I thought I might have retired from writing last spring. I told my editor that I was beginning to grasp for topics on which to have an opinion. And then y’all sexual predators crept out from under your slimy rocks, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you and the women and men upon whom you visited your vileness. I am compelled to write about this, if only for my own sanity. I need to sweep your trash out of my psyche.
I’m not going to tell you my story. I will assure you, however, that I have credibility on this topic and authority — granted by myself — to speak of it.
Let me begin by posing a simple question to the likes of you: What on God’s green earth gave you the scandalously reprehensible notion that you had any possible right to prey on us?
How could you inflict your own banal cravings upon us without consideration to the repercussions to us? Or worse, what made you suppose, in your wildest imaginations, that we might really, secretly, want it? And by “it,” I mean the groping, the touching, the sexual innuendo, the parading around naked, and the masturbating within our view. In what universe is your action anything but a disgusting grab (yes, I said grab) for domination. It epitomized a total absence of sensitivity for other human beings. It was, and is, among the crudest, most crass, and cheapest means for gaining the upper hand. Not in this world does that work. Ever.
You have left a trail of brokenness in your wake. You have left human beings from whom you brutally ripped their innocence, their sense of safety, their optimism, the confidence in their own abilities. And when those human beings rose above the deleterious effects of your actions, they have done so — and bully for them for doing it — with grit, determination, and a strength they may not have imagined they possessed. And no, you don’t get a grain of thanks for that.
And sorry, but saying sorry doesn’t make much difference. I suppose that to be naively generous one could argue that an apology requires its deliverer to recognize the immorality of the wrongdoing. Frankly, though, your light-bulb realization, as in “I shouldn’t have done that,” is of no concern to most of us.
Notice: Spleen venting over.
I do wonder, though, what wrinkle in the fabric of our existence tangles up so many of us. What convinces those of us on whom you preyed to accept your behavior? Why did and do we endure in relative silence the imbalance of power that presumes for men the bias that comes with positions of dominance in the workplace, on the jogging path, in the doctor’s office, the professor’s lecture hall? What fissures in the mirror of reality reflect our images to us as unentitled to stand strongly and loudly against you” And for you, predators, when did that distorted reflection take on the twisted appearance of reality?
Unfortunately, it is not simply a 21st-century phenomenon. Nor is it solely American. Over space and time, this behavior has been a debilitating cancer rotting away the very soul of the human race. Fortunately, time and history have demonstrated our collective soul to be resilient beyond measure.
Few of us were born victims. Most of my friends and I were born with an optimism, a freshness and eagerness to experience that which life put in front of us. We believed we could handle it all. I suspect this is true for little boys and little girls worldwide. Should they have the good fortune to have been delivered into families where there was enough food to eat and water to drink and relative peace with their neighbors, I have a hunch that children grow up with surprisingly similar sets of understandings and expectations. And yet, at some point, many girls fold their shoulders downward while their male counterparts raise their fists high.
Of course, it is societal conditioning. I know that. But what, I wonder in the dark of night, is the why of it all? Why did we end up here?
The question likely has no straightforward answer. Social anthropologists have theories, I’m sure, but I don’t. It hurts my heart even to ponder it.
There is, though, a question that I can wrap my heart around. Although it is no less weighty, it does seem more amenable to untangling, if only by small fits and starts. The question is, “What now?”
First, let me suggest an idea I’ve not heard tossed about yet. Rather than hoping and praying that the people whom you abused will remain silent, what about this? What would you say, you who have preyed upon the vulnerable among us, to stepping forward without waiting for your accusers to call you out? Why not be honest enough to admit your wrongdoings? Don’t lay the responsibility for exorcising your demons at the feet of people you’ve harmed. Let’s give the term “man up” a fresh meaning. A demonstration of brutally honest self-reflection gives me much more hope for a willingness to do better than a coerced apology.
Although most of the perpetrators are men, I’m certain there are women who have been sexually abusive and harassing. Women don’t get a pass. What’s wrong is wrong, no matter which way the balance of power tilts. Woman up.
Child molesters deserve no quarter. A consensus among us exists on that front. However, in a certain subset of specific examples not related to child molestation, some consideration needs to be given to a statute of limitations. Not a denial of the wrongness of the act. That should go without saying, although it can’t. But rather, an acknowledgement that a deed, in isolation, could simply be a truly stupid and inappropriate act.
At some point, we all need to move on. Let us also, however, understand the distinction between justice and revenge. One is due each of us. The other diminishes all of us.
There needs to be a new reckoning of what constitutes flirting. People who are sexually attracted to one another need an acceptable language, verbal as well as unspoken, to express their interest. Boundaries need to be negotiated. New beginnings need to be explored. That language must include, as well, a clear and universally accepted way to say “no.” No, I’m not interested. No, I don’t want to. No, I don’t want you to. No. Just no.
Finally, all societies must carve out a bottomless abyss between sexual behavior and power exploitation.
Where am I left as I consider this topic? I’m left still pissed, yet also guardedly hopeful. I’m angry beyond measure that it has taken so long to unveil the heinousness and widespread nature of this issue. The takeaway hash tag from Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globe acceptance speech was #TIMESUP. It is, of course, but it should have been a long ago.
Why am I guardedly hopeful? Although I harbor a caution born of skepticism and fatigue, I embrace the delicate belief that change could be on our horizon. I believe this for many reasons, the most powerful of which is the strength of those who have spoken through the #MeToo movement. That solidarity will not be denied.