It is impossible to say too often or loudly how important a moment this is, when many women feel brave and empowered enough to speak up about being sexually assaulted or harassed by powerful men.
It feels like a watershed, like something is fundamentally shifting.
But the greatest measure of fundamental change will be when everyday offenses by everyday people are also named and shamed, the trickle down of speaking up.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
For most women, the perpetrator is not a Hollywood executive, or a sitting senator or an esteemed journalist. For most, there will be no news conferences if they come forward. There will be no celebrity attorney to sit at their sides and stroke their hands. There will be no morning news shows to praise their courage.
For most, the decision to speak up will still feel fraught and without sufficient benefit to outweigh the possibility of negative repercussions.
That is where the majority of this battle must be waged, among the ordinary, the powerless, the invisible. These women (and some men as well, it must always be noted) are the true Silent Majority of victims.
Speaking up, and even pressing charges when the law allows, will send a powerful message and will definitely have a chilling effect on this kind of behavior. Loss of livelihood and liberty after bad behavior is a strong deterrent.
But I believe that something far more fundamental has to take place. We have to re-examine our toxic, privileged, encroaching masculinity itself. And yes, that also means on some level re-imagining the rules of attraction.
First, let’s state the obvious.
I’m a big believer in sexual liberty. Consenting adults should feel free to express their attractions as they please without shame or guilt. Just play safe.
But, there is no “sex” without consent. To believe that is a twisting of terminology.
Rape is not sex; it’s rape. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault. Sexual advances in a professional environment, particularly from a position of power, are highly inappropriate and could be illegal.
Also in business environments, rubbing your penis against people – known as frotteurism, in case you’re wondering – masturbating in front of them, or even showing your penis is wrong and humiliating and possibly illegal. In fact, doing these things in almost all environments is wrong and possibly illegal.
Also, if you make sexual advances on, or become involved sexually with, a minor, that is not a relationship. That is not dating. That is not even sex if it progresses to intimacy. That is a morally despicable sexual exploitation of a minor at least, and statutory rape at worst.
Now that we have established that, we can move to the finer points.
We have to focus on recognizing an imbalance of power during sexual dynamics so that men better understand the implicit “no” even when women don’t feel empowered to articulate a “no.”
We have to focus on that space after attraction is sparked but before we are sure that it is mutual and reciprocal: The unrequited advance, the unwanted touch, the stolen kiss.
We have to focus on the fact that jokes that objectify women are not funny.
And we have to focus on the fact that society itself has incubated and nourished a dangerous idea that almost unbridled male aggression is not only a component of male sexuality, it is the most prized part of it.
We say to boys, be aggressive. We say to our girls, be cautious. Boys will be boys and girls will be victims.
We say, almost without saying it at all, that women are the guardians of virtue because an aroused man is simply an unthinking mass of hormones, raging and dangerous. We say that men in that condition are not really responsible for their actions, so it is up to women to do nothing to put them in that position.
Dress more modestly. Don’t smile or laugh to the degree that it could be taken as flirtation. Avoid “this one” or “that one.” Don’t walk home alone. Don’t go out to drinks or dinner with the co-worker or classmate. Don’t meet in rooms with closed doors.
This is the list of oppressions that women are read with religious rigor. These are the rules of the road. This is the outrage.
Women are not responsible for men’s bad behavior. The idea that horny men can’t control themselves is a lie!
Men have been so conditioned against emotional intelligence – that’s for women, we are told – that they are blithering idiots at reading the subtleties of allure or aversion.
Guys become gamblers. They simply play the numbers. What nine women may find revolting the 10th may reward.
They don’t even recognize what offense the nine may have experienced. They are blind to it. In the male mind, any peccadillo is excusable in the pursuit of compatibility.
This kind of bulldozer, pelvis-first mentality is the foundation of the more aggressive, more intrusive behavior, and until we recognize that, we will count on the courts to correct something that our culture should correct.