I have been pondering various aspects of the sexual harassment tsunami that has washed over us throughout the last couple of months. I have been reading as much as I can from a wide variety of sources to glean diverse perspectives about this kind of behavior.
As I began my day this morning, when I would start to put words to paper, so to speak, my son announced that the latest icon to fall was Today Show host Matt Lauer, followed later in the day by Garrison Keillor, host of “A Prairie Home Companion” on NPR. The dam has broken, it seems, but the flood does not abate.
Last week I wrote that this issue is far to complex to sum up in a simple, single opinion. Again, list making has been my go-to process to find order in chaos. The first thing I did was to compile what I consider to be those related truths, in a most basic form, upon which most, if not all, reasonable people can agree, when it comes to human sexual behavior. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Human sexuality is a basic component of our nature.
2. Men and women are attracted to each other for purposes of perpetuating the species.
3. Sex can be a beautiful expression of love between two people.
4. Sexual exploitation of adults by either sex is unacceptable.
5. Sexual exploitaiton of children by adults of either sex is unacceptable and repugnant.
Seems simple enough. So from here I looked at sexual exploitation to determine some basic truths associated with that behavior.
1. It is used to establish dominance/power over another person.
2. It is used to debase the victim.
3. It is used to fulfill the sexual desire of the perpetrator (in my opinion, an unnatural form of sexual expression).
4. It is the consequence of “mob mentality” as in the case of gang rape.
Again, this seems pretty simple, and, I would imagine, is also something most of us already know.
In a perfect world, if this is all we had to deal with, it would be simple to proceed with a judicial approach to sexual harassment. In a timely manner, allegations would be brought. An investigation into the accusation would be made and evidence gathered. Innocence or guilt would be ascertained. Appropriate justice would be meted out, and any necessary counseling would be provided to the victim. This, too, seems relatively simple.
But we live in an imperfect world, where the waters are muddied by a myriad of factors, among which are:
1. False accusations, made for fame or money or both; false accusations made to distract from other issues; false accusations made due to faulty memory.
2. The varied sensibilities of human beings. What to one person might be innocent flirting, to another might be blatant, disgusting conduct.
3. Cultural norm variations. What at one period in time might be socially tolerated behavior is, at another period in time, thoroughly abhorrant.
4. Hierarchy of harm. Is “copping a feel” equatable to violent rape? Is violating a child by touching over clothing less horrible than intercourse?
5. Statutes of limitations, which make prosecution difficult when allegations are not brought to light right away.
And then there is the existence of different standards for the rooting out of bad behavior in the first place. We have seen that, in the entertainment industry, allegations of sexual impropriety may result in days or weeks of sensationalism and speculation, resulting in self-commitment to a rehab facility, or firing from a studio, a current television show or film, or total ostracizing by the industry.
In the news business, so far, it has resulted in immediate firing from high-profile jobs. In modern politics, to date, we have seen no results of such allegations, aside from bad press and finger-pointing.
In our current social and political atmosphere there has been, in my opinion, too much of the “oh, yeah? well what about…?” response to each incident of reported, alleged sexual impropriety. It seems to be in our nature to cloud the issue with our own emotional reactions.
For now, I feel safe stating the obvious. Unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature is never acceptable. Sometimes people make mistakes in their interpersonal interactions and attempt to connect in ways that are inept or clumsy or insensitive. When this happens, and an individual is made aware of the bad behavior, it should be addressed and corrected immediately.
That means we all need to be taught and empowered to speak up when we are the recipients of the bad behavior, especially when speaking up can halt and minimize the behavior. This would ensure cultural reinforcement of the higher standard of conduct.
There are so many ways to come at this. As I wrote last week, I’d really like to hear from readers with their own personal takes on the varied facets of the topic. Agree or disagree, we could work at coping with this seeming epidemic together. And there is more to be said.