With the latest charge of sexual harassment involving a mega-personality like Joe Biden, these accusations have become so ubiquitous as to become blasé. That’s not a good sign.
What do these countless charges mean about us, the male sex? Perhaps this latest incident should allow us to think about our attitude toward women. Do we still see them as sex objects? The oft-occurring accusations of sexual harassment coming from women should give us — the men — an opportunity to rethink sexual politics.
Fifty years ago, Kate Millet wrote “Sexual Politics,” in which she discussed male-female desire in English and American literature. As such, the term “sexual politics” came to mean sexual relationships between men and women, seen from the women’s perspective.
Around the same time, an English academic, Germaine Greer, published “The Female Eunuch,” asserting that women should be just as proactive as men in heterosexual relationships. Her book brought sex out of literary criticism and into the open: Sex had become a part of public polity. In other words, sexual politics became an established mode of examining societal relationships.
Today, the #MeToo movement has taken sexual politics to another level, shifting the focus from sex as women’s right to sexual harassment demanding justice. Since the demand for justice implies inequality, we need to ask, “Equality of what?” And therein lies a whole gamut of cultural, moral and political biases that we men tend to sweep under the carpet.
I am a man in my 70s and have tended to defend my male friends regarding charges of sexual harassment. Recently, however, I’ve realized that my growing up as a hippie in the 1970s influenced my views about sex. Sex in those days was open and free. Or was it? We never questioned our or women’s right to have sex — but never asked the women what they felt about sexual freedom and whether the permissiveness imposed on them didn’t allow them to say no.
What I have said so far pertains to my generation. I have not detected this gender-bias about sex in the next. Ever since their teenage years, there was no indication of sexual tension between my three daughters and their male friends. They are far more candid about their views, and gender-equality is normal, at least as far as sex is concerned.
Still, sexual assaults are happening. It is obvious that young, college-going people are concerned: 66,000 college students voluntarily participated in a nationwide study on sexual assault. It’s time their fathers also do.
So, when charges of sexual harassment flare up, I think men, especially of our generation, should take the time to pause, think and self-reflect. Only then will we learn to show genuine respect for women.
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One fine body…