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Getting a Handle on What Sexual Misconduct Actually Means

I think everyone except white-wing evangelicals agrees that a forcible sex act is rape.

But what about a coworker looking at another and saying “Damn, she’s fine”?

Stealing a kiss in what you think is a romantic moment to find out she/he isn’t that in to you? I mean, in the old movies, that always seemed infamously to lead to slap a la Cary Grant and Doris Day.

Trying to force a coworker into a sexual encounter? No question this is wrong.

Can a woman be accused of sexual misconduct in attempting to coerce an unwilling male?

So where exactly are the lines?

And what can we do as a society to make sure everyone is on the same page? What is and is not acceptable is rapidly changing. As well as out view of “who” is believable. Misconduct isn’t going to be swept under the rug (unless you are a Republican).

 

What Does ‘Sexual Misconduct’ Actually Mean?

The almost infinite shades of creepy misbehavior on display are challenging the legal and cultural categories used to describe them.

“Enough is enough,” proclaimed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at a December 6 press conference. Whatever the details of her colleague Al Franken’s sexual misbehavior, said Gillibrand, who has been aggressively pushing for Congress to tackle its harassment problem, he needed to step down. “I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation. You need to draw a line in the sand and say: None of it is OK. None of it is acceptable.”

It most definitely is not. But as the public outrage over sexual misconduct gains force, it is swallowing up an increasingly diverse range of allegations, from the relatively petty (such as those lodged against Franken) to the truly monstrous (such as the claims regarding Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes). In between those poles exist almost infinite shades of creepy—which, sadly, will necessitate a great many discussions about how to deal with, and even talk about, the different types of offenses and offenders.

This is, in some ways, uncharted territory. In the past, questions of culpability were largely left to the legal realm: As long as a man didn’t get arrested or lose a lawsuit—and sometimes even if he did—he could get away with an awful lot while suffering little more than a bad-boy reputation. But the current reckoning is different, a rising tide of public shaming driven in part by shifting attitudes and expectations among younger women. Going forward, it’s hard to tell how the new lines will be drawn, much less where.

Women should be respected. Period. But not all offenders are created equal. The pattern of coercive harassment of employees allegedly perpetrated by chat show host Charlie Rose or former Representative John Conyers is not the same as the fumbling, drunken stupidity of which The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush stands accused. Thrush may or may not deserve to lose his current job for having made booze-fueled passes at, and subsequently talked smack about, female colleagues at his previous job. But his alleged offenses pale when compared to, say, ex-ABC pundit Mark Halperin’s alleged practice of groping, rubbing his erections against, and even masturbating in front of junior staffers—and then threatening to kill the careers of those who rebuffed him. (Like many of the men caught in this whirlwind, Halperin disputes at least some of the allegations against him.)

Some of the misbehavior being detailed is flat-out bizarre. Comedian Louis C.K. admitted to being a nonviolent but nevertheless intrusive exhibitionist-masturbator. It remains a public mystery precisely what Garrison Keillor did to get his radio show killed. (Something about touching a woman’s bare back when her shirt fluttered open?) Representative Joe Barton had every right to text naked pics of himself to one of his girlfriends, but threatening to use the Capitol Police to keep her quiet about their relationship was a no-no. As for former Representative Trent Franks, who felt it appropriate to pressure multiple young aides to serve as surrogate mothers for him and his wife: Someone needs to explain that The Handmaid’s Tale is dystopian fiction, not a how-to guide.

Then, of course, there are the many and varied accusations circling President Donald Trump, not to mention his own boasts in this area—none of which he has addressed in a remotely coherent, much less persuasive fashion. (The Access Hollywood tape is empty locker room talk! No, wait, it’s a fake! He has never met these women! Not even the ones he’s been photographed with! Or the one who was on his show!) But that, alas, is a special topic to be saved for another day.

It is precisely because this movement is so powerful that it’s important to avoid (through frustration or disgust, exhaustion or confusion) sweeping every bad act and actor into the same mushy heap. That kind of sloppiness breeds excess and backlash. Right now, even our language is inadequate to the moment. Shoving Weinstein and Ailes under the same umbrella of sexual “misconduct” or “misbehavior” as Franken or Thrush renders such terms all but meaningless. Weinstein terrorized scores of women—psychologically, professionally, and physically—for multiple decades and is currently under investigation for rape. That’s not “misconduct” or “harassment.” It’s an atrocity, possibly wrapped in multiple felonies. Both genders need to find a way to address some of these qualitative distinctions without sounding like anyone is being let off the hook.

This may sound obvious, until, for instance, you wander into an angry Twitter mob of John Conyers supporters demanding to know why the ex-congressman’s sins are seen by many to be worse than Franken’s. Well, for starters, Franken didn’t use tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to secretly settle an aide’s harassment claim. As for the underlying misconduct, if one believes the accusations, Conyers’s transgressions—committed repeatedly against his own employees in direct abuse of his power over them—were empirically more egregious and revolting. (Asking an aide to touch his junk or else find him another woman who would? Come on.) This isn’t to say that Franken didn’t behave like an entitled pig. But, until the drip, drip, drip of low-level grope-and-slobber stories accumulated, the case for his being pushed from office was not nearly as clear as the one against Conyers….More...

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in and the Single Life, Men, The New Jim Crow, Women

 

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