Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Sexual Harassment: Inexcusable, But No Easy Solutions”
December 4, 2017
“Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Lady Windermere’s Fan
A Play, produced in 1892
There is no question that some men – not all, but some – feel that money, fame and power give them the right to have whatever they want, including women. Libidos, fed by arrogance, displace decency and respect. Many of these men are vocal in their defense of feminist rights, but disrespectful toward women as individuals. But there are some women – not many, but a few – to whom money, fame and power serve as aphrodisiacs. “Power,” Henry Kissinger once observed, “is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And so it is, to a few.
While serial harassers of women, like bullies everywhere, should be dealt with severely, we live in a country where due process is law and accused are considered innocent until proven guilty. There is risk when the media are more interested in ratings and political advocacy than truth. Accusations without proof are the stuff from which revolutions are wrought. Angelo Codevilla, a professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and a man who spent eight years on the Senate staff observed the play between politicians and staff: access to power was on one side and the offer of sex on the other. “Innocence, he wrote, was the one quality entirely absent on all sides.” That may be true, but the sides are not equally paired; leverage lies with those who wield power.
Nevertheless, we must not let disclosures of dalliances turn into witch hunts, McCarthyism, or, God forbid, Puritanism. Interestingly, the majority of those charged have been men of the Left who have visibly and vocally supported feminism and women’s rights, all the while treating female subordinates as sex objects. While many of us conservatives have derived a sense of schadenfreude watching deviant hypocrites like Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and Charlie Rose being hoisted on petards of their own making, there should also be an acknowledgement of “there but for the grace of God go I…” In some cases, accusations go back decades, providing little opportunity for rebuttal. It is one person’s word against another’s. Stones are cast, with little attention paid to those doing the tossing.
Ironically, there has been a difference between how employers have treated the accused in private-sector workplaces versus those in the public sector. Public servants should he held to a higher standard; yet, those in the private sector have been fired forthwith, while public sector employees cling to their jobs. In both cases, due process should be followed, but it seems a gross dereliction that taxpayer money has been used by public officials to silence women abused by those in Congress.
Culture has played a role. We live in a bifurcated world where feminism is supported and where women, in many ways, have achieved equality with men. But we also live in a world where men fantasize over Victoria Secret models and purchase 10 to 15 times more copies of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated than regular issues. We see women as partners in business, sports, the arts and the military, but we also live in a fast-paced world of long hours for young people, where dating is often confined to the workplace. Where does harassment end and romance begin? Or, where does romance end and harassment begin?
As well, we are victims of our past. The sexual revolution of fifty years ago unleashed a new attitude toward sex. “If it feels good, do it,” was the ‘60’s mantra. Herbert Marcuse the German-American philosopher and guru of the “New” Left, speaking of that period, said it was a time for, “…instinctual freedom…liberated from the tyranny of repressive reason.” In one sense, that revolution was overdue. The old days of looking upon women as the “weaker sex” and of not treating them equally in the workplace were wrong. But in our rush to right wrongs, we may have pushed the pendulum too far. We ignored differences in physical characteristics and emotional responses: Men cannot bear children. Women, on average, are not as big or as strong as men. We respond differently to stimuli. Also, it is perfectly natural that men and women should be attracted to one another, else how would the species survive? But there are red lines that should not be crossed, lines perhaps not embedded in law, but in custom, through mutual respect, decency and civility.
We live in a complex culture that not only tolerates the raising of children outside marriage, but celebrates it, when among the rich and the famous. Promiscuity is promoted, as well, regardless of the sexual orientation of the participants, through photo-spreads and gossip columns. The outrage of those calling for Lorena Bobbit to perform surgery on the accused brings to mind the declamation of Claude Raines in “Casablanca”: “I am shocked, shocked – to find gambling is going on in here.” Have these people just discovered morality? I hope not, but I fear so. Politics, too, plays a role. Consider Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on John Conyers and Roy Moore, both charged with sexual misconduct: “John Conyers is an icon in our country. He’s done a great deal to protect women.” “Roy Moore is a child molester.”
For the Left, as long as the transgressor promises to enroll in sensitivity training and cling to causes like feminism, man-made global warming, inclusivity, safe places, fairness and a cult of dependency he will be considered morally redeemed, and will be forgiven. One is reminded of C.S. Lewis: “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
Peggy Noonan recently wrote that the sexual-harassment racquet is over – that the reporting of such incidents will change behavior. She wrote that this new way of reporting meant they “weren’t going to get away with it anymore. They had never known that…” I hope she is right, but human nature is hard to change, when we don’t know how many rungs down this ladder of deviancy has misbehavior descended. It gets the media’s attention when the axe falls on a news anchor, talk-show host, Hollywood bigwig, or U.S. Senator. But will coverage be there when the miscreant is a mid-level executive?
Like Peggy Noonan, my inclination is to believe most of the women who have written of unwanted advances, but the skeptic in me says move cautiously. Motives are not always easily discernable. We ignore, at our peril, those natural proclivities of biological attractions between men and women. Playful flirtations are normal, but there is a demarcation that separates affectionate and reciprocal teasing (or legitimate romantic feelings) from bullying and harassment. Society requires, and respect demands, we temper those inclinations; for, we know that it is difficult and embarrassing for women to admit to acceding to crude demands from their bosses. It is natural to let those memories cling to the nether regions of the mind.
Humility, consideration, civility and respectfulness, I would argue, are elixirs. It is a cultural overhaul we need. But, how, in an ego-centric world where Tweets, Selfies and “likes” dominate the culture, do we teach people these values? How do we teach humility, when we are taught to be self-identifying? How do we teach consideration, when universities disallow contrary views? How do we teach civility, when politicians divide us by race, religion, socio-economic levels and sex? How do we teach respectfulness when chivalry has given way to chauvinism?