The Other I

November 2, 2017

Me too’ism gone viral

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff,Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 3:08 pm

Image result for sex pestsIn several of my Life as a Nun posts on this blog, I have described my experiences as an attractive, intelligent, and above all incredibly naive 27-year old emerging from convent life to the “real world” of hippie New York City.  I am remembering what I learned during those days as I try to understand the “Me too’ism” unleashed by the galley of allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein.  It is hitting the headlines here in England, displacing terrorism, Brexit, and many other international events of global significance.  Already a highly placed political figure in Parliament and cabinet has been displaced, and accusations of many others are rampant, some potentially serious, many unsubstantiated.

Before going further,  I want to make it clear that I consider sexual abuse to be a profound violation of human rights, often deeply and permanently damaging, and also, unfortunately, widespread throughout many different cultures around the world.  I give my total support to the view that we should do everything we can to stop it.

But I am convinced that the problem is not nearly as black-and-white as some people seem to think.  Many of the accusations surfacing seem to be serious.  Others are appallingly trivial.  The senior politician who was displaced was accused of putting his hand on a young woman’s knee thirty years ago.  Nothing more.  Even the journalist who made the accusation has been explicit that it was nothing more.

I have my own Me too-ism stories.  After leaving the convent I had to learn that I was sending out signals of apparent acquiescence that I meant to be understood merely as acts of kindness and friendship.  Following on that, I had no idea how to say “no.”  Consequently, I ended up on my back when, in truth, I had no wish whatsoever for a sexual encounter.  But as I look back, I think that most often the man involved in our encounter was as naive as I was, but in a different way.

I had been socialized as a girl to do what I could to support men whom I was taught to believe placed me as a female on a virginal pedestal.   Men were socialized that they had responsibilities to care for the women in their family by taking a leadership position.  As these assumptions began to break down in the 1960’s, members of both sexes were unaware that females might send messages differently than males’.  As premarital and extra-marital sex became acceptable, men often assumed that an hour of sexual pleasure was as rewarding for women as it was for them.  It didn’t matter if they were priests, university professors, workers, fellow students, or friends with whom one participated in civil rights or anti-war demonstrations.  In my experience, for men sexual intercourse typically did not involve a commitment any more serious than enjoying a good meal together.

But I didn’t think that.  I didn’t expect an offer of marriage, but I did expect an ongoing relationship.  I did not expect to become a one-night stand.  Or less.  I gradually became angry, and bitter, and mistrusting of men when I discovered more than once that that is exactly what I was.  One of the best things that has ever happened to me was that I met a man whom I found sexually attractive, intelligent, educated, and who did not think of me as a one-night stand.  He saved me from becoming locked into permanent hostility against men.  We have been living together for close to half a century now.

In the context of this relationship with my husband, I learned how to become more discriminating.  And I learned how to say no without making too much of a fuss to men who come on inappropriately.  I know that as a university professor I was respected, I was influential, and my colleagues understood that I was, as one described it,  “very married.”

Image result for sex pestsI see now that sexual abuse and misunderstandings are often a two-way street.  Learning to send and also to read signals from members of the opposite sex is not simple.  A pat on the knee, an arm around the shoulder, a particular facial expression may or may not be a come-on.  How close people are physically, whether sitting or standing, is particularly cultural.  Both men and women may deliberately or unconsciously, send signals through the clothes we wear, the way we walk, our behavior when we are in a bar or disco.  And the meaning of those signals often changes in the context within which they occur.

Image result for sex pestsYes! some behaviors in any culture, whether by men or women, are serious and abusive and should be condemned.  Outright rape, use of over-powering physical or financial control, by either men or women, threat to one’s career prospects if one does not acquiesce to sexual demands, all are examples of down right, unforgivable abuse in my book.  But every apparently sexual innuendo experienced by a woman is not, in my strong opinion, an  example of serious sexual abuse.

And it is not always obviously uniquely a male problem.

3 Comments »

  1. Thanks, Terry. This is an excellent and illuminating piece of writing, and as a man I especially appreciate your frankness. You could make a book out of this.

    I experienced something similar as a male, actually. When I think back on situations I was in — and this extends into my thirties if not beyond — and the naivety with which I reacted I both laugh and blush. As a male, of course, even if I had recognized what was happening I would not have had any reason to fear physical coercion. Of course, I attribute this appalling ignorance to my own religious education and segregation from the opposite sex. I saw more of the real world of sex when I was in elementary school than at any time since: girls in the first rush of puberty, sexual encounters friends were already having with the opposite sex. And then high school and nothing but other males for the next eight years, and somehow I forgot all that earlier observation. I too thought love and sex were the same thing, though my body knew better. But I simply bifurcated my body from my consciousness, even when asleep, if you can believe it.

    Thanks again.

    Like

    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — November 2, 2017 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

    • Tom, thank you as well for your frankness. I feel I recognize what you are saying — males need to learn about the meaning of sex for women every bit as much as women need to learn about men.

      Your description of 8 years of all-male education also parallels my own experience of education in a completely female environment. So often parents, educators, religious leaders seem to think that virtue arises out of ignorance. I have become convinced that just the opposite is true. If we force our young people to discover the complexities of a life for themselves with no guidance or exposure at all, then our naivete and apparent insensitivity is almost inevitable.

      I fear many parents are doing something similar with the internet today. Even those parents who are not unaware of the dangers in cyberspace too often think the solution lies in parental controls, simply blocking access to porn and other questionable websites on their children’s computers, ipads, and phones. I’m not advocating giving children total access to the internet. For one thing, I would limit the time any of us should spend in the day sitting in front of a screen. It is too addictive. But I would also strongly recommend discussing with young ones the process of on-line bullying and teaching them to be suspicious of on-line conversations with someone who may be pretending to be someone they are not. I would even look at porn sites together, to explain how that world operates. Etc.

      Be interested in your thoughts on this.

      Like

      Comment by Terry Sissons — November 3, 2017 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  2. I think a frank exchange between child and parent in a trusting relationship is the best way to educate the child (and maybe the parent too). My overriding emotion was to _not_ say anything to my parents. Anything to do with sex was sinful, so there was no place for a conversation to go on that topic anyway. But, more importantly, there was no real line of communication to talk on. I’ve witnessed recently with amazement young children sharing fears and other feelings with a parent that I was ashamed even to admit to myself never mind to one of my parents.

    Of course, much the same thing prevailed in school. Since much of the turmoil that preoccupied an adolescent was fraught with moral implication, you didn’t feel inclined to mention it, except of course in the confessional.

    I don’t pretend my experience was the same for everyone else, even in my own family. I was much less robust than the average, I would think — neurotic, you could safely say, I think. I remember, though, in freshmen year of high school a student bragging about his sexual exploits. He just disappeared early on in the semester. Shades of the USSR, only substitute sex for politics.You could, in effect, be “disappeared” if you were too experienced sexually. I suppose it was concern for contamination of other students on the part of faculty that caused those disappearances.

    So, I agree that sharing is a good idea. I know the couple times I confessed obsessional fears to my father the very fact of his listening without judgment had a dramatic effect for me. He was actually known for his caring ways…outside the family.

    Like

    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — November 5, 2017 @ 11:37 pm | Reply


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