#217: The Sexual Harassment Scandal

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #217, on the subject of The Sexual Harassment Scandal.

I have been, let’s say, peripherally aware of the burgeoning collection of male celebrities either accused of or confessing to inappropriate behavior toward women over the past, let’s estimate, half century.  In the back of my mind I felt like something needed to be said about this, but at the same time realized that almost anything I said would either be the same pablum everyone else is saying about these men, or would be viewed as chauvinistic villainy.  I do not think that the actions in question are in any sense “all right” or “defensible” or “excusable”.  However, I think they are understandable, and I think that our reactions are a bit over the top in many ways.

I happened upon the first episode of a very old television series, what I take to be a British spy drama from the 1960s very like similar shows of the time.  It featured a dashing hero on the order of John Steed or The Saint or James Bond, and of course one of the tropes–well, Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine fans will remember the episode Our Man Bashir, in which Doctor Julian Bashir is playing such a hero in such a story on the holodeck, and he famously uses the trope that all women will instantly fall for the hero if he smiles at them to obtain the key that gets him out of the shackles and back in action.  It was the daydream of boys and men everywhere to be that James Bond character, that dashing debonair spy whom women adore, who need say nothing more than, “Your place or mine?”

Of course, in reality no one was James Bond.  Well, maybe Sean Connery, and maybe Roger Moore, but in reality women were not falling into bed with every man who imagined himself irresistible to women.

On the other hand, it was the sixties.  It was the decade that coined the term “sexual revolution”.  I won’t say that sexual liasons of all kinds were not happening prior to that, but in the mid fifties that kind of thing was hidden, and at least disapproved by (possibly jealous) peers, while in the sixties we decided to be open about it and pretend it was normal and everyone was doing it.  I have already said that not everyone was doing it then, but a lot more people were, and at least partly because they were being told that everyone else was.  My parents–an earlier generation–were flirtatious at bridge parties and cocktail parties; it was how adults in the neighborhood interacted.  They were also completely shocked and flabbergasted when one of the men from the neighborhood ran off with one of the other women.  It was not expected; it was not done.

However, in the corridors of power–Hollywood, Washington, state capitals, New York–there was a lot more pressure to conform to the new world image, and a lot more men who thought they were irresistible, and a lot more women who believed them, feeding that egotism.

There was another layer of complication, though.  For generations there had been this dance, this untaught approach to courtship.  Women generally had to express their interest in men through body language–the right smile, the right eyes, the right posture, even the right blush and the right pupil dilation (the reason for a lot of makeup–eye shadow reduces glare on the eyes and so enhances pupil dilation, suggesting arousal)–and men had to recognize the interest and make a move.  That was still residually true in the sixties and beyond.  There is a joke in the movie Tootsie, in which the gorgeous girl Julie confides to elderly Dorothy Michaels that she just wishes the nonsense would go away and a guy would just walk up and say he found her attractive and would like to sleep with her, and then Dorothy Michaels transforms into her true self, Michael Dorsey, catches Julie at a party, and says exactly what she said she wanted the guy to say–and gets a drink in his face (or maybe slapped, it’s been a lot of years).  That was 1982, two decades after our supposed sexual revolution began, and it was still expected that a girl would keep silent about her interest and show signs by body language, and a guy would recognize the signs and make an approach.  Faint heart never won fair maiden was the old saying, so boldness was expected.

There’s another complication that gets everyone in trouble, and that is that it is not at all unusual for human bodies to want one thing while human minds want something completely different.  So you see a guy, and something inside you says, “That guy is hot.”  You answer.  You say to yourself that you’ve heard he’s a creep, he’s not your type, you’re in a relationship, this would be a very bad idea–but your body isn’t listening, it’s busy sending signals to that guy inviting him to make a move.  It is of course an unwelcome move–your mind will very quickly put him in his place, and leave him wondering how he so misread you.

Most of the men who have been accused come out of that generation.  They believe that women want to have sex with them because their positions of power and wealth have inflated their egos (not to mention having brought women out of the woodwork for whom that actually is an aphrodisiac), and they are looking for the signs.  Women, meanwhile, have learned to flirt a bit when they want something from a man–a job, a loan, a dinner invitation, a sales contract–and those smiles and friendly words are at least confusing.  So a man approaches a woman looking for something to happen, the woman inadvertently sends something that looks like a signal, the man moves in boldly, and we have a sexual Harassment claim.

And the world has changed.  I don’t know how it works now, but thankfully I’m too old and too long married to need to know any of that.  Some other system has fallen into place–but these men who grew up under the old system don’t know the new one, and they’ve been using the old one for so long and getting it wrong so often that they have a trail of sexual Harassment incidents in their wake.  What back in the sixties and seventies probably would have been written off as “that’s just the way it works” (I’m not saying it should have been, only that it was) is now completely unacceptable behavior and you should have known better despite the fact that there is no one to teach you the new rules.

A lot of what some of them did was beyond the boundaries always.  Bill Clinton certainly thought himself irresistible, but he also apparently raped a woman.  Sometimes the lines are clear; sometimes they are less so.

I’m not going to speak to any specific case, but it seems to me that a lot particularly of older men are being charged with acting in ways that were probably not thought inappropriate in the times and places in which they came of age.  We would like them to learn behavior we consider appropriate now, but to expect them to have known it retroactively over the decades is a bit much.  Probably more than half the men in the United States over the age of twelve have at some point or another acted toward a woman in a manner she considered inappropriate and harrassing.  We can’t really incarcerate all of us.

#216: Why Are You Here?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #216, on the subject of Why Are You Here?.

Why are you here?

I don’t mean why are you reading this page, or sitting or standing wherever you happen to be at this moment.  The question I’m asking is deeper than that, more, if you like, philosophical.  I am asking, Why do you exist at all?

Statue of St. Athanasius, credited with the ontological argument for the existence of God, in essence that our existence proves His.

You probably have been told by someone at some time that God has a purpose for your life, which is true, and I hope that you have accepted this.  We think of that as a specific purpose, which is also true–but perhaps not in the way we think of it.

Our notion of a specific purpose is that God specifically wants me to be a housewife and mother, or office worker, or teacher, pastor, engineer.  It’s true that God created us to be that, but that’s not really why He created you.  That is, there is perhaps a difference between the purpose of your existence and the purpose of your design.  God designed you to serve specific functions within the world, but He created you with a purpose that is entirely separate from the design.  If you consider the matter, you should realize that that’s rather a narrow view, that God created you because He needed someone to do that job, fill that position in the world.  When it comes to it, if God had never created anyone else, that purpose, that position in the world, that job, would be meaningless.

God certainly created us all to fit together, to do different things, but that’s that’s not ultimately your purpose.  It’s only your function, your position, the way you fit in the world.

The deeper question is, Why did He create you?  Why, indeed, did He create anyone at all?  Your existence is not so much dependent on the fact that you fulfill certain job descriptions in the world.  It must be that the answer to why God created you applies beyond you to explain why God created everyone else.  Why did He create people, and thus why did He create you?

When you see the answer to this question, you’ll realize it’s also the answer to a lot of other questions:  why is this happening to me, why do I have these gifts, why do I have these faults, flaws, weaknesses?  In short, Why am I who I am?

I asked the question; I offer an answer.

Before time, before anything had been created, God existed as Trinity, three persons sharing love.

Love was good.

God wanted to create more love.  The Father, the Son, and the Spirit loved each other, shared love between each other, and loved each other as much as it was possible to love.  How could there be more love, than the immeasurable love that existed between these three?

To create more love, God had to create more people, persons who could love and be loved as He within His Selves loves and is loved.

We were created to be those people, to love Him and each other, to learn to love as He loves.

Our entire world is created to teach us to love and to be loved.

That’s why the world is hard.  If the world were easy, love would be neither necessary nor valuable.  It is the fact that we learn to love amidst our trouble, and the fact that the trouble enables us to reach out to each other in love, that makes the world a good place to learn to love.

It is also why we have the flaws and the gifts we have, using our gifts to meet each other’s flaws, having our flaws addressed by the gifts of others, to learn to love and to be loved, and to understand that purpose, to love the way God loves and to be loved by God and each other.

That is why you are here.

#215: What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #215, on the subject of What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means.

About a week ago I posted on Facebook announcing our forty-first wedding anniversary.  The post drew a reasonable amount of the Facebook equivalent of applause, some of it from people I did not realize would see it.  So I wondered:  what are they applauding?  What do they think forty-one years of marriage means?

Well, I do not know what they think it means, but I have some idea of what it does mean.  I wrote web log post #65:  Being Married almost two years ago, and commented at the time that I was sure there were some things I was forgetting, so in a sense this is an addendum to that–but in a sense it is a separate observation.

Thanks to Kyler for this photo.

I suppose it should be said first that forty-one years of marriage probably means a lot of occasional doubts and suspicions, but fundamentally means learning to trust and to forgive–and there is something below that which gets in the way, and something above that which helps enormously.

What most people do not understand is that marriage is a covenant, not a contract.  People do not understand this, and they don’t generally know the difference, but it is important:

  • A contract is an exchange of mutually contingent promises.  That means I promise to do this, and you promise to do that, but if either of us fails to keep his “end of the bargain” the other is no longer obligated and does not have to fulfill his part.  This is typical in commercial transactions:  if I order something from you and you fail to deliver it, I am not obligated to pay for it even though I promised to do so.
  • A covenant is an exchange of mutually independent promises.  That means I make a promise to you, and you make a promise to me, and I am obligated to keep my promise because I made a promise, and you are obligated to keep your promise because you made a promise.  The part that is missing, that distinguishes it from a contract, is that our obligations are based not on the exchange but on our own individual integrity.  If you renege on your promise, I am still obligated to keep mine; if I fail, your obligation remains.

This is significant to the matter of trust and forgiveness.  I promised to be faithful, to love and cherish, pretty much to the best of my ability.  I did not promise to do so as long as she keeps her end of the bargain; I promised to do so as long as we were both alive.  If she fails, that has no impact on my obligation.  I still made that promise.  If you recall your own wedding, or weddings you have attended, I doubt you have ever been to one in which the vows included the words “as long as you do the same”.

That means that I don’t have to worry about whether she is keeping her promise, only about whether I am keeping mine.  I trust that she is, and were I to learn that she is not I forgive her, because it is irrelevant to my obligation to her.  It is not a contract, in which the failure of one party negates the obligation of the other.  Should either of us fail to keep our promise, even should we both fail, the promises still exist.  We pick ourselves up, forgive, and move forward trying to be and do what we promised.

Forty-one years of marriage is thus a long string of trust and forgiveness, of learning what it means to love someone and to keep a promise to do so even when it is not easy to keep it.

That’s what a forty-first wedding anniversary means.