Throughout my long career I always sought jobs where I could go barefoot and bring my dog to work. Janet Reno, the United States’ first woman attorney general, apparently shared at least one of my predilections as she was noted for padding around her office in her stocking feet. But with that notable exception aside, my liking for casual attire, having animals with me and working alone, did not mesh with a scramble up a corporate ladder.
Indeed, I spent my entire working life avoiding big corporations until, very late in my career, the paper I worked for was sold to media moguls and I found myself enslaved by Pharaoh. It was everything I thought it would be and, eventually, I quit.
Why do I tell you this? Because I want to establish that my career was largely conducted at regional newspapers of varying sizes. The staffs were small, financial circumstances often desperate—there is an old saying in the industry that if you want to make a small fortune you should start with a large one and buy a rural newspaper—and the opportunities for advancement were limited. Not fertile grounds for sexual coercion.
So, having been raised in a small town by encouraging parents and having worked in a relatively safe arena for more than four decades, I find myself confounded by the allegations brought forward by so many women against powerful men. At first, I found it hard to believe—the sheer number of the complaints made me question them. Could it be? I am assured by women who have experienced it that it is true and more pervasive than I could have imagined.
That is not to say I haven’t met my share of creeps over the years. During the years I was divorced, a couple of men who wanted to know me more than I wanted to know them engaged in stalking behavior. One cop even went to my then employer and got my personal information so he was able to “surveil” my family! That made me really uneasy.
Other men were ardent in pursuit but didn’t want to be friends if it wouldn’t lead to romance. That was off-putting—apparently, I was not worth knowing if there would be no sexual conquest—and made me think poorly of men for a while until a lesbian woman treated me the same way. I had to conclude then that it is just human nature.
All pretty mild stuff—nothing like Charlie Rose wandering around in an open robe. Yuck! Or like the unspeakable Harvey Weinstein with his grotesque behavior—or the criminal Bill Cosby. Powerful men such as Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and now, possibly, Brett Kavanaugh have been brought low by allegations of sexual misconduct. It seems the number of women in that unfortunate fellowship of “Me, Too” is unending.
My husband says the reason behind all this agony is simple. “We are animals,” he said. “We think we are civilized, but we are still animals.”
It is a position also put forward by Leon F Seltzer Ph.D., in his article “Male Sexual Misconduct and the Testosterone Curse.” Seltzer insists men deserve a certain amount of compassion because the biological imperative to reproduce caused by high levels of testosterone so skews their thinking that civilized impulses are supplanted by a "killer instinct."
The characteristic most frequently documented in high-T males, he argues, is their drive toward dominance. “(A)s much literature on high-T males attests, dominant individuals also tend to be extremely competitive. And … such a trait can be quite advantageous … particularly in cutthroat fields where it can be almost compulsory,” he writes.
Sadly when it undermines the empathy, understanding and compassion required to sustain caring relationships—especially with the opposite sex—it’s often a liability, Seltzer, says. “(With) males’ more tender feelings hormonally blunted, they tend not to be particularly concerned about—or, for that matter, interested in—the emotions of others.”
A sad state of affairs, particularly in a world where women are increasingly educated, ambitious, competent and, yes, challenging to men. Women have every right to be taken seriously, to be given advancements based on merit and to have absolute control over their own bodies. No exceptions allowed.
But with that expectation, women must accept their own moral responsibility and not use an unfair past to condone their own less-than-stellar behavior.
I was once viciously excoriated for an editorial I wrote that suggested women must abide by the same rules they demand for men. In that instance, some businesswomen established a networking organization to advance their own concerns. They denied membership to two men, even though a court case recently brought by women against an all-male business club had determined that women must be admitted.
My observation that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander met with howls of protest from women who insisted I was a “pseudo-androgynous Neanderthal” who was male-dominated and didn’t understand the difficulties of doing business in a male-dominated world. As a single mother working long hours for poor pay, I think I had at least an inkling of the problem.
In this current instance, women must be careful that every allegation of sexual misconduct on the part of a male is true. Accusations of sexual misconduct are easy to make and hard to disprove. The consequences of such allegations can be devastating for the man—just as sexual dominance by men is devastating for women. We must never risk making false accusations that could undermine belief in the very real trauma suffered by so many women. Absolute truthfulness must be the hallmark of this cause.