One does not have to look very hard in Washington to find sexual harassment. Washington, DC is the epicenter of wealth and power. There is a stereotype that this kind of behavior is exclusive to wealth and power with the practitioners being powerful men.
Feeding the stereotype are the stories we read. President Trump and his long record of sexual harassment, Senators Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart, and the House Page scandal of the 80s all feed into the perception sexual harassment is the go-to sport of Washington, DC.
Sexual harassment of women is not exclusive to the entertainment industry, or to Washington. It happens in every city and village in America. It’s an epidemic. All the news reports may help to stem the rising tide. History has shown, despite being exposed, those who sexually harass only slow down. After the furor dies down, they start their predatory behavior again.
The behavior starts early
I realize this is a political column. Many people are writing today about sexual harassment. Roy Moore and now Senator Al Franken are being shoved down our throats from every direction. I have an opinion on all that, but today I want to talk about being a man and speak to a possible root of the problem.
I don’t believe men start harassing women once they are wealthy, powerful, or both. The pattern starts early. Men are taught to harass women. It’s part male culture in America. Let me violate the Man Rules and tell you how the behavior is transferred from one male to the next.
I can’t speak for all men. I can only speak from my own experience. I don’t think I’ve ever kissed a woman without her permission, and I know why. I was the only male child in my family with two sisters and a strong-willed Mother. My Father was a quiet man and he was a gentleman as well as a gentle-man.
When I was around 14, my Mother and sisters began to regularly deliver the message to me to never try to push myself on a woman. The message was more of a threat. I viewed them both as terrorists and feared them greatly. It was my Father who drove home the point. I remember a conversation we had in the car when I first started being interested in girls.
We were driving in my hometown heading to the local airport. I was 14 and had begun flying lessons. As we traveled in the car, my Dad asked me if I had a girlfriend yet? I told him sort of. At age 14, there are few absolutes. He asked me if I had kissed her. I thought to myself, how does he know? Dads have supernatural powers at times and they can see inside your mind.
Just the weekend before, I had my first passionate kiss. It was a nice girl who lived near my cousin. My Dad continued as my heart was racing in my chest. He asked me if she enjoyed it? This was a new question for me. I had only thought about my reaction and not hers.
I recalled the scene in my mind as I had almost constantly since the kiss had happened. My Father was a patient man. He would sit quietly and wait for you to answer his questions. The silence was awkward in the car. I finally answered him. I told him the girl had lunged at me, kissed me on my lips and pushed her tongue into my mouth. I told him it was like getting shocked but in a good way.
I will never forget his reaction and his next words. Those words have guided me all my life. He said, “That’s good. It shows she wanted to kiss you. I want you to remember this: never force your intentions on a woman. If she tells you no, it means no, and not yes. When you hear no, back off and apologize.”
Let me break the Man Rules and share with you what men learn from puberty forward. The common lie men tell each other is that “She really wants it. She’s just being coy. No means yes.” Here’s where the problem comes in. Men will hear no, and continue, and continue, and continue until the woman gives up and submits. In man rules that is proof that no means yes.
Fathers, talk to your sons
It wasn’t the threats of my sisters, or the attempts to instill fear in my psyche from my Mother and sister that taught me to show respect. It was the calm words from my gentle Father that hammered home a message that has stayed with me all my days.
Absent my Father’s words, I probably would have learned my dating etiquette from my peers. When I think back on some of the guy-talk I was party to in my youth, it scares me. In addition to the widespread belief that no means yes, my peers would ask if they knew where we could get something called “Spanish Fly.” Supposedly it was made from the powder of some fly from Spain. It was supposed to make women sex-crazed and willing.
If Spanish Fly does exist, I seriously doubt it has the effects advertised by the young men of Kankakee High School in 1966. It is significant that even then, the idea of drug-induced date-rape was not a taboo. Trying to get girls drunk served the same purpose.
I didn’t fall for any of that because of my Father’s words. Fathers have great power over their sons. Too many men are uncomfortable having those kinds of discussions with their sons. It shows in the behavior of men today. Of course, those fathers who believe no means yes could be perpetuating the problem. No means yes is not a message we need to pass to the next generation.
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