By Ruth Gadebusch
Ladies, you’ve made your point. It is time to lighten up. This is a different era with different attitudes. Time to change with it. Not every man who stands near you, looks at you or smiles at you is thinking of sex with you! And most assuredly does not intend to offend you, much less the next step of harassment.
For years, any time a woman reached a position of distinction it was whispered behind her back that she must have “slept with him” to get there. Some did! Some did not. Still, the idea was out there.
Finally, society is generally recognizing that women have brains comparable to men so instead of the whispers of sexually achieved positions we have gone to the other extreme. Men dare not stand close, look directly or pay a simple compliment. As we know, the pendulum swings from one extreme to another.
In my mind, it is truly unfair to go back decades citing some perceived offense. Yes, there were times of stepping over the boundaries, sometimes with subtle encouragement—intended or otherwise—from women. After all, we were and are a society that uses sex appeal in all too many situations.
None of this is meant to downgrade the price of harassment, the trauma for the victim or to excuse the perpetrator, especially when intending to take advantage of the situation. It is just that we should not put all the charges in one basket as the “me too” movement appears to be doing.
Despite how our attitudes are changing, our advertising and entertainment run rampant with sex appeal. As the culture matures, we have eschewed behavior that had shades of degree not considered quite as damaging as we now recognize. After all, that is what education and maturity are supposed to do: Change us for the better.
However, we have not come so far as to teach correct sex education in our schools thereby developing respect. That is an issue for another column.
At this time, we should give credit to those males who might have in the past crossed boundaries from where they are now in their attitudes. Have they learned? Have they changed? Do they just give lip service when needed or do they conduct themselves differently in their daily lives? It is genuine learning and thereby changed behavior that matters. History can’t be changed, but it can and should be a learning experience be it sexual, racial or whatever.
The old standards are not acceptable, but do we really want to sink, arguably, the most qualified, experienced presidential candidate because he kissed someone on the back of her head? Silly to some of us, yes. Haven’t these women learned that some people, both male and female, simply stand closer to those with whom they are speaking? Some simply by nature and culture, some in order to hear better, others because of crowd pushing.
As someone who has worked tirelessly for women’s equality and a product of the U.S. South, I believe I am qualified to recognize sexual harassment when I see it. Therefore, I am prepared to say to you we are not all that exciting that every man who comes along is looking at us as a sexual object or someone to be lorded over with power.
In my era, I think the Southern culture was warmer, perhaps a bit more touchy/feely than elsewhere in the nation. Putting an arm around a shoulder was also something of a natural inclination of protection, men generally being larger physically.
Today, we have learned that short men can marry tall women and that the male doesn’t have to be older. Not so long ago, it took a secure person to ignore height and age expectations, if not criteria, at least noticed. Shallow, very shallow, but nevertheless a part of the culture…not just in my South.
Hopefully we are learning there are much more important considerations in choosing a life partner, or even a simple encounter. We know there are qualities more important than physical.
Be it in the outside life of career or the personal, we have reached a different stage based less on gender expectations and more on individual qualities. Just as in other aspects of life, there will always be those, both male and female, who misbehave, but we must not condemn an entire group. In many cases, the benefit of the doubt is deserved whether for acts decades ago or even current intentions.
Obviously, there are blatant cases leaving no doubt. Then too, we have a president, the so-called leader of the world, reinforcing the darker side of society. Failing the dignity of the office, his daily tweeting leaves little doubt as to his character as a sexual deviate, a racist, a religious bigot, a prevaricator and a man of wealth gained thru manipulation. Worse yet, he obtained this office by an outdated voting system, not a majority vote! This is the climate that we must overcome.
The point has been made for respectable and respecting behavior between the sexes. It is time to lighten up and put our energy into electing different leadership who understand and appreciate the government that has served us these two centuries plus.
Just as we have judged those of earlier generations by the standards of today, as has happened throughout history, we would be wise to realize that we too will be judged in the future by different standards. Things that we accept as normal and good might not stand up to the test of our successors.
Instead of focusing on hurts of the past, let us put every ounce of our resources into political action for the society that we need to be.
Ruth Gadebusch, a former naval officer, Fresno Unified School Board trustee and California Commission on Teacher Credentialing member, continues as a community activist and an emeritus member of the Center for Civic Education.