The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Orlando's picture

    When You're Famous, They Let You Get Away with It

    I find myself feeling pity for the men whose worlds are crashing down as a result of a flood of sexual harassment accusations.

    Surprised? Me, too, but stick with me for a second...

    Their behavior toward women is disgusting, violating, unacceptable, and it is right and good that this behavior is finally seeing the light of day. But every woman I know has faced harassment. Every. Woman. I know.

    My peers, older women, and younger women face catcalls, unwanted advances, unwanted physical contact, lewd questions, and sexual assault. Women have always faced these things and men have always done these things.

    And when you're famous, they let you get away with it.

    So, in a world in which men--famous and not-so-famous, with varying degrees of power over their victims--have always gotten away with it, it must be a huge, crazy kind of shock to suddenly be public enemies.

    Men (and women) who use their power to flaunt their ability to act outside the laws and norms of society ought to face consequences for their behavior but so then should those who allow it to continue. The protectors--the politicians who accepted donations, the law enforcement officials who decided these crimes weren't worthy of consequence based on the profiles of the criminals, the media and entertainment communities whose collective shrug of disinterest told women it wasn't safe to come forward--are all complicit.

    So, as we somewhat gleefully watch these men get their long-deserved comeuppance, I truly hope our tendency toward assigning blame and moving straight on to the next scandal doesn't end the conversation about how and why this abhorrent behavior was allowed to continue for decades after it was deemed "socially inappropriate."


    Agreed - how could a woman living in this world not agree?  I've been there, done that.  But as they say ... it's complicated.

    Nuance is a thing.  Friendship is a thing.  Michelle Cottle's post in The Atlantic is a definite thing.  Blame in the abstract, post-moment of what-do-I-do? is a thing.  It's complicated.

    If only there were clear lines, a delineation, a way to discern the differences between a friendly hug and an unwanted grope.  A grandfatherly peck on the cheek and a lewd kiss.  It's hard for those of us who have known the difference, who know it still, to describe it to others.  To ourselves.  To balance that fine line between gross and not a big deal while still feeling a connection to both the man and the reality of misogyny.  Indeed, it's complicated...

    Nice to see you, Orlando.  It's been awhile.

    Nice to see you, too! :)

    [prelude to say this isn't a personal attack, just used your response to address the issue more fully]

    "Unwanted advances"? well, that's life. I get unwanted sales advances every day - bitch about them terrible, except I occasionally buy something from one of these unwanted. Unwanted sexual advances? That's part of the secret sauce of our whole species. Unwanted until finally wanted, or just a complete flop - that's the question - it's the subject of multiple Shakesperean plays. Our species is programmed as much as we know where the males run after the females principally. The males strut about, make jackasses or impressive examples of themselves, the females choose the jackass or heroic type depending on whimsy & preference and unknown unknowns, and all's good except the invariably complex results. We're likely not going to reprogram that, and it's a question whether we want to. But we can enforce reasonable rules to the game. Modern chivalry meets codified law?

    Rape is not an "unwanted advance" - it's programming and social sense gone bad. Using your position of power or physical strength to intimidate into sex isn't an "unwanted advance" - it's rape.

    Now, one basic complication is we tend to meet people where we are - most folks not yet smitten with Tinder, et al. And where we are is often work of some sort. Outlawing work hookups just doesn't work, but we try to still designate some off-limits angles. Teacher-student = bad. Pretty straightforward. Monica-Bill - mostly okay, her choice (in most workplaces, this wouldn't have resulted in crisis except when/if the wife found out). Dangling your penis out or sexting across genitals? Red zone (though with new generations & social media, the rules of this game may change - but there has to be some realistic expectation that it's not unwanted). Cornering women in backrooms & parking lots and other creepy places? Gonzo. 

    1 rule of thumb - if you're wanking off in front of a woman who you've never dated, you're out of your league & in felony zone. Showing your ass on a beach full of spring-breakers? Less deterministic. Molesting an alcohol-sodden lass in full coma? no, not even, even without the pics posted to Facebook/Instagram.

    But back to the "unwanted advances" - on the less obnoxious side, do you expect "unwanteds" to simply never show their heads (the one of the shoulders)? or to be meekly inquisitive and then go away? or to at least accept defeat when all's obvious? Yes, it's an imposition that women have to fend off attraction at inappropriate times - everywhere from in the office trying to get serious work done around an implacable colleague, trying to deal with a customer who's latched on anywhere from flirting to infatuation, or to simply going to class, dealing with group assignments, etc. But men aren't always programmed so appropriately. So what's our modern definitions of harassment, going too far?

    [and as I tried to imply the other day, we spend lots of time in grade school on dinosaurs and planets and volcanos, but not so much on human relationships aside from yelling at kids "quit bugging her". But it's easier to teach lava than subtlety.]

    [reading the excellent Cottle piece, I think the Weinstein & Leon cases are bringing up more the omnivore power-predator issue rather than the more normal sexualized encounters, even though they're not completely detached]

    You're absolutely right that dating, courtship, mating, or whatever you want to call it is messy. In thinking over your comments and what I meant by "unwanted advances," I've been thinking about my own experiences where I've politely declined attention only to be cajoled, browbeaten, and sometimes even begged to reconsider, sometimes to the point at which I become very rude and am them called a bitch. It's always bothered me immensely when it's happened but it took me many years to land on the reason why a stranger can have such an impact on me. It's because the men who "won't take no for an answer" have decided (or been taught or internalized from societal messages) that their desires and needs are more important than my desires and needs. Or, that I don't really know what I want and they just need to wear me down. In turns, it's enraging and exhausting. On the low end of the spectrum where all these issues are concerned, but still on the spectrum. 

    I do get that men are expected to make the first move and that it's a difficult thing to do, which is why when I'm not interested I try to be really polite. Often times, I lie about the reason why so I don't hurt somebody's feelings. But why can't I just say "No, thank you" and be done with it? 

    Hey Orlando, saw Lacoste won best prize for this ad, thought of your "why can't I just say no?" Because half of our society's messaging is "don't take no for an answer", with a rather weak "no means no (or maybe)" as a response.

    I know. And complicating that is that we women are taught that we shouldn't be rude and we shouldn't hurt feelings and so we are probably naturally reticent to reject approaches which is then probably sometimes misinterpreted as "She doesn't really mean no." 

    It sucks that it's so freaking complicated. 

    Not sure  - a good Ice Queen wielding barbed putdowns is also something to cherish - thing is, even that's desirable, so you get the opposite effect. These lads just can't be put off - they're oblivious to reason.

    Some of it is cultural too. Some Italian would-be Romeo told me that only when a woman looks sternly and says, “I MEAN IT!” she really serious.  He and many men think that it is always a game, and only the cleverest men win. 

    When I worked in College Health I talked to many young women who wanted to be cajoled into sex so they wouldn’t seem “easy.”  No matter what I said about having sex needs to be a conscious and mutual decision seemed to make a difference with that subset of young women. I’m hoping that they all managed to grow up and stop playing those games. 

    Orlando! It's wonderful to hear from you again.

    I've never had much enthusiasm for punishing wrongdoers. When I hear people express delight that justice has been served or that the wrong has been "righted," I cringe a little. Wrong can't be righted, and suffering doesn't restore justice. Don't get me wrong. I believe that penalties serve as a practical deterrent to future crimes. I just don't think punishment can ever balance the books on past crimes. So I don't really care one way or the other what happens to Harvey Weinstein as long as his predatory behavior stops. Or more to the point, I hope that his downfall helps deters others who engage in similar behavior.

    But is that enough? No way. Just as Michael Milken's arrest didn't stop insider trading on Wall Street, Weinstein's fall won't stop sexual harassment in Hollywood. Deterrence only works when it's enforced regularly and consistently. Otherwise, the next guy figures that he can get away with it.

    In short, we don't need sensational headlines about the media moguls getting what's coming to them. We need practical measures to make sure that more people who abuse get busted. Off the top of my head: a sexual harassment hotline for actors and an organization with the resources to support them. Independent HR departments that don't answer to the CEO. A law against gag-orders for settlements.

    But what do I know? People study this stuff. There are proven methods. I just wish we were talking more about implementing and enforcing these ideas and lss about some asshole named Harvey Weinstein.

    Hi Mike! I was just thinking that it's akin to the financial crisis and how lobbyists are trying to get rid of consumer protections so they can behave badly again. We're more interested in the carnival aspect to these scandals than the problems at the root of them. *sigh*

    In high school, the boys weren't into me. I was too skinny, too flat chested, not pretty enough. By the time I discovered MEN, I was so starved for male attention that I thrived on "inappropriate behavior." It beat the hell out of being ignored, I thought. Pretty sad, huh? I suppose I contributed to why men felt like they got mixed messages in those days. Girls like me made their behavior possible. Things that I found flattering back then, I would (knowing what I know now,) find offensive.

    It figures that it took until men are no longer interested in what I have to offer sexually, for me to realize I had value beyond what I could offer in bed.

    I want better for my granddaughters. I want them to know as they reach their sexual maturity that men many times act badly, and they deserve to be valued as an equal human being, not as something to be used and tossed away. 


    I am sure your story will be helpful to many, stillidealistic. And I think your grandkids are very lucky to have the wisdom of your experience.

    But I would like to add that I was grateful for a different kind of feminism where birth control meant freedom and I was allowed just as much "inappropriate behavior" as men were. I have zero regrets in that regard, rather, many fond memories.  And I am grateful that I grew up, for the most part, in a time and a culture where it did not mark me as someone due less respect.

    To take it to another level, I still mourn the loss of the free-lovin' lifestyle by many gay friends. It still saddens me that they now buy into the whole married with 2.5 kids and white picket fence thing that was the stuff of Betty Friedan's suicidal nightmares. Funny (not?) that they seem to have had to do that  concurrent with gaining equal treatment in the workplace.

    Also I have zero envy of the "Tinder" lifestyle where nearly passionless sex occurs by picking a partner via snapshot and then doing a "booty call". Great passion from actual human interaction of three-dimensional bodies, with smells, sounds,touches, mental game playing, etc., makes for the best sex, even if it ends up as illusions and a one-night stand. The impersonal robotic nature of the Tinder thing seems much much uglier to me than what is sometimes called "slutish" behavior on the one side or harassing behavior on the other.

    In New York City these days, you virtually never see young people try to pick up each other on the street or at social events. They go around with their tribe to protect them, attend events with their tribe, and leave with their tribe. I think it terribly sad. It is less so in other towns, but I see it elsewhere, too.

    A bit too clinical for me. I don't even like ordering food by phone - I just like going out, feel the noize. What some call "sluttish", others might refer to as a smörgåsbord. I guess I liked it better in the days when sleeping with the wrong person wasn't considered the end of the world, just as a bad dinner wouldn't scar you for life. OK, there's more to it than that, but this penis-exposing/sexting bit seems so American - if we just had more nude beaches from an early age, wouldn't this stupid shyness and repression disappear a lot quicker? "Sex" in American society is largely exemplified by seeing some actress' tits for 20 seconds in whatever film, while the society around in real life keeps things buttoned up pretty well. Not too surprising a lot of people think of sex & relationships as a peep show or an abduction.

    No regrets, Stilli - we all did what we needed to to survive & scratch our various itches and survive - sexual, companionship/not being alone, intellectual, etc. Times they are a changin',but then again not so much. Your grandgals will cherish your advice, I'm sure, but still, they'll be down in the trenches while you can sit back bemused and horrified. Hopefully this latest scandal will grow wings & offer up some changes, but then again, we thought PussyGate's backlash would last longer than 2 weeks.

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