Some men I know are whining about the legion number of sexual misconduct accusations and resulting firings and humiliations that have been coming to light every five minutes for the past few weeks. I do not share their bewilderment, frustration and suspicions that women are jumping on some over-sensitive bandwagon.
One man thinks it is only famous men who are being persecuted because those are the only guys we’re reading about. Unless a “civilian” guns down 50 people or sets himself on fire while deep frying a turducken, the media doesn’t generally cover my neighbor mowing his lawn, or whether he has been let go from his job at Ace Hardware because he groped Sally from the paint department in the paint department. I’m thinking this must be a crazy time to work in Human Resources, but the New York Times and Variety aren’t going to devote ink to my neighbor when Garrison Keillor has been caught with his hand up a woman’s blouse.
Keillor was smart. He released a statement to the New York Times in an effort to get out in front of the accusation—with his version of the “alleged” sexual misconduct. So now people are debating whether what he describes was really so terrible—the woman’s blouse was open in the back, he was consoling her, and his hand accidentally slid 6 inches up her bare back. Jeez, has it occurred to any of the men who think, “Yeah, I can see how something like that could happen” that Keillor, a storyteller by trade, might have written a less lascivious account for the public? And frankly, I don’t find his carefully constructed prose even slightly okay.
If I break down and cry and a man seeks to console me, trust me. I know the difference between empathy and horny. It’s exactly like pornography. We may not be able to define it, but we sure as hell know it when its creped, liver spotted hand creeps up our bare skin.
Another argument I hear in Keillor’s favor is that he is really old. Huh. There is an 89-year-old man I see at a professional meeting every month, who persists in giving me a hug, which includes grabbing side boob, sometimes actual full frontal boob, my ass, and occasionally, when I am distracted, he tries to French me when we do the cheek kiss greeting. I am ashamed to admit I have never called him out on it because he is old, but I hate myself every time it happens. I feel dirty, confused, violated and I have anxiety the instant I see him.
I’m not going to kill myself or seek professional psychiatric care because of it, but it is not right. If I learned that one of my dear nieces or stepdaughter were being fondled, groped, felt up or licked by this guy I’d punch him in the throat and if he broke a hip, so be it. That’s the price of being sexually inappropriate when you’re not a celebrity who can be fired from a big time job, but are instead simply a dirty old man from Milwaukee.
I am fortunate in that I have never been raped, but when I look back at behavior that was deemed acceptable, because to not accept it would have meant I was “uptight,” “frigid,” “no fun,” or a “poor sport” I can hear my blood pressure rising and my armpits begin to sizzle. I am a formidable creature at 5’10” tall, especially when I wear 5” heels. My parents blessed me with self-confidence in spades and attitude a mile wide, but even so I have been cowed by men in positions of power, and almost as bad, embarrassed by the likes of nobody idiots who think it’s their god-given right to touch my ass on an escalator or comment on my legs just because, you know, I have them and I am using them in public.
Again, many men will argue there is no harm in a man telling a woman she has lovely appendages. Right out of the gate, I reject this on its face. Unless I have signed up to be in a leg, ass or tit competition, shut up. Think what you will, but please, just shut up. I am not flattered or moved by a sleaze ball in sweatpants who tells me I’ve got long legs, like this is some revelation, or worse yet, a compliment. A compliment implies we give a rat’s ass about the other person’s opinion, and believe me when I speak for all women; there are not few enough fucks to give for your “opinions” about our body parts.
Older men tell me it’s natural to compliment a woman on her smile, hair or legs, but when it is said with a leer and a tongue flick the man is not innocently commenting on my inseam, but instead is very crudely letting me know exactly how he envisions my legs vis-à-vis his personage. It is creepy, disgusting and leaves me feeling violated. This doesn’t mean I will be damaged for life, unable to work, create, love or bake soufflés, but it does mean another person has invaded my personal space in a manner that is just not acceptable.
Human touch can be the very best thing ever in the history of our species, but we can’t allow it to be co-opted by men who think our bodies are mere chattel, like the women of internet porn who seem to exist only for the sexual enjoyment of others. I actually have nothing against porn, but it’s important to make a distinction between what’s on a screen and what’s in front of you on the escalator, and then behave accordingly with your hands.
I feel sorry for men who do not understand what “all the fuss is about.” These human specimens are either profoundly flawed, unable to get it up for empathy, or they are delusional. I do not buy that men are confused by the sudden, copious accusations of sexual inappropriateness, or what being sexually inappropriate even means.
Here’s a simple freakin’ litmus test for those fellas: would you conduct the behavior in front of your boss, wife, daughter, mother, aunt, grandma or fourth grade teacher? Would you be comfortable grabbing a handful of a stranger’s shapely butt in front of Mrs. Worshefsky?
Would you masturbate in front of a coworker with your daughter standing beside you, then when she freaked the F out tell her, “Oh, honey. It’s okay. I asked first?”
Sexual politics have always been tricky, but since forever we have excluded sexual conduct outside of intimate relationships from the discussion. Women burned their bras, got the pill and slept with whomever they damn well pleased, and yet no one was talking about being groped in the supply closet or missing out on a promotion because she refused to blow the boss.
My friend Brigette Breitenbach posted the simplest, most meaningful statement on her Facebook page today. It said simply, “You know it’s a racial slur if it was meant as a racial slur.” Same can be said for sexual inappropriateness. Men can pretend, “I didn’t mean anything by it,” but not one of them would “not mean anything by it” if their wives, mothers or bosses were standing right there.
It doesn’t matter whether the woman you’ve sexually accosted—be it physically, psychologically or verbally—is a shaking mess of protoplasm unable to feed or fend for herself as a result of your misconduct. I, a statuesque warrior goddess with nerves of steel and a wicked right hook, have been made to feel dirty, violated and anxious by an 89-year-old man who thinks it’s cute to feel me up. Next time he does it, ima knock his block off.
To all the warrior goddesses out there, young and old, keep fighting the good fight, and speak up. For every snarky supposition that women are “just doing this for attention or money,” we will answer with the truth, and the truth is that we have been silent, and subjugated, for far too long.
Lastly, to all the men who are foaming at the mouth because they believe some guys have been unjustly accused and punished, it’s called collateral damage. You accept it as a fact of war, and that is when innocent people are actually killed dead. A few men lose their gazillion $ salaries by mistake? That’s the price of building a better society for everyone. As women have been told for centuries, get over it, doll.