It’s a day of reckoning for men who just don’t get it
Women pay an enormous physical and emotional price at the hands of abusive men
“Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your makeup …”
– Jack Jones singing to married women in his Grammy-winning “Wives and Lovers” in 1963
“You Don’t Own Me …”
– A teenage Lesley Gore singing her 1963 hit song, which was written and produced by men
In the winter of 1963, a day before Martin Luther King Jr.’s 34th birthday, a defiant George Wallace, the newly elected Alabama governor, stood in his state’s capital and thundered, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
In the summer of 1963, a towering King stood in his nation’s capital and trumpeted the 20th century’s great public evocation of America’s credo: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”
Just weeks after that, a teacher at my elementary school in Philadelphia talked to my third-grade class about President James A. Garfield’s assassination in 1881. She said that the killing happened when America was emerging from its rough-and-tumble cowboy days. Such an event, she said in 1963, wouldn’t happen today. But in November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.
In 1963, a moment in the nation’s history when time threatened to stand still and the forces of darkness appeared to hold the power to turn back the clock in frightening ways, things were changing in ways no one appeared able to predict or control.
Fifty-five years later, America continues to be ensnared in a battle between progress and a retreat to a mythical and celebrated past. We’re ever aswirl in unforeseen and uncontrollable events.
For example, men from Louis C.K. to Bill Cosby, the formerly popular to the formerly revered, are being shunned because of their behavior with women.
Some, like Louis C.K., will lose jobs. Others, like Cosby, prisoner No. NN7687, will lose their liberty. Today, more than ever, women claim sovereignty over their bodies and the men with roving little hands don’t own them. They don’t own them at drunken fraternity mixers, in corporate offices or especially the solitude of their own minds, where they seek to be the sole arbiters of their reproductive health.
In the song “Wives and Lovers,” married women are warned that “men will always be men.” But they won’t always get away with behaving as if they were drunken frat boys, intoxicated with their own power and privilege.
Women pay an enormous physical and emotional price at the hands of abusive men. And women who summon the courage to seek justice are often met with withering attacks on everything from how they dress to their mental health.
Nevertheless, sexually abused women tell their stories and find peace in their souls and reap justice, if only in the court of public opinion. And as the shunned celebrity men will tell you, those who try to be frat boys for life can pay a belated and deserved price.
Last week, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke like that. She spoke in a small voice that echoed her pain and that of countless other women. She said that when they were teenagers in Maryland that Brett Kavanaugh, drunk and reeking of disdainful laughter, had sexually assaulted her, an allegation the federal judge and would-be Supreme Court justice, vigorously denied. Who knows if we’ll know who is telling the truth. Who knows whether our nation, fractured by politics and ideology, could reach consensus on the truth, no matter what new information is revealed by a new FBI investigation, the media or other sources.
Still, no great social malady is healed by punishment or the fear of punishment. The nation’s women will not become less likely to be sexually abused solely because their abusers get punished, even in the unlikely event that our society would respond to allegations of abuse uniformly, whether it took place on the back stairs of a housing project or in a corporate boardroom.
Furthermore, our emotional, economic and political investment in some of the accused men can be so great that many will rush to their defense, maintaining, quite correctly, that there is a vast difference between being accused of a crime and having committed it. Other defenders will explain away the alleged sexual misconduct or normalize it: “Boys will be boys.”
Consequently, real change regarding the sexual abuse of women will require boys and men to embrace the concept that girls and women own their bodies and their lives and have a worldview that differs from men’s. When that happens, men won’t refrain from sexually abusing women because of the fear of punishment, they’ll refrain because they know it’s wrong.
Free at last.