So many contemporary issues, so how am I to choose?
This week, I’ve decided to review a topic I’ve written about before: sexual harassment and assault. I will let you know upfront that I am not being politically correct. I’m calling it as I see it.
Since I was 10 or 11 — and I was short and skinny then — until even last year, I’ve been hit on. My list includes men who were in positions of authority and examples range from a hand on my upper thigh under a table to an outright proposition. As a young kid, I ran to get out of harm’s way. As an adult, I’ve used the power of my confidence, my voice, and my outrage to escape.
One of the reasons I’ve chosen this topic is that a friend expressed to me this week that she believes the Weinstein debacle is going to have a serious and long-lasting impact throughout this country. I disagree, and I’d like to present my rationale.
One: As a nation, our attention to any event, however horrendous, is short-lived. We cry one week, and it’s something else the next week as the event of that particular moment recedes into the background, into some remote area of our brains. Perhaps this is one of the ways we cope with an insane world.
Two: With the frequency of sexual harassment and assault, there are more Americans involved than we would like to admit. Our fathers? Our brothers? Our spouses? Since many men are guilty of harassment/assault, they fear that if what is now a secret becomes more public, their behaviors will be exposed.
Three: When some women say it’s never happened to them, are they being disingenuous or is it they want to forget it, not allow the offender to have control over them, not be subjected to a host of questions, not become a part of office gossip?
Four: The first things many girls and women ask themselves following harassment or assault are the following: What did I do to encourage this behavior? Was I too friendly? Were my clothes provocative? Did my hair and makeup suggest I was asking for it?
Five: Fear in women means sexual harassment and assault go largely unreported, as women consider the repercussions of reporting? Loss of job/promotion? Soiled reputation? Destroyed relationship with a significant other?
Early in my career, I aspired to be a dean and was told by the president, “That will not happen because I can’t control you.” I knew what he meant.
Six: There are women who have used sex or their sexuality to gain positions and promotions, so they, too, would like for the issue to stay buried.
Let’s take a minute to consider our culture in which girls and boys are taught that the attractiveness of a female resides , at least in part, on her appearance. Male television journalists have their bodies covered and are clad in plain colors except for perhaps a spot of color in a tie. Women, on the other hand, have arms, legs, and shoulders showing and are wearing bright colors (Have you ever studied the psychology of colors?) and clothing that emphasizes waist, breasts and buttocks. Their hair is artfully arranged and their makeup, down to the false eyelashes, is skillfully applied. And to display their toned calves, they are often wearing stilettos — a part of the fantasy world in which some men live.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that only women who meet the appearance profile I’ve just described are sexually harassed or assaulted. Those subjected to harassment and assault come in all sizes, ages, race/ethnicity and are clothed in everything from a shabby housedress to whatever.
I teach college classes in communication. As we analyze the political and social impact ways as well as the rhetorical strategies of the top speeches of the 20th and 21st century America, one of the issues we examine is the way in which the dress of the speaker impacted his/her audience.
Seven: Mating rituals of one kind or another have always been present. There is in the nature of most of us an attraction to others, a need for affirmation, for demonstration of affection. Tradition in our culture emphasizes that the woman waits to be asked. For some men, this means wording the ask in a way that some women find offensive.
Finally, my Facebook pages are peppered with women responding to the “Me, Too” crusade, and so many choose to remain silent. I just returned from the movie “Marshall.” As I wrap up the column, I ask myself, “What happens if we all just keep our mouths shut and go on with our lives when we witness something that offends human dignity?”
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.