I’m one of the idiot men in the age of #MeToo.
It gives me no pleasure to write these words and I am not writing them because I have ever sexually harassed anyone – male or female.
Instead I am confessing because it hasn’t been until recently that:
- I realized the line where one goes from being a flirt to being a harasser remains surprisingly UNCLEAR to MOST MEN – straight or gay, young or old.
- I realized fully what it meant to be sexually harassed even a single time in the trajectory of one’s life.
- I realized why it’s vitally urgent to in some way go out of your comfort zone to call out such behavior even if you don’t like or know the people –- or — most especially — if you do.
The vast majority of we men don’t fully get it. I had my first clue many months ago when the revelations came out against people in the industry like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. I’d heard stories and been in the presence of both at parties over the years and witnessed their behavior up close. Phony and full of themselves, a bit charming, a bit sleazy, a dollop creepy and 100% seeming to not be beyond using their positions of power to get, um sex – yeah. But rape, forced ________ and actually violating the bodies of underage victims?
Okay, the truth is I probably would’ve said, uh, YUK, gone into denial, changed the subject and then later proclaimed rape was…highly unlikely. I seriously doubt THAT. I mean, no one I know or have met in the business is capable of going….there.
If pressed further I’d also rationalize that – gay or straight – there was a difference between coming on to someone a little aggressively but then finally backing off — and rape. Then I might have thought or said, okay, it is an assault when you’re aggressive after someone says stop and you don’t. If you don’t stop when someone says nothing but they’re standing or lying there frozen, well….I’d reply –
I don’t know. I wasn’t there. You know I ‘m usually on the side of the victim, anyway!!! I hate those types of guys!! Why are we talking about this??
Because these days we have to talk about it – relentlessly. These days we are ALL lay cops. And lay lawyers. In absentia of a justice and legal system that properly does its job we all need to get involved in some fashion. Hopefully, it won’t always be that way. But for right now, well, don’t count on it.
This began to become sharply apparent watching the reaction of the male members of the Republican Judiciary Committee these last few weeks when accusations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford surfaced against Judge Brett Kavanaugh days before he was to be voted on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The short story is when Dr. Ford was 15 and Judge Kavanaugh was 17 he got drunk at a party, lured her in a private room with another boy, pushed himself on top of her on the bed and began trying to assault/rape her while removing her bathing suit. She screamed, he put his hand over her mouth to silence her but finally she got away and/or he stopped.
The other boy in the room claims to have no memory of the event. Committee member Orin Hatch stated Dr. Ford was mixed up. Judge Kavanaugh responded it never happened.
So who to believe?
Before you answer, let me confess it made me think of a few things. The first was this time when I was 16 and I went into this higher end men’s store in Queens I’d previously gone to in order to buy a hip Nik-Nik shirt for a dance. It was the 70s and I was excited because I’d already bought 3 inch platform shoes that would make the diminutive me feel more like a stud. Yeah, short guys think that way. Or at least they DID.
Anyway, this slightly balding guy with a moustache is very nice, waits on me, helps me pick out some shirts, blah, blah, blah. It’s after school, I’m nervous, he tries to help me make a decision and in the dressing room, before I know it, he has his hand under my shirt and starts rubbing my chest, breathing too close me, saying I don’t seem so small.
Well, I freak, he relents and that was that. Until I tell my Mom, she drags me down to the store and confronts them, and the owner says ‘Okay, I’ll talk to him, but it’s surprising because he’s married.’
I remember thinking, um, well, it happened but now I’m so embarrassed I want to die, just crawl into the floor. Why did we have to come back here anyway and now I can never come in this store again and I hope I never see any of these people on the street. I’m such an idiot.
Oh, and I bet that guy knew I was secretly attracted to men and that’s why he attacked me. I’m pathetic.
It would be five years later when I finally came to terms with being gay and to this day I sometimes think, could I have given the guy a look that said it was okay to do this? Ugh, no yuk, he was soooo not my type. I NEVER would have. Then again, maybe it happened and I couldn’t control how I looked at him. To which I still inaudibly respond, That’s impossible! I’d never do that! And even if I did, I had just turned 16 and probably looked 15 and had the sexual experience of someone 12 or 13 – what was this guy in his early 30s thinking????
The same thing the straight married guy I worked with at the neighborhood stationery store used to think when he continuously grilled me about girls I was dating, implied I was gay and then proceeded to hug me too tight for 30 seconds or a minute at a time, pressing his body up against my backside.
No, I never told anyone. Until now. I’m not sure what I would have said. I’m not sure what else to write at this moment. I only know it happened 40 plus years ago and I still think about it.
I began thinking about these TWO episodes – which never felt quite traumatizing but periodically bothered me over the years, after attending a screening of the indie movie Eighth Grade last month. In it, a 13 year old girl is mentored by a high school senior and is being driven home by one of her friends who maneuvered to have the eighth grader be the last of the group he drops off on the way home.
The older boy has gone out of his way to be nice to said eighth grader and once they’re alone he stops his car and goes into the back seat with her where they just talk and hang out. She feels sort of cool, also excited and yet uncomfortable. But then he begins to make moves like taking off his shirt, her shirt, going in for a kiss and…Well, why spoil it. She eventually admonishes him to stop, then demands it and finally, well….he doesn’t like it, says a few things she’ll probably never forget and it doesn’t go much further.
This was an important pivotal scene in a 2018 coming-of-age dramedy that I was confident all six of the ultra-liberal Democratic gay friends also in attendance could agree was one of the creepiest things we’d ever seen. I mean, who wouldn’t think this high school senior was totally wrong to do this to an inexperienced 13 year old he manipulated into being all alone with in a car he drove – a girl who was innocent and had barely hit puberty herself?
So you can imagine my shock when TWO of the SIX guys told me I was overreacting, that there was nothing wrong with what this boy did or tried to do to this girl in his dark car with the doors locked on a deserted road, and that this is the way teenagers are.
When I tried to argue this girl would be traumatized the rest of her life by that incident somewhere in her soul I was told by each of them they’d gone through or witnessed similar or worse. It was a big so what. That’s what adolescence is all about.
Days went by and I wondered, what the hell is wrong with them? How can people I know and respect even begin to think that way? Did I misread something, aside from what I believed to be their value systems? Then I began to consider, well, maybe I just had less experience as a teenager and this is the way it was for a lot of people and who am I to judge.
I continued to feel that way until the Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh debate began to surface and once again people began to take sides while we all fight it out on social media and in our minds, with all the memories they entail.
Over the last 36 years Dr. Blasey Ford told just a therapist, her husband and some close friends about her incident with the boy who would be Judge. But now that he was about to be a key vote in the highest court of the land on any number of issues affecting women, not to mention all of us, she felt it her civic duty to come forward and tell the truth to the world in an effort to shed some light in some dark spaces none of us like to go.
When I first heard her story I remember thinking, this can never be proven, this will be nowhere with teenagers – who will care. And then I saw the photos of them at that age.
Brett had the same hair and dorky coat and tie I wore when I was his age and Christine looked like several girls I went to school with.
And then I wondered, how long did it take for her to truly accept what really happened? And then I began to surmise how much can a 17 year old guy with the same type hair, coat and tie as I (and he) once had willingly forget, block out or even deny of his intimate teen years in order to survive?
Quite a lot, I would say, based on all of our memories. Which not only include the times when people took liberties but also random TV sound bites over the decades. Like the one in 1991 when Anita Hill was testifying about the harassment she received when she worked for about to be confirmed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and was asked this single question by a very middle-aged and very, very white, stern-eyed Senator Hal Heflin (R-AL):
Are you a scorned woman?????
To which Ms. Hill demurely shook her hand and barely audibly whispered:
It was an answer to a question that should have never been asked in an 1891 court and an answer that was to be disbelieved by the only majority that legally mattered – the Senate Judiciary committee of all White men – in 1991.
This is why Clarence Thomas still sits on the bench some 27 years later.
It is also why we must all now leave our comfort zones and try to see the world from the side of those who have been in any way, shape or form harassed, intimidated or violated.
Provable or not, and no matter how buried, those memories will NEVER go away. But to talk about it, as most experts advise, creates a hornet’s nest of hearsay and makes it all almost seem worse.
Though perhaps the correct word is HERESY. At least when it comes from someone who claims to have been victimized by a man either in power, or related to those who want him to be for their own selfish benefits.