It’s as if the whole country just discovered sexual harassment. It never happened until this year. For example I looked up Anita Hill on Google and found out she never existed, and besides, when she did exist she was never sexually harassed. And besides, no one heard of it.
In the 1950s I had confusing and contradictory thoughts about the other gender, many of which could not have been my own. I am absolutely certain that I did not originate the notion that girls had “cooties.” In fact, I suspect that the theory was propaganda designed to keep me from wanting to kiss girls.
I was terrified of the prospect of becoming old enough that I would be expected to date females, and being required, in order to do so, to ask them for dates. And not only that, to know what a date is, and to get them to it and back, to wear the appropriate clothes, and to not do anything stupid.
I would have felt better if there was a requirement that they had to ask me out half the time. At least then we would all drown in the same sunken boat.
Another aspect of the asymmetry was apparent when I got ahold of my father’s not-so-hidden Playboy stash. I didn’t just look at them for the pictures, ha ha, I looked at them for the cartoons. There was an amazing dearth of cartoons showing secretaries chasing their male bosses around desks.
There were no cartoons at all that I can remember of female bosses chasing male secretaries around their desks. It all made me feel part of an undesirable class.
This was, of course, before Playgirl magazine, and before Burt Reynolds posed nude for Cosmo. It was before The Sexual Revolution. All that changed the landscape a little, but the basic asymmetry remained.
I realized that nothing was seriously changed in the mid-1970s when I was in a university cafeteria and I overheard a long, tedious conversation between a couple.
She was breaking up with him for chasing other women, and he was citing the fact that The Sexual Revolution had happened as grounds excusing his behavior. So why was she harshing his vibe?
I always go back to what I call the Helen Conundrum. Helen and I were both 7 years old and in second grade. Helen had a crush on me. I did not care to reciprocate her crush. She followed me around every recess and demanded kisses. She would even grab hold of me and try to plant kisses on me against my will.
She was like Pepé Le Pew, and I was like the poor female Parisian cat, unable to wriggle free. It was totally unnatural.
I went to the teacher to complain about the harassment. I didn’t know the word “harassment,” but I could tell the teacher that Helen wouldn’t leave me alone and was grabbing me. The conundrum arose with the teacher’s response to my plea for help.
She said, “You’re the boy. You can defend yourself.”
The Helen Conundrum is revealing to me because it exposes the basic asymmetry.
The role reversal forces the asymmetry into relief.
The teacher couldn’t see past the widespread social consensus that boys were supposed to be in charge and prevail somehow. It didn’t matter that Helen was my match physically and would not accept “no” for an answer from me, however forcefully I said it. I was the boy, so I must have the power to control her.
So I should use it.
That teacher’s notion, that I was the one with the power, is completely accepted by men harassing women. They agree with my second-grade teacher that they have the power.
Not only that, but that they must have the power. If they don’t, they believe they aren’t men.
It is not that they actually are in power, but they assume they are. That assumption has to go.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time a math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his weekly column Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full November 8 issue which is dedicated to analyzing homeless encampment sweeps.