To travel through a wormhole to an era where men called all the shots and acted with impunity on surges in testosterone, is to go back to a time where males of all stripes were predisposed to being sexual harassers and predators. In that context, men were expected to be strong, take charge figures, guiding forces for all, roles that women were said to be incapable of fulfilling.
Looking back from where we are today, the old school cultural ethos then appears to be a quite appalling one. Women for the most part, were in over their heads if they tried to assert themselves whether in the workplace or at home. It suggested that women were by nature the “weaker sex” and thus were living on the disadvantageous side of dominance and oppression. It would take several decades of the 20th and 21st centuries before this gender-stratified relationship was fully acknowledged as such by the wider society.
The historical dominance of men over women struck a nerve with the postmodernist French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir. In response to the historical oppression of women, de Beauvoir expressed the idea that female identity in a world administered by men is an identity constructed by anyone but females themselves. Out of this, men took it upon themselves to portray women as second-class citizens.
De Beauvoir went on to say that established cultural logic on female identity was faulty, not to mention entrenched in male fear and desire. It became something of a sacred institution for men to spend large chunks of their existence relentlessly pursuing power, possessions, and achievements. De Beauvoir tells us that it was women’s lone priority to assist men in reaching these goals. In factoring in that priority it was understood that women’s status was one of obedience and submission.
The emotional and psychological violence perpetrated against women as manifested by this boys’ club, patriarchal mentality has accumulated to a point where a great sense of urgency has inspired female victims of sexual harassment and abuse to speak out. I’m certain that the torrent of sexual misconduct allegations by the multitudes of victimized females will empower and energize other women in asserting their rights. No longer will women be frightened prey for the worst male sex offenders.
However, there is reason for decent men—men who unequivocally believe in women’s rights and condemn the debauched actions of male sexual assailants—to be uneasy amidst all the sexual harassment charges.
It should be said that the onrush of sexual allegations do not mean that men’s rights are no longer obligatory. Yes, males as a species are responsible for many mistakes and injustices that have been inflicted on women throughout human history. And as a collective whole, we owe it to women to redeem those mistakes and injustices.
Put on notice by the steady procession of sexual allegations, men have to be acutely cognizant of the circumstances they find themselves in with women. Men should remember at all times that there is virtually no margin of error when it comes to suggestive behavior towards women. It goes without saying that men should use common sense and common decency in how they conduct themselves with the opposite sex.
But it is also necessary to raise concerns about the counternotion of “turning the tables on men,” of punishing men as a monolithic bloc rather than only going after the rotten apples. This idea may be more prevalent than one might expect. We must bear in mind that sexual harassment is a supremely sensitive topic right now. For that reason—as the majority of the perpetrators of sexual harrassment up to this point have been men—we as a gender are vulnerable to generalizations that are stuck in the past and to preconceived misinterpretations or misunderstandings.
Not to muddy the moral waters or to mitigate the reprehensible actions of Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, and Roy Moore among others. But I, along with other men, can’t help but feel a little defensive with all the shocking sexual harassment revelations that have come down. While we praise women for coming out with the truth and for standing up for it, we also fear an overreaction in some quarters where men run the risk of being lumped together to a certain degree at least, with the sexual offenders.
To help prevent this from happening, men and women everywhere should conduct a rehabilitative and reflective local and national dialogue on sexual harassment. This will have the cumulative effect of enabling both sexes to acquire a deeper and more thorough understanding of the issue. Such a dialogue would magnify and clarify the reality of sexism and sexism-related abuse and produce new, progressive approaches to dealing with it.