Before I begin this piece about men and their sexual misconduct, I feel like I have to give a few disclaimers. First, for clarity’s sake, I must mention that numerous times throughout this piece I use the terms “male” and “man” interchangeably. With the understanding that with both terms, I am referring to males of all ages, young and old, because I believe it is an indisputable fact that the acts of sexual misconduct that I refer to in this piece are not just relegated to just one age group, but unfortunately apply to all of them.
Secondly, for brevity’s sake, I use the phrase “sexual misconduct” to include all unwanted acts of a sexual nature, specifically directed by males towards females. This is meant to include all instances of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape, regardless of the age of the perpetrator or victim. While admitting that each act has different definitions and dimensions which I don’t have the space to go into here, I also offer that often they are interrelated and have many similarities with the single biggest one being that they are all a result of a male’s volitional choice to commit them.
Thirdly and most importantly, my female readers should know that I am well aware and cognizant of the fact that there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about anything that I have to say in this piece. My purpose in writing it is solely based on the fact that I believe that all men need to begin to openly, honestly and respectfully join in the conversation that is currently occurring in this country about the sexual misconduct of males and I consider this piece another one of my tiny contributions to this long overdue discussion. I hope that all of my female readers see it as a statement of a loyal ally to the cause of making women’s lives more equitable and safe and that my male readers are potentially inspired or moved by it to make their own similar statement.
With that being said, like a lot of people I am going to hopefully remember 2017 and the early days of 2018 as a period of time that we as a nation driven by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, not only started to have a meaningful conversation about the sexual misconduct of males in the workplace and in everyday life, but also as a marked time in history when we began to have a realistic discussion of what we need to do about it as a culture and society.
For too long the sexual misconduct of men has erroneously been thought of as strictly a woman‘s issue, when in fact, it has always primarily been a man’s issue. Women have only been forced to deal with it as one of theirs because they are, a vast majority of the time, the victims of the misconduct. To be clear, I feel that it is a problem that originates with men and if it is ever to be solved or eradicated, must be solved or eradicated by men.
When it comes to explaining why men commit these acts, for better or for worse, here are some of my general observations on the subject, culled from my fifty plus years of being an American male. For starters, I think when we do discuss it, we must dispense with the catch-all and cop out apologetic phrase “ he was only acting like a real man, “ and its spiritually similar sidekick excuse of it was “ just boys being boys.“ I have a palpable detestation for both because they tend to suggest that males are somehow bound or even enslaved to not only a rigid determinism based in their biological and physiological make up but also to an equally rigid set of socially constructed rules and expectations about what masculinity should and shouldn’t be which all men are obligated to follow and obey.
Some men would actually have you believe because of one or both of these two irresistible influences they are helpless when it comes to controlling themselves sexually, to which I call bullsh*t. I maintain that any man who clings to this absurd myth is lying to himself and anyone he repeats this lie to and is probably guilty of either rationalizing or attempting to cover up his sexual behavior/misbehavior or both with this untruth.
I feel that it is ridiculous to have to say this, but say this I must – men are always completely capable of controlling their mouths, hands, and penises regardless of what any of them say to the contrary. Like I said in one of my opening disclaimers, I believe that all acts of sexual misconduct committed by males are the direct results of the conscious decisions to commit them by these same males and consequently, all males, therefore, should always be held responsible for their thoughts, words, deeds, actions, and their sexual drives and urges.
When it comes to sexual misconduct, the problem isn’t with the powerful male libido per se, but with how some men choose to express it inappropriately and destructively.
And while I think that the men that commit these acts commit them for a myriad of reasons ( revenge, feelings of inferiority, hostility or hatred towards women, etc.), I also believe that these reasons all have at their root this common causation – a man commits an act of sexual misconduct largely because he thinks he can do it and get away with it.
I come to this conclusion based largely on the thoughts, words, and deeds of men I have known throughout my entire life. For me, what these experiences with other men have bore out is that in America, males are indoctrinated with a sense of entitlement toward females and the female body and this mantra, based in sexism and misogyny, unfortunately, controls a vast majority of the thought processes and behavior of males towards the opposite sex in our society. Add to this the dangerous mix of a superior physicality, an ability to instill fear in females, a sense of self aggrandizement which is encouraged in all males, an emotional fragility based in the societal discouragement to show emotions and fuel it with their own fear of the power of a women’s sexuality and you have a frightening prototype for a large number of modern American males.
It is my stern belief that unless a male in this society actively strives to resist this social conditioning and sense of male privilege, that he is exposed to from birth, it will tend to tragically encourage him to psychologically arm himself with the concept that he possesses the freedom to treat females any way he sees fit, and he will present, in one form or another, a clear and present danger to every female he encounters.
So in the face of all this, where do we go from here, you may ask? Before I give some of my thoughts on where I think the solutions lie, I first have to confess that I consider myself an optimistic realist, which is to say that while I try to remain positive towards the problems and conflicts of this life, I also willingly acknowledge pragmatic realizations of the truth when it comes to solutions. When applying my philosophy to the current subject I am moved to say this – while I believe that the fact that men have a choice when it comes to committing these acts contains the seeds of hope for change in the future, I also simultaneously believe that it will not happen without a gargantuan amount of self-examination and commitment to the hard work of change by males in this society.
To express it another way; real verifiable positive change in the sexual interactions between men and women in this society will only begin to occur when males, on a large scale, choose to begin to take honest assessments of and personal responsibility for their behavior towards females.
To do that, among other things, males in this culture have to get better at listening to the females they encounter in their lives and at understanding and agreeing with the immovable truth that when to comes to their sexual advances towards them, females should always be the final arbiters of what is right or wrong in any given situation.
If there is any chance of decreasing the number of instances of sexual misconduct committed by males towards females in our society, it is imperative that men first begin to widely accept the facts that “No” ALWAYS means “No” and that if a male proceeds sexually in any way, after he hears the word, his behavior risks being considered sexual coercion and/or sexual assault or rape.
As entrenched as sexism and misogyny are in our culture, all of us, males and females alike, have to realize when males are committing these acts they are not violating the societal norms of our culture per se, as some commentators would have you believe, but they are in many ways expressing the societal norms of the same. Until we change this paradigm, we are dooming one half our population to be continually victimized sexually in a seemingly infinite number of ways in their daily lives. To paraphrase one of my favorite writers, Jackson Katz, from his wonderful 2006 book The Macho Paradox –
“… the mistreatment of women is so pervasive in our society that most men, through our choice of being either a perpetrator or bystander of this mistreatment have to “a greater or lesser extent played a role in its perpetuation” and because of this “have a strong incentive to avert our eyes” to the mistreatment that we see all around us.”
It is my impassioned belief that for the overall health of our society, males can no longer afford to avert their eyes or act like they don’t have the power to choose the nature of their sexual behavior or to pretend that their choices don’t have real-life consequences for themselves and for those they choose to victimize. Like the movement so gloriously proclaims – “Time’s Up “ when it comes to that childish and malicious chicanery.