of their limited understandings of women and never emotionally evolved into mature, responsible adults males. I can excuse (and gently correct) a 90 year old man with dementia when he makes a grab, because he is on the very low end of the harasser spectrum.
But It’s another thing to be a powerful elder male still engaging in sexual harassment (like Donald Trump and Roy Moore). It is also another thing to be a powerful elder male who did some stupid adolescent pranks in his early years, has proven that he has evolved way past that kind of behavior, and is embarrassed and apologetic about those past transgressions (like Al Franken). Punching someone is not as horrendous as murder; trying to kiss someone is not as bad as forcing more intimate sexual contact.
Most women neither expect nor want any of those advances, but, as we have been reading in countless current confessions, women usually feel powerless to resist, afraid to lose whatever the harassers had the power to take away from them.
For whatever reason, they didn’t slap their harassers when it happened, so they are slapping back now, loud and hard. They are setting an example for other women who felt and might feel powerless to tell their harassers to stop, to back off, to show respect and not condescension.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever being harassed, except maybe by the nuns in elementary school, who definitely felt obliged to assert their power over us puny kids in the most unappealing ways.
Maybe it was that I was careful to appropriately dress for every occasion, well aware of the visual signals that purposeful cleavage and a short, tight skirt tend to send to the eager male eye. That is not to say that I never used what limited assets I had to give those signals; but my doing so was a conscious choice, with a consensual expectation and an acceptance of responsibility for what came next.
And that is the responsibility that we women need to take for how we present ourselves to the world of the puerile assumptions of some males. We need to stand against misogyny where it surfaces, and discredit the advertising media that keeps presenting women as sexual objects and therefore encourages the cultural context that we need to reveal, revise, and reform, We need to engage life (as suggested by Camille Paglia) with wary vigilance, personal responsibility, and enough self-assurance to assert our right to hear the sound of our one hand, slapping.