Philip Arabome is a journalism major at Texas Tech University Lubbock, Texas and my guest writer on today’s blog. He’s taking on the trending issue of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, especially as it relates to big names in the media and entertainment industry crumbling like a pack of cards. I’m particularly glad to get a male perspective on the hottest topic of the moment.
Sensitive issues will be discussed. Reader discretion is advised.
As a junior in college, I attended a feminist rally. My reasoning was simple (and in bad faith): there was a persuasive, attractive young woman, the chairman of the board, who spoke with conviction about her steadfast dedication to feminism and women’s empowerment. Male allies were always welcome, especially in a culture that had women swimming alone when it came to talk about sexual abuse.
It had come to my attention that women might have a point.
Within months, I joined the feminist organization. As is my life’s passion, I had a desire to discover the truth: are women right? How pernicious was sexual abuse – assault, battery, harassment – in the daily lives of women? How valid was men’s reflexive defense against these accusations?
I dove in headfirst. I listened to numerous stories about sexual abuse. I read firsthand accounts by survivors. I asked myself, perplexed, why people would defend what couldn’t be an invented rape story. These girls must have vibrant imaginations, I thought to myself, or they’re not lying.
As I leaned in further, I, too, sided with the latter.
As the “MeToo” movement aims to steamroll the patriarchy by uncovering the inconvenient truth of sexual violence against women, titans of the glass ceiling have crumbled under its wheels. From Hollywood financial tycoon Harvey Weinstein to NBC News icon and Today mainstay Matt Lauer, men of considerable power have been uncovered. It has touched politics: Roy Moore, an ex-judge in Alabama who plays to an evangelical audience, is bombarded with accusations dating back to the 1970s, from women who were as young as 14, which could derail his senatorial bid this month. It has unraveled in entertainment: everyman Louis C.K., a comedic superstar with a considerable television profile, has been discovered to be a serial public masturbator and sexual predator. It even has made its home in alternative journalism: Vice magazine has been called out for the wide-ranging sexual power its superiors have held over their female subordinates.
It doesn’t have to be a man of note for it to be a distinctly male, power-based problem. It doesn’t have to specifically involve sexual power for it to be an issue: for generations abound, men have asserted their privilege and supremacy over women, rendering them docile or servile, never to challenge the power structure for fear of lack of respect or, worse, harm. The commercialization of post-World War II America was built on the myth of the pleasurable, amenable female partner-cum-servant, responsible for domestic production of both progeny and nutrition.
The voice of women strengthened with the rise of feminism in the 1960s and ‘70s. While the first wave, spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, concerned basic rights, such as self-determination and suffrage, the second called for a distinct and independent womanhood, not forged from standards ascribed to them by the marketing machine but of their own creation. This spirit carried young women from the universities, diploma in hand, to the workforce, eager to conquer the establishment and derive autonomy for themselves. That go-getter attitude is retained by most modern Western women, which has led to most campuses being majority-female.
However, it has remained as clear that women’s presence in the marketplace has not fully been recompensed with the requisite financial or social confidence. They are the secretaries and clerks; human resources managers; teachers and clerks; social media managers; vice presidents; and television personalities –their unique talents continue to be dictated by a masculinity that enforces the cultural borders, polices their tone, ascribes likeability and viability based on physical attractiveness and belittles their effort using terms both subtle and explicit. In short, women are in the workforce but not of it. There is a reason women earn 77 cents to a man’s American dollar: they are still playing from behind, confined to positions that both reduce their optimum value as performers in the marketplace and reinforce their value as docile, servile, quiet.
Equally as devastating for women is the culture that pits them 10 feet behind their male counterparts from the beginning. Not to speak of specific gender roles – despite the future personality quirks a child will acquire over time – but young girls are instructed to emphasize their personal looks (for the glory and desire of boys and men); not emphasize their personal looks (for the glory and desire of boys and men); never seem bothered by churlish male behavior; speak softly; and tacitly accept their role as the Gentle Gender, despite what their true personality belies. (For some at home, this may explain the current crisis with regard to understanding gender constructs, including LGBT sympathies.)
Men and boys, on the other hand, are welcome to be rambunctious and lawless. When adjusted for privilege (i.e. white) and power (e.g. fraternity member), the rules are off. Life is good; beer and drugs are great; sleeping with multiple women is a prime goal. I think back to an experiment done by a woman in New York a few years ago, in which she videotaped herself being “catcalled” – public, unsolicited verbal admiration of her body – by various men as she walked down the street. She wore nothing garish, nor did she attempt to draw any attention from the men she walked past (besides her existence, as if she was a piece of meat destined to be caught with a good punchline). For men, women exist in a limited space – to be docile (attractive, quiet, sexually pursued yet “pure,” “fun” yet noninvasive) and servile (sex upon request, hushed tones, accepting, motherlike, obedient). Best described by a former ESPN employee in a novel about her profession in the late 1980s: “We were supposed to look fun and f–kable.”
A woman who crosses these lines? Bitch. Slut. Shrill. She is reduced to an “emotional” person, insubordinate to the male-based rules of engagement. For this very reason, women often reduce themselves around more aggressive men, so as not to cross their hairs.
Which leads to tacit acceptance of problematic male norms.
Why do men rape?
The question comes across each time we learn about a publicized incident of sexual violence. Why would Brock Turner feel the need to violate a woman’s personal space, utilizing her incapacitation via alcohol, to fulfill and impose his personal pleasure without her clear-headed consent?
What about Bill Cosby? Weinstein? Patrick Kane or Derrick Rose or Ben Roethlisberger? The Baylor University football team? Duke University’s lacrosse program in 2006?
The game of cat-and-mouse following a prominent rape case always follows the same path:
- Public figure accused of sexual assault
- If beloved, public attempts to mitigate their disappointment by either victim-blaming, postponing judgment until formal conviction or outright denial
- If not beloved, public attempts to mitigate their surprise by the same as choice 2
Men are raised to believe they are invincible and immune to most things, including but not limited to: the law; death; destruction; bias; reason; emotion; violence; pain; suffering; and, especially, a woman’s rejection of their sexual or romantic advances. Every young Romeo in grade school was convinced he could “pull” as many of his female classmates as possible, which was reinforced by cultural and social myths in mass media, including music and television. The notion of the “alpha male” – a man who has reached personal, communal and (especially) sexual nirvana – became the fortress for which cultures were built upon. Libertarianism, for example, garnered followers with a promise of the total fulfillment of the American national fable: pure, rugged freedom. (It’s no surprise that 69 percent of its adherents are male and 95 percent are white.)
We begin to fuel the laggards among us with narratives – the infamous “nice guy” label comes to mind – which reduces certain unworthy men to beta status, perennially fruitless in traditionally hyper-aggressive dealings with women. A man who cannot hunt won’t eat, and the game is the seduction of the opposite sex. Countless numbers of men have confided in me their inability to “get laid” has reduced their self-confidence and terrorized their mind with fears of incompetence, impotence or outright bad luck. The toxic stew of cookie-cutter masculinity continues to drive men’s hostile attitudes toward women, a reductive hot-or-not passion play which derives negativity from both parties. How has Tinder worked out so well? You understand.
Am I suggesting all men who think like this rape? No. Sexual abuse and general female discomfort does not require clothing to be removed or appendages to be fondled; it is quietly approved with simple, presumably amicable gestures, such as hugs or shoulder-touching. There’s a reason H.R. departments are vigilant in policing physical contact in the workplace: the complete comfort and safety of employees, especially women, should be paramount. Cutting the small stuff can (should) mitigate larger physical problems. Yet they still happen, even beyond the boardroom.
I return to the notion of consent. Since men have been guarded without a leash for generations, there is an intrinsic desire to plot out methods of “getting laid,” which can border on criminal. Obfuscating the presumptive no – generally, by drinking copious amounts of alcohol, a staple of fraternity events – is a half-baked method of achieving the final goal while only feeling partially guilty about it. With greater university resources, such as Title IX, dedicated to combating sexual violence, it’s become a sport – trying to become more discreet without placing a spotlight on their sin.
Relative to this is my experience with women and their self-protection. Mace or pepper spray is a staple in any young woman’s purse. Headphones have become a discreet signal for disinterest in communicating with others, especially in large cities. In more abrasive situations, popular with conservatives and families, firearms usage is becoming more common. The amount of self-defense tools for women – and that’s after being told what to wear, how to walk and how not to draw unfavorable male attention – is contradictory to what little regulations are held by men.
That’s a problem. It fosters entitlement. An undesirable situation should not result in sexual violence; when men’s and boys’ more pitiless methods of courtship are normalized, women’s bodily and social autonomy is reduced – that’s as much of an economic issue as it is a social issue.
In modern feminism, there has been a push to be more vocal about what you can do with a partner, even for basic actions such as kissing. In our earlier years, this had to be implied (pretty heavily) and often was not for fear of rejection – again, rejection being the ultimate symbol of incompetence. Reverence for the right for one to exist, with full consent of contact and interaction, should be cherished and honored. For men to consistently miss the point, or (worse) belabor it, is to reinforce the culture of privilege and unchecked authority men have held over women for time eternal.
The culture that created Cosby, Weinstein, Moore, Lauer, Trump, me and you dates back farther than you imagine. The patriarchy evolves with time and season, reflecting itself in another botched H.R. case or a publicly litigated “false rape” claim. Heterosexual men consistently place their selfish sexual desires toward women over all other factors (even their careers), fueled by a society that claims women are equal but consistently behaves contrarily. This extends past assailants and into the hands of friends, allies and even women – a culture that must be deconstructed and unlearned, while alternatives are taught to future generations.
The question, of course, is if men will finally listen.
Guest written by Philip O. Arabome * Twitter: @PhilipArabome