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Women share the blame

Food For Thought

As I’ve been following the accusations against powerful men over the past few months, a couple things have come clear to me regarding so-called sexual abuse. I’m no psychologist, but I’ve been observing the human race, and the behavior of the male of the species in particular, for most of my 83.8 years, and I’ve noticed there are two kinds of “abusers” in general. There are the losers who are abusive in order to gain control of women; these men seem to feel inadequate and use their superior strength, loud voices, and the threat of forced physical intimacy as weapons to stay in control. The other type tend to treat women like pets, toys, or other objects intended for the amusement and gratification of men. These men are less dangerous when it comes to inflicting physical damage, but they are capable of creating shame, guilt, and even fear by their unwelcome attentions.
I’ve heard it said that a woman who stays with an abusive man shares the blame for the abuse simply by staying, by attempting to please her abuser so he won’t mistreat her, and even making excuses for him or denying his behavior. Such women seldom flee from such men until they truly fear for their lives, and often need help and encouragement from professional counselors in order to succeed.
Those men who have been in the news, accused of forcing unwanted attentions on women in the workplace, the politicians, businessmen, entertainment figures who are being singled out as “abusers” during the past, of exposing themselves, forcing kisses and embraces on unwilling women, these men are a different matter. I’m not trying to blame the victims here, but I think that women, as a whole, have tolerated some of these behaviors for a lot longer, and with considerably more grace, than we should have.
Mankind has enjoyed a long tradition fed by the attitude that “it’s a man’s world” and even though women have pretty much proven that we are in possession of a goodly share of the world these days, there is still a remnant of some good-natured tolerance for the idea that “boys will be boys” that the “locker room” attitude is an inevitable part of the male psyche and can be understood and tolerated under certain circumstances and in certain situations like bachelor parties and bars featuring exotic dancers. “Those things are different,” we tell ourselves. “Those women are being paid to perform and the audience reaction is part of the job. Those women knew what they were getting into, and they can always quit, but a woman who’s being paid to be a secretary or an actress shouldn’t have to put up with such behavior.”
Years ago, a young wife of my acquaintance was startled when her husband’s boss attempted to “feel her up” at a dinner party. Not wanting to jeopardize her husband’s job or to embarrass the boss’s wife, she said nothing at the time, except to laugh and make light of the moment. When she asked me what she should have done, I’m afraid I told her that she had handled it well and to avoid situations in the future where it might happen again. I used much the same tactics whenever I was subjected to questionable behavior– everything from a handshake that lasted too long, to being pursued by a house guest who had had one too many drinks. “Just shut up and stay out of reach,” became my policy and I thought I was handling things pretty well. Looking back, I realize that by remaining silent I appeared to condone the actions, and staying out of reach might just have made the chase merrier for the pursuer.
We share this world with a couple generations of men who have been brainwashed by the Playboy philosophy toward women. Many women also succumbed to the attitude that the world was a big playpen, we were all beautiful and desirable, it was smart to please men in every possible way and that we really enjoyed being treated like possessions.
One of the most thought-provoking defenses for the behavior of these men in the news is the fact that so many of the women who have spoken out have waited for so many years. There is a long history of women silently putting up with such unpleasant behavior– so long-lived that our reactions are just as predictable as the men’s tasteless antics. By remaining silent, or by dismissing it as “boys will be boys,” we have been giving them our tacit permission all along. Aside from a relatively few incidents that involved truly harmful and illegal behavior, I think it is only fair to dismiss all those nearly-forgotten incidents of years ago and concentrate on what’s going on now. Starting today, you guys, you’re not going to get away with it any longer.