C’mon. Are You Kidding Me?

(Summary headlines from The New York Times, 12-15-17)

I need to write about how 2017 kicked my ass month in and month out, but I will save that for next week.

I’m saving the story of 2017 kicking my ass for next week because, well, it is still kicking my ass.  Take a look at the images above, a partial list of headlines from the December 15th (2017) edition of The New York Times.  There is no end to the list of harassers and assaulters, and yet there also seems to be a long line of doubters, some of whom are boasting, jousting doubters who are causing a backlash against the women who have me-too-ed.

This past week, my family and I had the good fortune of seeing many family members and friends for the holidays.  We are lucky to want to see so many people and always feel like we come up short, like we wish we had another week to finish the conversations and start some new ones.  This year was no exception, but I did hear some conversations in big-group settings that I wish I hadn’t heard.

Men from my father’s generation think that women and men will never be on the same page and that the #MeToo business proves this.  They think that women have gotten uppity in their quest to rupture gender role expectations.  They have no idea what non-binary means, and they really don’t want to know.  They long for the days when things were simpler, when men could stroke, grope, and fondle and women just shut up about it.  These particular men in my conversation don’t necessarily want to wantonly stroke, grope, and fondle, but they certainly don’t want to have to hear any complainin’ about other men’s stroking, groping, and fondling.  Mostly, they long for the days when men could stroke, grope, and fondle and never question whether it was right or wrong. They definitely don’t want the words “stroking,” “groping,” and “fondling” to be replaced with “harassing,” “attacking,” and “assaulting.”  That’s just over the top.  Too much, I tell you.  It’s time to restore some balance and civility and let the strokes, gropes, and fondles fall where they may.

Men from my own generation want to gather to talk about not riding elevators with women.  They have had the Human Resources training.  They have read about Harvey Weinstein.  They want to maintain their sexist work cultures without the threat of being accused of sexual harassment.  They want to believe that sexual harassment and sexual assault are confusing and nuanced concepts.  They don’t know it, but they want to become Mike Pence and never dine with any woman who isn’t their wife (remember: that’s most women).  After all, any random woman on an elevator might accuse them of sexual harassment.  They don’t know how to be alone in an elevator with a woman because who knows what exactly sexual harassment is?  If they’re pushing buttons to get to the fourth floor, is that sexual harassment?  If they say hello to the other person in the elevator, is that sexual harassment?  I mean, who really knows?  How can you know?  Is it possible they could just say, “Hi.  How are you?” and then not stroke, grope, or fondle another person on the elevator?  If they could succeed in doing that, they might be able to assure themselves that this is not sexual harassment.

Many men from a generation younger than me seemed to actually get it.  Huzzah!  They understood that women and men are professionals.  They understand that most professionals prefer not to be stroked, groped, fondled, propositioned, or otherwise harassed or assaulted at work.  They read articles and books about these issues, but mostly they talk to their friends, some of whom are cis-women, some of whom are trans-women, and all of whom do not want to be stroked, groped, fondled, propositioned, harassed, or assaulted.  They all seem to know what these words mean.  They know how to ride in elevators and greet other human beings.  They know how to respect body autonomy, work etiquette, and human decency.

Nevertheless, one topic that still too few people are addressing is the assaulter-in-chief in the White House.  (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post that treats yet again why Trump must go.)  The more the old guys wax nostalgic about when women put up and shut up, the more the middle-aged guys worry that they might suddenly start masturbating on an elevator, the more we understand how so many people have indulged the assaulter-in-chief for so long, from long before his Russian-rigged run to the present day.  Accusing Trump of loudly admiring or detracting, stroking, groping, fondling, harassing, and assaulting—women and girls—might require people to assess what they themselves have done to others, what they themselves have indulged in others, and/or what they themselves have allowed others to do to them.  None of it is good.

2018 requires rigorous self-evaluation.  Figure out what you’ve done wrong, and then don’t do it again.  You can do this.  You can ride the elevator and just say “hello.”  You can work with women and appreciate their good work.  You can eat meals with people and move through an agenda. You really can.

A Twisted Tale of Two Harassers (Welcome to the White House)

Last week I learned that titles like “Sexual Assault Prevention Training in the News” don’t grab readers.  Maybe this week’s title will, and certainly one of the people to whom it alludes has spoken famously about grabbing.

Mainstream and not-so-mainstream media, from People and Cosmopolitan to The Washington Post and The Atlantic, have been crackling this week due to the revelation from a resurfaced 2002 Mike Pence interview that the only woman with whom Pence will dine alone is his wife, Karen Pence.  (*Here are links to more coverage of this issue:  The Guardian, Slate, and Canada Free Press.)  As you know, Mike Pence was governor of Indiana and is now the Vice President of the United States.  His level of world awareness and understanding of gender essentialism boils down to one word: cooties.  Pence seems to believe that all women are temptresses and that he has limited ability to hold himself back from such temptation and infection.  Therefore, he will not have a meal with any women who aren’t Karen (that’s a lot of women) and won’t hire women staffers with whom he would potentially have to meet alone in the evening hours (that’s all staffers).  Jia Tolentino remarks in her The New Yorker article on the piece, “That Pence was able to do so speaks to an incredible level of inequity in the workplace; no successful woman could ever abide by the same rule.  How could you sex-segregate a thrice-daily activity and still engage in civic life?”

(Pence with the only women with whom he trusts himself to interact)       (http://canadafreepress.com/article/pences-dinner-arrangements-with-women)

What Pence is doing technically is not harassment, but discrimination.  He is discriminating against all women and limiting their professional advancement because he is afraid that he will harass them.  Actually, that gives Pence too much credit.  I’m guessing he is just afraid that he is too weak not to have sex with all of these women who so obviously will be throwing themselves at him because he is so desirable.

Tolentino states that Christian evangelicals often invoke the “Billy Graham rule,” which, Tolentino writes, is a refusal to “eat, travel, or meet along with a woman” and which “stems from a story that the famous pastor told about walking into a hotel room and finding a naked woman, bent on destroying his ministry, sprawled across his bed.”  While Tolentino appropriately detects some hyperbole in this account, it might be helpful to imagine the gender roles reversed.  What if a famous woman minister returned to her hotel room after a night of preaching to the masses and found a naked man sprawled on her bed?  I hardly think she would have the luxury of separating herself from all encounters with men in order to avoid scandal.  This version of the story would likely have her limiting encounters with this individual man out of fear of assault, not out of fear of scandal.  Of course, the Billy Graham rule also seems to limit contact with any non-Christians, thus violating Title VII based on not only gender, but also religion.

Pence’s ego drives the decision to discriminate, just as Trump’s drives him to harass and assault.  (*See The New York Timestranscript of Donald Trump’s comments about women.)  As you can see, we have here not the Tale of Two Harassers, but a White House of virulently white, pro-Christian, pro-male men.  Pence castigates women (limits hiring, work access, and promotion of women in high-level government) because he doesn’t trust himself, and Trump speaks of violating women because they are mere objects for his consumption.  Again, Pence alienates women with a weird version of pedestal politics: his wife Karen is somehow pure through her singular connection to him, but all other women are just Biblical temptress bots.  Trump alienates women by verbally and physically harassing them individually and en masse, thus training women to raise red flags around him, while also cementing their place as the non-hireables.  These two powerful men distance those who are unlike them (non-white; non-man; non-Christian) and, in particular, privilege their power in the public sphere over everything else.

As I write in Gender Shrapnel, these behaviors have broad implications for people of color, non-Christians, and women as individuals and as members of specific groups.  Individuals who experience the Pence-type discrimination and/or the Trump-branded harassment are limited in their horizontal movements, that is, their movement through the work day.  These individuals won’t be invited to power lunches or golf games, where networking and decision-making take place, and they might have to actively avoid a harasser whose physical presence threatens, looms, and impedes work production.  Discriminatory and harassing behaviors also suppress vertical movement, or the ability to advance in the workplace through good work, collaboration, and professionalism.  Members of groups offered protections under Title VII law can sense themselves as further limited by a group identification (or, importantly, a perceived group identification) that is undervalued or even actively discriminated against.  The Title VII protections are often difficult to enact, especially in conservative judicial districts in many areas of the United States.  Nothing like having the White House be the beacon of bad (and illegal) behavior.

It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.

(But at least we have late-night comedy and The Onion:  http://www.theonion.com/article/mike-pence-asks-waiter-remove-mrs-butterworth-tabl-55661)