It looks like 2017 is The Year of the Letch.
Or maybe, more accurately, The Year of Finally Talking About The Letch.
Make that The Letches. Plural. Or, The Year of the Sexual Harassers and Abusers.
Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, John Conyers, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Garrison Keillor, Bill O’Reilly and more. Retroactively, Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas.
Powerful men sexually harassing and abusing women in their orbit isn’t new.
The public revelations and the public consequences — firings, canceled projects — that’s the new bit. People who have been victimized are speaking up, and it’s having an effect.
I’m excluding Trump from this list of consequences, of course. It can go one of two ways: Talk about sexually assaulting women, be accused by women of assault and you’ll be fired — or become President.
Reading the accounts of the harassment, abuse and/or assault, a couple themes recur:
Unless you work at a nudist resort, pants are not optional. Why would anyone ever think showing up surprise naked in a work setting, or even a social setting, is ok?
But at its root, this seems to boil down to a simple “I want it” — never mind the ‘it’ is a person.
Where does this attitude come from? The perpetrator’s self-aggrandizement that tells him of course she wants him, or the self-absorption that never considers it even a question?
A culture that equates masculinity with taking what you want? An environment of constant immediate gratification? The idea that women are simply waiting, and wanting, to be chosen by a man?
I teach college students, and I worry about them entering today’s world. Many, maybe most, have experienced some of this toxicity in high school (if not before). But I don’t want them to be frightened off from their career goals, or to expect that every guy they encounter is suspect or waiting to pounce, because they’re not.
And I want these young women and men to understand that sometimes, jerks are just jerks. But how do you explain that without it sounding like a dismissal of real life sexual harassment, abuse and pervasive underestimation of women?
How do you talk about the wave of revelations without re-traumatizing women who have been victimized? How do you talk about respecting half of the human race without needing to make them valuable only because they’re somebody’s daughter, mother, sister, aunt?
Or that men will be boys, and we all know boys can’t control themselves — so women need to cover up or stay at a safe distance away.