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Above: Screen grab from a YouTube video of the 2018 Golden Globes on NBC.

There are so many ways to be angry at Trump, and his minions, and Congressional Republicans who enable the horror that plays out daily on the news. A new offense every damn day! I spent 2017 repelled and transfixed in unison. But I was particularly offended when Trump’s Chief of Staff, former General John F. Kelly, complained that women used to be sacred when he grew up.

He said that while falsely attacking a woman—U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson. He called her “an empty barrel,” but next day, he couldn’t even muster the honor to apologize when a video revealed his lie:

I get it, General: you’re the empty barrel. You mean sacred like that muscle car worshipped in the garage, or like that rare antique so proudly shown off to company. Like the new trophy wife. Sacred, as in: your cherished property.

Women really were sacred once, in prehistory when the miracle of pregnancy and birth made them holy. I could argue that it still should. But the religions that revered women then are now shame-labeled as “fertility cults.” Ironic, considering the Bible’s own “be fruitful and multiply” command.

Consider: the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran were written by men. No accident that the three religions those books inform—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—are all patriarchal. Men-in-charge religion coalesced in tandem with the concept of might-makes-right and the need to protect stored food from theft—a development that massively scaled the concept of property.

In general, men are physically bigger and stronger than women. Join that to patriarchy and soon enough, the miracles of pregnancy and birth came to be considered property. The property of men. How else to control your male line of succession, and be certain that the boy who inherits your property is in fact your son? Easy: lock the women away. Sometimes literally, but always figuratively.

How little some things change, even over millennia. General Kelly and I were born one year apart; we grew up in the same world, so I know that he spoke bullshit. The attitude toward women that we both watched the Sixties try to change was that they were inadequate. Subject to the will of men. Their inferiority was scripture to the patriarchy. The poor things, they couldn’t do science or math. The job skills they really needed were typing and cooking. Executives just knew that women couldn’t hold their own in the corporate boardroom. Imagine it: the owners of raging insecurities and fragile male egos complaining that women have moods!

Everyone of a certain age—that is to say, my and Kelly’s age—remembers that the old-school “conventional wisdom” about gender had women belonging in the kitchen or in the bedroom. A thirty-something who I worked with in 1980 uttered an emblematic quote: “The only decision women should make is what to cook for dinner.” Well, it was spoken in northern Idaho, but still…

That attitude should have died during the same years that Harvey Weinstein claims it was OK for powerful men to harass vulnerable women. No, sir, it was never OK.

The Weinstein story that actress Lupita Nyong’o tells is chilling: he invited her to his home on a family movie night and then pulled her out of the screening room mid-flick to make his moves—knowing that all other possible witnesses (his family, no less) were otherwise occupied and sealed off in a soundproof room. The details of his assault are a horror movie acted out in real life.

It brings to mind Saturday Night Live’s skewering of Ted Kennedy—with him advising SCOTUS candidate Clarence Thomas how easily one can trap women while on a boat (as Kennedy had), because “it’s really hard for them to get away.”

Plenty of laughs as Kennedy and his scuzzy Senate cohorts brag about their most successful strategies to harass women. One of comedy’s jobs is to shine a light on horror and misery by calling it out directly. I’m amazed that I can laugh at my gender and be ashamed of it at the same time. Ditto my government, then and now.

Kennedy did acknowledge that his checkered personal history with women had effectively silenced him during the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings, in a speech shortly after they ended:

“I am painfully aware that the criticism directed at me in recent months involves far more than honest disagreement with my positions, or the usual criticism from the far right. It also involves the disappointment of friends and many others who rely on me to fight the good fight.”

It’s time for my confession. As a young man, I could be… persistent on dates. What a euphemism! I would grope and she would push away. The “no” was unspoken, so I’d back off briefly and start again. And on occasion, I would exhaust her resistance.

I’ve been told that is rape. Today I can see the logic behind that opinion. I never thought I was a rapist, but I did those things. I am sorry.

This is not the “free love” culture of the 1960s and 70s that Weinstein argues is his excuse for domination. This is the male id ungoverned. And in truth, “free love” involved a lot more of the male id that many men choose to remember. Weinstein’s excuse about the era he grew up in is really an admission that he rarely chose to control his abusive self. Because of his power, he never needed to. It has way more to do with gender than with an era.

In my twenties, I allowed myself to be led around by my dick—a sometime example of that timeless excuse for bad behavior, “Boys will be boys.”

This behavior starts with our own hormones. Next, our media targets and fans the teen sex drive to make money. And finally, our governing culture—lagging far behind the times—discourages birth control and sex education. But it’s really hard to act Biblical with rock and roll blaring in the background.

Boys will have urges, we can agree. As will men who exited boyhood long ago. The test is what those “boys” do with those urges. Harassment? Stalking? Rape? There are so many legitimate avenues for aggression: Sports. Music. Business. Politics. Video games. Art. Writing!

Of course you could try sex that is actually consensual. But we don’t get much innuendo-free education about sex, and even less about the emotions that come with it. Therein lies the real pity. We can’t really grasp the dynamics of gender politics until we’ve navigated our own blunders. Maybe a lot of blunders. It’s an inefficient way to run a society.

What we need is an attitude adjustment. We men (and we white men especially) must acknowledge that our gender has enjoyed privileges for eons. That won’t be easy. The titles of two stories in the New York Times about men’s acknowledgement of their abuse: Mea Culpa. Kinda Sorta. and Sorry, with disclaimers—or denial are emblematic of the barriers to progress.

Society itself is just as guilty. From an article in The Guardian:

“Girls are raised with a contradictory set of expectations: be kind and acquiescent, but also be the brakes on male sexual desire. We are taught to reflexively say yes except for when we’re supposed to definitively say no, but we don’t learn how to know when we want to say either.”

. . .

“Men aren’t morons, and they know as well as anyone that a woman who is silent, physically stiff, or pulling away is not exactly aflame with desire. But they also know that we are collectively invested in a social script wherein men push to get sex until women acquiesce. And so they push, even when they know it’s unwelcome, because they can.”

How steep is the hill of resistance that we must push this boulder up? This country has a lot of angry men whose greatest wish is for a social time machine. Back to the Fifties! Here’s what that foolishness looks like: one angry fan, unhappy with the “feminist agenda” and “gay Luke Skywalker” claims to have sabotaged The Last Jedi’s popularity score on the movie ratings website Rotten Tomatoes. Spoiler alert: his claim is not a total fantasy.

And a fan edit that is self-titled The Last Jedi: De-Feminized Fanedit (and called The Chauvinist Edit by others) reduces the movie’s running time from two and a half hours to 46 minutes by deleting “…most shots showing female fighters/pilots and female officers commanding people around/having ideas.” This exercise in wounded male psyche, as Slate Magazine puts it, “…shows the incoherence of misogyny.”

Watching the Golden Globes broadcast, with so many women speaking out about their newfound clout—and about recognition of their skills in male-dominated jobs such as directing—I have to hope that this is a moment of real change, of lasting change. Business has certainly responded in the short term, with a string of high-profile firings in response to multiple allegations of sexual harassment. There is progress too in regulating workplace behavior: the influential magazine publisher Condé Nast Crafts Rules to Protect Models From Harassment.

I can see where some men feel threatened. They have always considered their gender privileges to be God-given entitlements. But male privileges are not being taken away. As with civil rights issues, men are asked merely to share them. What we lose is our dominance, and IMO that is not a bad thing.

Not all women are in favor of the future, either, as noted here: Catherine Deneuve and Others Denounce the #MeToo Movement. (Deneuve later reneged on some of her points.) IMO the backlash mirrors a similar problem with Affirmative Action: you cannot erase years of discrimination. Attempts to undo it can seem to be discriminatory themselves. So how do you fix the lingering injustice of someone else’s sins?

Allow me mansplain it!

You start somewhere, anywhere, and build on that. Influential men are speaking up now, and that is a start for men. I liked this particular article, written by former California Speaker of the House and former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, in the San Francisco Chronicle: America’s mistreatment of women doesn’t stop with Charlie Rose.

What can you or I do? Revolutions may begin with grand actions during desperate situations, but they survive only when people change their small actions in ordinary situations. Take a look at your daily life and consider where you might be acting from an antiquated point of view.

FOR YOUR REFERENCE…

Has the #MeToo movement gone too far? This article in The Guardian argues: both too far and not far enough.

By Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker: From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories and Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies

This New York Times Op-Ed: We Need Bodice-ripper Sex Ed makes a strong case for the relationship examples offered in romance novels.

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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