January 8, 2018
Dear LoMA Family,
A sea change seems to be finally occurring in the recognition of how rampant, dangerous and immoral sexual harassment is for too many women. There had been times in the past when I thought men were finally getting just how awful it is, but I was wrong. Clarence Thomas was still appointed to the Supreme Court after sexually harassing Anita Hill, and Donald Trump was elected President after bragging about being a sexual predator. Just in the last two months, however, powerful men are paying the price for their unacceptable behavior. The list of actors, politicians, business executives and newscasters who have been publicly shamed and fired is astounding. I hope that is a warning to all men that such behavior can never be tolerated. The reality, however, is that it is not just the famous and rich who are sexually predatory; it is something that far too many women have to deal with.
Just to be clear: There is no “sex” without consent. It is called rape is not sex. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it is assault. Sexual advances in a professional environment, particularly from a position of power, are highly inappropriate and when involving a minor are illegal. In fact, the power differential between an adult man and minor creates a sexually exploitive situation that is nearly always illegal.
It is that power differential that is creating such problems for many woman and some men. It has been reinforced in our culture which validates powerful, aggressive men and teaches women to be passive and careful. Most religions are built around the concept of protecting women’s chastity from uncontrollable male urges. Fundamental Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism all have had rules about how a women should dress and act around men lest they arouse they animal nature in men.
I felt how messy this situation has become when I had a very awkward, difficult conversation with my niece as I dropped her off at college. I told her that she had to be careful of the men there as I had friends who were victims of date rape. I gave her rules about always making sure she had sober friends with her when she went to parties, to never leave her drinks unwatched on tables lest someone slip her a mickey, to stay on lighted paths at night and I fretted over how she dressed. The more I thought about how some of the men at my college acted, the more I was scared for her.
The injustice is this is that power dynamic between men and women puts this burden to be careful on women. They have to worry about where they go, who they are with, what they wear and what they do in a way that men rarely even consider. Yet, it should be the responsibility of men to ensure that women do not feel intimidated sexually. They need to be aware of how women may feel in certain situations. If they are not sure, they can ask. Finally, they need to be clear that they do not want to hear their male friends talk about women as sexual objects.
This last month has given reason to hope that things are changing. Women are calling out men in power, and for the first time, most men seem to be listening and believing them. Companies and organizations are punishing many famous predators. Now what can we do to fight against all forms of sexual harassment?
Take care of each other,
Below is a conversation between two juniors, one who identifies as a male and the other as female, that they allowed to be transcribed discussing the issues of sex and gender that have reached a head in society. The italicized text with serifs is from a student who identifies as male, the sans-serif text is from a student who identifies as female.
Male: I feel like the taboo of sex in this country has helped to contribute to the issues we have with sexual assault. The country has a very uncomfortable view of ideas relating to sex, which, I think, leads to people being uncomfortable reporting this abuse when it happens.
Female: I think America objectifies women so much that some people feel like it’s fine to be assaulting and touching women.
Male: Yeah, and I also feel like that ties into gender roles too. Like you said, we think of women as such a—we degrade women so much that it makes them feel weakened as if they can’t have a voice to express what just happened—so people just continue to do it.
Female: I see a lot of stories in the media, with cases where the person who committed the assaults don’t really get punished, and it’s more so the victim who gets the blame put on them.
Male: Ms. L taught us that we should move away from using the word “victim” for these types of crimes, and to use “target” instead, because “victim” kind of sounds like it was kind of accidental or someone who just happened to be there, but “target” emphasizes that the actions and the person they were done to was intentional on the part of the criminal.
Female: I think it’s good that people are finally finding the confidence to speak up, because the more you hear these people speak up, it makes other targets feel that they’re not alone, and they find the strength to speak up as well.
Male: One thing that is crazy is you know how they have all of this Hollywood assault charges going on? I don’t understand how so many women can say the same thing about one person, and that one person can just deny it. I mean if fifty people are all saying the same thing, then they probably did it, you know? If it was only one or two, I might be a lot more unsure.
Female: <Laughs> I mean I agree. People want to deny it because they want to preserve their image, but with this many people, it’s over, you know?
Male: People need to just own it and say I goofed, I messed up, and ask if I can please be forgiven.
Female: No, just because someone says they were wrong doesn’t mean they should automatically be forgiven. Just because some people are strong enough to forgive doesn’t mean that these criminals all get the right to ask for forgiveness, because their actions stay with the target forever you know?
Male: Ah, I get you.
Female: I feel like there’s not much that the “good men” can do that can cause a big change in this problem, because the act has been accepted and allowed so much throughout the years or whatever, that it’s just, I don’t know, like ingrained in people’s heads. Even if they believe that it’s wrong, there’s still a type of…
Male: ...like brushing it off? Even though they know it’s bad, they can dismiss it? I also don’t know what we as men could do. When I hear other men talk in this way about women, in what is called “locker room talk” or whatever. It makes me uncomfortable, because the way they talk about women is just like, not right, because they’re talking about them like they’re toys, like this one’s good, that one’s bad. And it makes me feel weird, because if they said it to the women’s face, they know that would hurt them, they know it would be negative. So it’s just like cowardly, you know?
Female: I don’t think we can normalize this kind of talk, because it perpetuates the idea that it’s ok, when you can back it up with the locker room talk excuse. It makes it seem ok to objectify women and to talk about them in that way. Men need to step up and say that shit is not cool when they hear that kind of talk, you shouldn’t be talking about women in this way at all. It shouldn’t matter if you wouldn’t say it to their face. You shouldn’t be saying it at all.
Male: I totally agree with that, because it’s just the right thing to do. It’s very hard because of everyone else having that mentality, and I feel like I can’t change everyone else’s opinion about it, but I guess the more I try, the more I keep talking about it. Hopefully people will start to understand and start to change their viewpoints about women.