Lech. Pervert. Creep. Women of a certain age are all too familiar with men of this ilk. Growing up in the 60s and the 70s, we came across them on a regular basis. They grabbed our asses, groped our breasts, and verbally harassed us. It was the normal state of affairs, and they largely got away with it.
To be clear, not all men behaved in this deplorable manner. In fact, most men have always acted like gentlemen, most of the time. Still, fathers warned their daughters. Mothers provided advice on what to do when you found yourself in “that” situation. And friends warned friends – the whisper network.
As women, we grew older, and the assaults subsided as attention was directed at younger, more vulnerable targets. In addition, the times changed. The women’s movement had an impact. Gender roles softened. Mothers raised their sons with different expectations. We had hope that our daughters would live in a better world.
Back in the day, women who reported rape or sexual misconduct risked it all. They were accused of inciting men’s bad behavior because of the way they dressed and the places they went. Victims were blamed and shamed.
Like many others, I shared my “me too” experience of sexual harassment at my workplace when my thirty-something boss kept insisting that I have sexual intercourse with him when I was 16 and working at the pizza restaurant in my local mall. I did not share my many stories of being groped, having men expose their junk, and surviving date rape. I had frank discussions with my daughters about owning their sexuality. I warned them to protect themselves when they wanted to engage in sexual activities and how to protect themselves from unwanted sexual advances. I lectured my son on how to treat women with respect. I reinforced to my students the mantra that “no means no.”
What disappointed me and actually pained me to the core were the “me too” posts on Facebook by younger women. While I fully anticipated that most women my age had experienced sexual harassment and abuse, I mistakenly thought it was a generational problem and that younger men were more evolved. Sadly, it was not the case.
The names keep rolling in: Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Louis CK. And on, and on, and on. Each with their own particular fetish: Anesthetize with pills, grab their pussy and forcibly kiss, don a bathrobe and demand a massage, intoxicate with alcohol, target teens, expose themselves and masturbate.
This story is far from over. I imagine that many men are living in fear that their past and present behavior will soon be exposed. The knot in their stomach is violently pulsing. They are experiencing the dread that women have known forever. Careers will be ruined and relationships will be destroyed. Some daughters will never look at their fathers the same way.