Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Wake Up Call for All Men

Al Franken and John Conyers did the right thing by resigning, as did every Democrat who called for both men's resignations. I realize Franken comes from a blue state and Conyers from a blue district, so this wasn't exactly a profile in political courage. The real test will come when a senator or congressman from a red or purple state or district is forced out. And, trust me, that moment is coming. It's only a matter of time.

But that's not the point here. If the only lesson that comes out of the resignations of Franken and Conyers is that Democrats do the right thing only when it's in their best interests, then they are missing the bigger picture. Holding people accountable for their actions shouldn't be a partisan issue; it should be axiomatic. And given how pathetic the GOP's response has been towards both Donald Trump and Roy Moore, it is crucial. If Democrats want to make the case for why they should be trusted with the reigns of power in 2018, they need to have what Kirsten Gillibrand rightly calls a "zero tolerance" for such behavior.

I have read Ruth Marcus's piece in The Washington Post and, I'll concede, she raises a valid concern. There certainly could be a "rush to judgment" and "one size fits all" punishment for these offenders. Indeed, Franken addressed that concern on the Senate floor when he said it was ironic that he was stepping down while Trump was still in the White House and Moore was running for the Senate with the support of his party. But with all due respect to Franken and his supporters, you don't get brownie points for only being a PG-13 sex offender, any more than someone charged with manslaughter can argue he isn't Charles Manson and expect to get off. You do the crime, you do the time. Period!

But let's put politics aside for the moment and acknowledge that what we are witnessing is truly historic and unprecedented. In my 56 years on this planet - 38 of them as an adult - I've never seen anything remotely like it. This isn't just about a few women who were violated having the courage to come forward and tell their stories; it's much bigger than that. Don't get me wrong, their stories are genuine and heart wrenching and need to be told. But they pale in comparison to the cultural shift that is going on in the country.

Let's be honest. This male-dominated society that we live in has for too long enabled the sort of behavior that allowed men like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer to flourish. It wasn't just that they were predators who preyed on women; it's that for years they operated with impunity while the very system that coddled them turned a blind eye. Imagine the audacity of a man thinking it was appropriate for him to parade around naked or in his shorts in front of a female employee; or forcing a female intern to have sex with him or carry his child; or sticking his tongue into a woman's mouth; or groping a teenager in his car; or referring to a female co-worker as sweetie or honey; or commenting on how sexy she looks in a particular outfit and thinking he's only paying her a compliment. Imagine the depravity of such men who not only think such behavior and language is acceptable, but count on the complicity of an institution that shields them from any sort of accountability.

Well that institution appears to be crumbling before our very eyes. The old-boy network that for too long ignored the deviants within its ranks is being shaken to its very core, and I say "Amen." It's about time someone had the courage to take a pick axe to this misogynistic fellowship of misbegotten Neanderthals. For Christ's sake, we are in the last couple of years of the second decade of the twenty-first century, not the middle of fifth decade of the twentieth. Mad Men was supposed to be a show about how men treated women in the 1950s; it wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual for how they should be treated today.

This is a time for all of us, as men, to look in the mirror and examine our own actions and pre-conceived notions about women. The problem I have with Marcus's analysis is that it lets too many of us off the hook. Few men ever graduate to the level of a Weinstein, a Trump or a Moore, but there are plenty of us who have pushed the envelope in other ways. Maybe we didn't manipulate a woman into having sex with us, but how many times have we laughed at an off-color comment or joke and thought, "What's the big deal?" The inherent flaw in a sliding scale metric is that it ignores a basic fact that the Weinsteins of the world in all likelihood started off as a "What's the big deal?" offender. No doubt Franken still thinks the picture of him with his hands over Leeann Tweeden's breasts was a just a joke gone wrong. For a 13 year-old, maybe, but not for a grown man.

The fact that Franken, or any man, could find humor in such a photo is the real problem here. Misogyny isn't just confined to those men who commit sexual assaults or brag about grabbing a woman's "pussy" in an interview. Those are the easy ones to spot. It's the cultural morass that we must look at. Because until we begin to change our way of thinking as men, we will continue to foster the development of future Roy Moores and John Conyers.

I know a thing or two about this. I have made no secret of the fact that for years I was a drunk. Today I am sober and I attend meetings to make sure I stay that way. Addiction has all kinds of levels from casual to chronic. The term gateway drug refers to a substance that while not necessarily addictive on its own, often leads to other substances that are. Sexism is no different. If we don't nip bad behaviors in the bud at the onset, they can lead to other, far-more destructive ones. At some point in their earlier lives these predators got the message that what they were doing was harmless, nothing more than men being men. If only there had been someone in their lives who had the courage to say "No, this is not harmless, it's not ok, it's wrong to objectify women," I suspect the lives of many a victim would've been vastly different.

So to Ruth Marcus, I say, thanks, but no thanks. I'm going with Kirsten Gillibrand on this one. Zero tolerance is the only way. It's time for all us as men to own who we are and what we may have done. The time for rationalization and enabling is over. No more excuses, no more mulligans. Enough women have been scarred by our collective ignorance. These predators grew up in our ranks; we must do everything within our power to ensure they are not replaced by future ones.

It will be difficult, but then nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished easily. Years ago we laughed at jokes about race and homosexuality, and now such humor is considered off limits. And that is a good thing. If we can change with respect to those topics, then we can certainly change with respect to this one.

It starts right now with me, with you, with the guy at work or friend at a ballgame. Being a man means more than just being born with a particular set of genitalia; it means having the maturity and self-awareness to treat people as human beings and NOT as objects.

Look, none of us are angels. In my faith, we are taught that all fall short of the glory of God. But that does not give us license to disrespect one another or willfully ignore the sins of another man. There will be an accounting for those of us who do such things, believe me.

For my part, I consider the events of the last few weeks to be a wakeup call of sorts. I have done some serious soul searching and found areas of my life that I am not satisfied with. The lust that I have carried in my heart has clouded my judgment considerably. And while I am grateful that I am no Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump, I am painfully reminded of that famous phrase, "But for the grace of God go I."

My prayer is that all men, whoever and wherever they may be, might take this time to reflect on their lives and pledge to be better husbands, boyfriends, bosses, coworkers, associates, etc... The women in their lives deserve nothing less.

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