COLUMN: The Human Condition

All sexual harassment isn’t created equal

If you hate all men, move along; there’s nothing to see here.

I was born and raised in a male-dominated, military family in rural and sparsely populated northern Minnesota. My mom was a ‘single’ (sort of), working mother before it was trendy or generally became the utmost necessity. My father was deployed overseas with the Army.

As a result, my siblings and I were left largely unsupervised, and my being the youngest and the only female, don’t think predators didn’t notice. The memory of my sexual abuse begins at age 3 and escalated from there, including physical and psychological abuse and torture. Once that lack of supervision existed, it was open season for mom’s ‘guy friends,’ friends of the family and even if I walked home alone from Sunday school. I was gang-raped before age 5.

I just hit the high points enough here to make folks understand why I hate all men… Except I don’t, and if I don’t, I generally feel nobody else has the right to hate them all, either.

I’ve had two jobs eliminated for reporting sexual harassment. Both times I reminded myself that Anita Hill – a well-spoken, intelligent, unemotional and educated woman – got her ass handed to her, so I didn’t stand a chance.

Ironically, both times, the corporate leadership where I worked was female; so were the client-consumer-customer bases.

I am riveted to the #MeToo movement. I am hopeful this is a turning point in raising awareness that we are not something to be preyed upon for the amusement or pleasure of powerful men.

There is overwhelming evidence in the cases of so many of the accused. You know the names, so I won’t waste space listing them here, but these were men in positions of power: men who could offer jobs, grant raises and promotions, or take them away. They have the money to ruin reputations and careers. They held the livelihoods and futures of #MeToo in their hands.

Then there is Al Franken.

Franken is a completely different animal. He is a comedian, a field which – since Shakespeare’s time and before – relies a lot on being raunchy. That famous photo on the airplane is less damning than it is exonerating. There were shadows under his hands, so he clearly was not touching Leeann Tweedon, there was a photographer in the room witnessing it, and if he had been caught in the act, his expression would have been OH, [EXPLETIVE DELETED], not the clearly posed, ‘Hey! Get this on film!’ expression that is seen. It was meant to be funny and is a good representation of how men and women generally don’t share the same sense of humor.

In addition, I haven’t found a single document indicating that he was in a position of power over his accusers, and I’m not seeing the intent to humiliate/alarm/frighten/harass/etc. In my opinion, that photo is evidence that adult human beings can be immature, obnoxious dip*****, and NO gender/identity has cornered the market on THAT, trust me. If a woman said, “Franken, are you seriously grabbing my [backside] right now with my husband standing right there?” It would have been a teachable moment, albeit a possibly painful one for him, and the behavior likely would not have been repeated.

What bothers me about #MeToo is how many women I’m hearing telling men to shut up, as if they aren’t part of the conversation, part of the problem and, therefore, will have to be part of any reasonably effective solution.

Without discourse – and it might get ugly at times, nothing will be resolved. As someone who may be accused – justly or not, and as someone who may desire peace in the workplace and public (maybe even home), you have not just a right, but an obligation to share your experiences and perspectives. At some point, everyone’s been powerless over something, so saying that you don’t know what it’s like to be powerless as a woman is ridiculous. It’s like saying you can’t empathize with a rape victim or someone who’s lost a spouse or child because you’ve not had that experience.

Powerlessness is a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling, regardless of gender or situation.

It is debilitating to dread having to walk into a hostile environment, especially when you have no choice but to pay the bills; the sleeplessness, depression, despair and anxiety can be crippling. And the lower-paying the job, the more likely a woman is to be victimized and stay quiet about it because she’s a paycheck away from the streets.

Conversely, women have forever gotten away with malicious prosecution, telling the courts their baby daddies are molesting the kids because they are in a new relationship and want the child support but don’t want daddy having visitation. That hurts children, hurts men, backlogs the system and dilutes empathy.

How do we protect our sons, our husbands, our brothers? Even if there’s no evidence, they are put in the position of having to mount a defense, and their reputations are forever in question.

We’re in a situation where guys can’t tell a woman her dress is pretty without worrying they will wind up fired and in the news. I’m seeing little of anything that resembles due process. Further, I’m imagining an environment where men aren’t going to risk asking women out, so women will be taking anti-depressants because they can’t seem to get a date.

Men are on the verge of becoming the biggest victims of all, and maybe it’s just their turn, but two wrongs…

All sexually inappropriate jokes and behavior aren’t created equally; men have to learn not to practice presumed familiarity, and women need to learn early on some tools to empower them to check that inappropriate behavior when it occurs – no matter how awkward and without reprisal – and eliminate the lion’s share of this victimization.

Martha E. Conway is publisher of www.MadisonCountyCourier.com.

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