Category Archives: feminism

He Said, She Said. Can Both be Telling the Truth?

US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of assaulting a fellow teenager when they were both in high school. He vehemently denies it. Does that mean one of them is lying?

Maybe not.

Here’s the thing about assaults like this: as we’ve learned from the many personal stories unearthed by the “Me Too” movement, the parties involved in these incidents often remember them differently.

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Most men are good and decent and would never commit assault. You know who you are! 

HOWEVER, those men who do commit assault might not even realize their own behavior is wrong, because the behavior has absolutely no consequences (at least not for them – there are very significant consequences for the victims).

Men have gotten away with this for years (decades, centuries, millennia!) because their victims were:

  1. Their own employees who would lose their jobs if they protested
  2. Their wives, and therefore their property to assault/abuse as they wished
  3. Afraid to speak up, because of the inevitable personal attacks such a decision invites
  4. Inferior in social or economic status, and therefore powerless to complain
  5. Wearing revealing clothing, and therefore “asking for it”
  6. Of imperfect character, and therefore wouldn’t be believed
  7. Etcetera…

So for most of human history, men who committed assault arrived at the perfectly logical conclusion that forcing themselves on women or playing grabby-grab couldn’t be that bad, because no one complained when they did it! Harvey Weinstein was shocked when karma finally caught up with him. He earnestly explained, “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

It was indeed. To him, it was a culture of entitlement and permissiveness. The women involved remember it differently – they describe these incidents as terrifying and absolutely unforgettable. For Harvey, it was all just another day in the life of a movie mogul.

A story from a Georgia restaurant that went viral this summer is a perfect example of this dichotomy: security camera footage shows a man casually grabbing a waitress on the buttocks. He does it without even breaking stride. He doesn’t hesitate or slow down – just executes a smooth, on-the-move squeeze. It looks suspiciously natural (how many times has he done this?). If not for the reaction of the waitress (she slammed him to the ground and asked her co-worker to call the police), he probably would have forgotten all about it. Just another day in life of a regular dude.

The waitress, however, was having none of it. If the incident was a “first” for her, more power to her. More likely, this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. And she hadn’t forgotten about any of the other straws. Because every incident, no matter how relatively small, leaves a mark. And a memory.

Which brings us to Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford, whose character is already being pummeled in the media (see #3, above). Her recollection of details may be fuzzy, but her memory of the assault itself is sharp as a knife. She reported to the Washington Post that she sought treatment for “long term effects of the incident.” From the moment she escaped by hiding in a bathroom and then fleeing from the house, the events of that day remained significant and traumatic.

If her story is true, Brett Kavanaugh was drunk and, after she ran away and hid, he gave up the chase to rejoin the party. For whatever reason – maybe the alcohol or maybe because it was so long ago – he says he doesn’t remember. No one called the police or confronted him. No one complained.

So Kavanaugh’s denial, which reads, “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone,” may be truthful. Her description of the event was pretty horrible (“I thought he might inadvertently kill me”), but he may sincerely remember just another summer day, drinking at a party, having some fun. Just another day in the life of a promising young man.

They may both be telling the truth.

 

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Doing the Math on Sexual Harassment

The numbers are staggering. Every five minutes, ’BREAKING NEWS” reports that yet another politician/journalist/executive has groped at his colleagues’ private parts/answered the door in a towel/paid out thousands of dollars in hush money/ etcetera, etcetera. It’s getting exhausting.

And those numbers don’t even include the countless, nameless everyday working class men who absolutely do this but aren’t famous so, therefore, no one cares. The women they grab suffer silently and anonymously, for now.

To those innocents who are shocked – shocked! – by the endless parade of victims and the steady stream of accusations, I have bad news. What you’re seeing now is only the very tiny little tippy top of the iceberg.

And yet – we all know Good Men. So I’ve been wondering about ratios.

If every woman has a harassment story (or twenty), and we know that there are plenty of Good Men out there who know how to behave, how busy are the other dudes?

Very busy, I suspect. The Pareto Principle, also known as the “80/20 rule,” states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. If this applies to sexual harassment, 20% of men may be responsible for most of the mess.

I sincerely hope this is true, and my personal experience backs it up. I’ve worked in retail stores, a Fortune 500 corporate office, countless nonprofits, and the military – I’ve had thousands of male colleagues. Most of them were absolutely awesome, fully civilized adults who would never do any of the crap in today’s headlines. But I can recall one really bad apple who was very busy indeed.

Of the men who’ve been publicly accused so far, none of them has only a single complaint against him. They are overachievers! They weren’t guilty of “making a mistake” so much as they were successful at “being very persistent” and “not taking a hint.”

What do you do if you’re a 60-year-old man and the first 25-year-old woman to whom you reveal your shriveled privates doesn’t swoon with delight? You try, try again! What if the first woman whose ass you grab doesn’t enthusiastically grab yours back, with a welcoming twinkle in her eye? Have your HR department write a settlement check – shhh. What if your new intern isn’t thrilled at the chance to sleep with you in exchange for a reference? Don’t give up – you know she wants you!

If the Pareto Principle applies, the numbers indicate a large pool of jerks but an even larger pool of decency. That’s the good news. What we need now is for the 80% to make life really miserable for the 20%. Let’s shrink the number to 10% or even 5%. Let’s make the number so small that all the names will fit on a list for girls to memorize as part of the 8th grade Health Curriculum (because apparently, at age 14, you are fair game).

Not all men are comforted by the new transparency (Warning: if this describes you, you may be part of the 20%). In the comment section of a New York Times opinion piece on harassment, a man named Mark whined, “Is every man in your life reduced to a ‘groper’ or a ‘not groper?’” Well, Mark, the answer is YES, to be blunt. But here’s the great news for you – God blessed you with free will and a sturdy zipper on your pants. Use both wisely.

The Last Time I Got Harassed By a Strange Man

If you guessed yesterday, congratulations! Four jerks in a parked car made me afraid in my own neighborhood and ruined my day.

Because so many women have been sharing their stories of harassment and assault lately (thanks to the presidential campaign, these topics are in the news), here is mine.

My day started out just fine. It was a crisp, cool morning. The sun was shining, the leaves were gorgeous, and I was listening to NPR Weekend Edition on my iPhone while walking the dog. We were strolling along one of my favorite routes, beside a pond in a residential neighborhood where I always see ducks and geese, and sometimes wild turkeys.

foliage

I noticed an SUV parked on the other side of the road, and four young men were sitting in it with the windows down. As I passed, one of them yelled out at me, “How you doing, beautiful?”

I stopped in my tracks. Did I just hear that? WTF???

 Then I had a split second to decide what to do. Ignore it? Engage in constructive dialogue about appropriate behavior? Unleash 30 years of frustration and anger, condensed into a stinging one-liner that’s sure to make him really, really sorry?

I wish I could report I did something vengeful or witty, but all I did was look at him and ask, “REALLY?

As in: Really, you have the gall to harass me in my own neighborhood? Really, you weren’t raised better that that? Really, you are so confident in your safety and dominance that you feel entitled to say absolutely anything to me, even though you know you are scaring me?

Because that was absolutely his intention. After I turned away and high-tailed it out of there, I could hear him yelling at me. I was afraid to turn around. I was never so glad to have my 80-pound shepherd-mix-who-looks-like-a-Doberman by my side. If not for my dog, I would have been terrified. There was no one else around and there were four of them, one of me.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Come on, Laura, he just made a harmless remark. He probably meant it as a compliment.” You would be wrong. What 20-something man sees a 40-something woman in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt (hair in ponytail, no makeup) and says something like that? He knew what he was doing; he probably does it all the time. There is no excuse for it.

The whole episode brought back terrible memories of times in my life when I encountered this kind of crap a lot more often. My entire early 20’s, when I lived on or near military bases and could not go running outdoors without being harassed by the cars passing by (I just turned up my music). The time I went to a Patriots game and was groped by a stranger in the crowd. Jogging on a beach vacation just a few years ago, when an asshole in a car yelled nasty things at me as he drove by (what is it about being in a car that makes these men lose all sense of decency? We can still see you!).

But all this is just part of being female and having a pulse. I hate it, I think it’s wrong, but I’m used to it. I’m glad more people are talking about now and calling it unacceptable. And despite yesterday’s incident, this happens to me less and less as I get older (maybe the dude yesterday wasn’t wearing his glasses?).

My friends, save your sympathy for the next generation. The worst part of getting harassed yesterday wasn’t that I felt afraid (though I did) or that I was looking over my shoulder for the rest of my walk, wondering if they would follow me (they didn’t, thank goodness).

No, the worst part was sitting down with my 13-year old daughter and telling her about it, and talking about how to handle it when this happens to her. Not if. When. She’s taller than me and looks like an adult. She walks around our town all the time.

And her middle school bus stop is 100 yards from where this incident happened.

Good luck, honey. You’ll need it.