I’ve been thinking about the recent surge of awareness of harassment, and wondering if I’ve been as flawed as the people being accused. There’s been a bit of introspection going on here.
And my conclusion is no, I’ve not taken advantage of women…or anyone, for that matter. I’ve never casually fondled anyone, I’ve never tried to pressure anyone into sex, I’ve never threatened anyone into serving my whims, I’ve sure as hell never raped anyone. I’m not saying this to pretend to be some paragon — I think I’m pretty ordinary, and I suspect most guys consider respect for others’ autonomy to be the norm. But I also say this as someone who was born in the 1950s, so forget that bogus “oh, that’s just the way we were back then” excuse. I’ll also point out that, for example, when Roy Moore was haunting the Gadsden Mall, most people seemed to think that 30 year olds trying to pick up teenagers was awfully skeevy.
The common, petty failing was not participating in such behavior, but looking the other way. There was too much deference to male authority, which was given by default, and preserved an imbalance of power. We didn’t do the kinds of things these horrible people have done, but we were at worst made uncomfortable about them, and our only action was to avoid confronting those people. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t confront the harasser, and don’t meet the eyes of the woman who is being mistreated.
I remember my sins of omission. I was in the locker room when the high school jocks were bragging about the things they did to their girlfriends and casual hookups, and I just got dressed and left as quickly as I could. But I knew the people they were talking about, and I liked them as people, and I did not defend them. So that talk flourished.
I’ve been oblivious. There have been several occasions where I blithely suggest that my wife just do some particular thing, and she looks at me like I’m insane, and explains that I can’t possibly expect her to walk alone in that dark parking garage late at night. There are many behaviors I take for granted as normal and safe that are exercises in reasonable fear for women. That’s a lack of empathy, an ongoing insensitivity that hinders my ability to see how the world works for others.
I’ve been cavalier about some situations — I’ve been light-hearted and tried to be amusing about common sexual situations that, for men, are just opportunities for fun, but for women, are opportunities to be harmed. It’s taken too long for me to realize that that little chuckle wasn’t about my nice joke, but more an attempt to defuse a situation, or to conceal what they were really thinking, which was “what an ass.” I can at least say that I’ve been getting better — I’m sure 20 year old me was even worse — and that I’m aware that I can be better still.
I think, though, that the biggest sign of progress and the best hope we have is that increasingly we are acknowledging that it’s not enough to not do bad things, we also have to openly oppose others who do bad things. We also have to listen when we are criticized.