Along with being essential, powerful and eye opening the, “Me Too,” movement is also vague and potentially dangerous. Part of the danger is intrinsically tied with its vagueness. When we ask someone to state, “Me too,” if they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted we do two things. The first thing that we do is show that an overwhelming majority of women have suffered sexual harassment at the hands of men. (Yes, men also suffer from sexual harassment and women can be harassers, but get real. Men are the problem here and women are the staggeringly disproportionate victims.) The second thing that we do is equate two related but unequal offenses.
Sexual harassment is heinous and illegal. Sexual assault is a felony that carries penal penalties. Harassment charges can lead to civil trials. The penalty for harassment is monetary. Sexual assault charges can lead to criminal trials and jail time. I am not minimizing the horror of harassment, especially in light of the Me Too movement which shows its perverse pervasiveness, I am stating our legal code differentiates between the two and does so with good reason.
In 1979 I attended college freshman orientation and part of orientation centered around personal safety and sexual assault. Memory tells me that we were told that in the USA one in ten women would be raped during her lifetime. This terribly high number has been replaced with one in five. (The 100% increase in four decades is thought to be far more reflective of reality in 1979 as well as now because women now understand that a requirement to fight off an assailant, “tooth and nail,” is not now, nor was it ever, appropriate. Our perception of sexual assault is broader than it once was, and women are more likely to report being attacked. Both of these factors have contributed to the rape rate doubling.)
Sexual assault is a huge problem in our world and Me Too gives a greater understanding of how huge this problem is. Sexual harassment, especially of young, vulnerable victims at the hands of older, powerful men, is intolerable and we need to examine how we view interactions between the sexes across age and influence differences and equality as a whole. The West has eons of history where women are viewed as second class citizens at best and disposable property at worst that we need to rise above. To put the timeline of equality in perspective, remember that it has been less than a century since women won the simple right to vote. We greatly need to examine our underlying prejudices and subconscious expectations.
Equality, women’s and human rights have been a lifelong interest. Around 2010 my eyes were opened when a friend, now 27, transitioned from female to male. I met my friend when she was a high school freshman and developed paternal love for her. The transgender transition was hard for me, (Yes, I know the irony of that statement!) and at first I only addressed my now transgender friend by her new, masculine name, never uttering the pronoun, “he.”
With time I realized how immaturely I was acting and resolved to do better. “Better” is comparative and I soon realized that I was not treating this young man the same way that I did others. I resolved to treat my young friend as I would his age mate peers with whom I interacted.
Having my ingrained, gender-defined prejudices planted squarely in my face reinforced my understanding of how pandemic the problem of gender equality is, how subtle the mechanism of control. We all know that behaviors that have been historically accepted are, in reality, simply unacceptable. If an introspective, college educated, equality advocate is stumbling around in the dark then so are a lot of more tradition grounded folks. We need to break free from old standards and rules and strive for egalitarianism. We need to make this a land of liberty and justice for all.
My opening sentence declared that Me Too is potentially dangerous. Traditionally, being a victim of sexual assault is taboo and stepping forward and declaring oneself a victim mortifying. The power of Me Too in empowering women to step forward has the potential to lead to a McCarthy like witch-hunt where accusation leads to assumed guilt. Due diligence, respect for victims but an open eyed, open minded examination of charges is essential. The easier it becomes for a victim to be heard the greater the likelihood that unscrupulous people will resort to using the mindset that accusers don’t lie. With every rule change old standards need to be reexamined.
Right now, we old guys are walking on egg shells because there aren’t any mores, there are no defined rules of the road. That’s a hard place to be but is rather like my discomfort with my friend’s transition; a gnat bite compared to a chainsaw cut.
We all need to keep loving, keep being respectful and keep putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. I guarantee the road ahead will be a lot less bumpy after we get out of this wilderness.