by Kenneth Harper Finton
Like most any white male born on the 40’s and raised in a rural midwestern town, I was raised with racist and chauvinistic people all around me. There were no black people in the old home town. I never had a chance to relate to any other influence until I left the nest and joined the larger nation around me.
Though women were almost sacred to me, it was not long before I was accused of chauvinism as well. Whether or not this destroyed my first marriage is an open question. It did not help. I entered marriage with the idea based on what was about me—that a woman’s role was to cook and do most of the cleaning. Men took care of the outside and women took care of the inside. That’s what my mother and their mothers did. It was that way everywhere for all I knew. There was little experience to be had about any alternative life styles. The TV shows of the time reinforced this mindset.
When you are living alone, you have to do everything. I did some cooking, some sloppy cleaning, and either went to the corner laundry or dropped my clothes at the cleaners. But that did not change the mindset that formed when I was young. My expectations for my marriage were much more traditional than I like to recall. By myself, I eat in restaurants, sleep in motels or small efficiencies and take my wash to the laundry masters. These were my preferences. Living with others required compromise.
Born male, I could only guess at the female mindset. I was not at ease with sex and dating for many years. I finally pecked my way out of that smothering egg long after those around me.
Women were elevated to goddess status in many stone-age cultures. Carvings and stoneworks of the Donna reflect the respect some stone-age peoples had for their women. The Abrahamic and Islamic religions did not glorify, but enslaved women as male possessions. Through most civilized society, women were treated as chattel.
Chivalry supposedly reinstated women as objects of affection that needed protection but cast women in the role of delicate objects, fragile creatures who needed protection. Likely, this applied more to high-bred women of wealth or nobility, than the milkmaid or the tavern servers.
Unlike the generations before me, I came of sexual age after The Pill. Unlike generations after me, my encounters came before AIDS. A short span in the 60’s and early 70’s turns out to be one of time’s few social reprieves for active sexual freedom. Single young men and women were hungry for sexual pleasure and the deep-rooted desire for stable companionship, but we soon found that people often mix like oil and water. Paradise is sweet and sour.
It does not take men long to realize that the woman is the great decider about physical contact. Those men who respected others also respected their wishes. Some—who had no real respect for themselves or others—tried to force themselves on women.
Most people have no tolerance for sexual predators. Using and abusing power (be it physical or economic) to force sexual favors has been wrong for a long time. Many men in powerful positions felt they had a right to demand sexual favors from subordinates.
Community leader and organizer, Tarana Burke, founded the “ME TOO” movement in 2006 to help sexual harassment victims and survivors to cope.
By late 2017 the movement has taken on social-changing roles as women came out to expose their unwilling experiences with people of power. However, not everyone was on board that ship. Catherine Deneuve, the famous 74-year-old French movie actress, denounced the movement in an open letter in France’s LeMonde. She claimed “legitimate protests against the sexual violence that women are subject to, particularly in their professional lives, had turned into a witch hunt.”
“Rape is a crime” she wrote, “but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not—nor is men being gentlemanly a macho attack. Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss.”
Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that comprises unwanted comments, wolf-whistles, cat-calling, and other actions by strangers in public areas, according to Google. And to think, just a few years back that was the common practice of hard-hatted males on break when a pretty woman walked by.
So what are men to do now? Ask if she’s comfortable. Phrase your words with more care. Think about sexist jokes before you relate them and you will likely not repeat them.
“Whether we know it or not, whether we allow ourselves to admit it or not, every man has a list of times that he has violated a woman’s boundaries. Men are raised in a society that teaches boys that they are entitled to have access to women’s bodies. You may not be drugging women’s drinks in a nightclub, you may not be stalking sex workers in a van, but you have probably pressured someone sexually more than once in your life. The game teaches men to assume that women want what we want. The game teaches women that they are supposed to want what men want. Men benefit from this, women do not, but the game is rigged to hurt everyone. The only way to end that cycle is to reject the game itself.” -Indigo Nai on Facebook, 10/17/17