Tag Archives: sexual assault

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lost Opportunities for Women: Sexism Sucks, But Blame Capitalism More

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One of the points many women have made since the beginning of the current national discussion about sexual assault and harassment has been that sexism and misogyny have cost women countless opportunities to achieve their full potential.       Probably because this began with Harvey Weinstein, much of the mourning of opportunity costs focused on Hollywood: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mentioned her reaction to research she did on the topic: “I got more and more angry as I realized that these women were being systematically excluded based on ridiculous biases.”

It’s an excellent, long-overdue point: Who could possibly count how many brilliant women have been denied high-profile roles as actors and directors and studio executives as the result of the studios’ toxic “casting couch” culture? How much great insight and entertainment have the rest of us, including men, lost because we have been denied the full expression of women censored because they refused to sleep with some nasty executive?

Outside the world of entertainment, might cancer have been cured had more women been encouraged to enter a STEM career?

At the same time, there are many other forms of discrimination that have similar effects, yet they’re so hardwired into the system that we don’t give them much thought.

Most of these tragic cases of human underachievement are the direct result of economic discrimination. There is the guy who would be a great poet if not for the fact that he grew up in rural West Virginia and his parents were poor and uneducated so it never occurred to them to point him towards a career that, had they heard of it, would seem useless and impossible to turn into a viable means of making a living — which, because they were poor, was the only thing they could think about.

There is the woman working as a cashier in the Bronx who might have gone to Yale if she had been granted a scholarship or had been born into a wealthy family, the woman who would have created an amazing computer company had the sexist pigs who compose Silicon Valley’s V.C. class given her pitch a fair hearing, the girl of color sitting in class in a rundown elementary school whose horizons have become a sinkhole thanks to mere demographics.

You can turn this around and look at it from the other side as well. Think of all the profiles you’ve read about an actor who scored his big break due to pure happenstance (as opposed to talent). You may have such a story yourself. If you think about it, though, the random lucky break is not a heartwarming confirmation that the universe provides what you need. Those breaks are few and far-between. The terrifying truth is that most people who deserve them never get them — and that sucks. It reflects the arbitrary and capricious nature of a system that barely pretends to be a smidge of a meritocracy.

I feel luckier than most. Even so, there are many things that I was never able to do simply because I didn’t have enough money: attend the college of my choice, study the major of my choice, join the Peace Corps, take a gap year and travel through Europe, get knee surgery, accept an internship, attend the grad school that accepted me but didn’t offer me financial aid, start a small newspaper, tell a jerky boss to go to hell. I doubt that many people reading this would have trouble composing an even longer list of things they would have liked to do, places they would have liked to see, businesses they would have liked to start, all out of reach due to a lack of funds.

Aside from stifling our dreams and crushing our ambitions, our cult of capitalism denies us the broad-based political debate that might solve many of our most pressing problems. Due to the pro-corporate, right-wing political bias of the mainstream media, all the left-wing ideas that never get expressed in the opinion pages and society are denied distribution, meaning that they never get discussed. For example, antiwar voices are never allowed space in major newspapers, radio news broadcasts, or on television. Surely that rigid censorship has something to do with the fact that the United States has constantly been at war since the American Revolution. When is the last time you heard a politician or pundit argue that we ought to spend more on mitigating climate change than we do on the military?

Capitalism is presented as an ideology that allows people to fulfill their ambitions and make the most of themselves, but in reality it’s exactly the opposite: it constrains people to what they can achieve based upon what’s in their bank account or in their parents’ estate. So the United States has been one of the least socially mobile societies in the industrialized world for quite some time (and it’s getting worse) but most Americans don’t have a clue. This caste system also applies to everyone. Even under a construct of systematic sexism and misogyny, a wealthy woman enjoys far more opportunity than a poor man.

This is not to say that women don’t have every right to rage against men, or to understate the validity of women’s complaints about male misdeeds ranging from contempt to physical assault. The sexual assault and harassment discussion is yet another reminder that the fundamental underlying cause of the problem is power and its inevitable abuse.

It has long been a standard argument of feminists that the world would be a better place if women were in charge.

Certainly more women should be in charge: exactly 50% of the people in charge ought to be women. But we need to look beyond sexism to understand the meta root cause behind unjustly (and foolishly) squandering countless human potential. Whether that waste is directly attributable to discrimination based upon race, gender, or some other factor, it will continue as long as we live in a society whose foundation relies upon the disgusting assumption that only those who can afford it have the right to be everything that they can be.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: #MenToo? Even Under Matriarchy, Rape and Sexual Harassment Would Still Be a Big Problem

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Post-Harvey Weinstein, the pitchforks are out — and with good reason. Women and girls have been diminished, objectified, exploited, terrorized, discriminated against, sexually harassed forever. Only fools thought sexism and misogyny at the hands of male oppression had been eliminated, but many people had reason to assume things had improved post-Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, when “male chauvinist pig” became a sit-com meme. Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly et al. demonstrate that, at the apex of the power structure, nothing really changed.

And that’s the point of this column, which I was reluctant to write for fear of being accused of minimizing the righteous anger of the women stepping forward to say enough, no more. Rape culture — the insidious vapor that women wade through every day, whether it’s inappropriate sexist or sexual remarks, gauging whether it’s safe to take their boss up on an offer for drinks that could lead to a promotion, and/or an unwanted sexual advance, or hesitating to tell a wolf-whistling construction worker where he can stick it because he could break her face without breaking a sweat — does not afflict men to any significant extent. Men feel fear walking down a city street at 1 a.m. in a bad neighborhood; women feel it all the time in every neighborhood.

Rape culture only afflicts women. But rape cuts across gender. One out of ten rape victims in the United States is male, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

This echoes what I was told as a member of a committee when I was a student. Barnard College, where I lived in a dorm, had recently established a rape crisis center with about 10 counselors. Someone brought up a surprising statistic. The campus security office reported that 10% of rape victims at Columbia University were male. (They didn’t say the sex of the attackers.) When I suggested that the crisis center might want to consider hiring one counselor with expertise with male victims, however, the other committee members laughed — all of them except the other guy.

To the extent that society discusses this hidden 10 percent — or, if you believe the 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38 percent! — the cliché is males raping males. Yet the BJS found that 46 percent of victims reported being raped by a woman.

No one can credibly minimize the devastating impact of sexual assault and harassment on the vast majority of victims, who are women. But, as inadequate as it is, there is awareness, and infrastructure, and sympathy for female rape victims. Can you imagine, as a man, trying to file a report with the police that you’d been sexually assaulted by a woman?

Given male anatomy that requires an erection for penetration, how can a woman rape a man? Well, she can. Really. As with female rape victims, physical arousal in men can be stimulated involuntarily. Don’t forget the effects of drugs, alcohol and psychological manipulation.

What about men’s superior upper body strength? Men are stronger on average. But many individual women are stronger, and some individual men are weaker, than the average. Sometimes there are multiple attackers. It happened to me.

To most guys even, getting jumped by two women sounds like a “Dear Mr. Guccione, I never thought I’d be writing this letter” scenario. But not every dude wants it all the time, no guy wants it from every woman, and sometimes you’re just not feeling it with a woman whom you might find appealing under different circumstances. Every “unwanted sexual advance” is unwanted until and unless it gets accepted; the trouble starts when the advancer refuses to take no for an answer, as happened in my situation, and it escalates when they get angry or vengeful. Like most men, I was socially programmed, Robocop Directive 4-style, never to lay a hand on a woman. I was lucky; I barely managed to escape my attackers, pants dragging on the floor, without hitting anyone.

It was easy to imagine another outcome: succumbing to rape or, worse, being charged with assault for defending myself. This happens to women too, of course — but it’s harder for male victims to mount a credible legal defense.

Similarly, men also fall prey to harassment in the workplace. I have been fired from two jobs, each after I had refused my female boss’ sexual advances. They cited other pretexts, but I’m sure that I would have lasted longer had I put out.

Many of Harvey Weinstein’s victims tell stories of turning up for a meeting hopeful that a connection with a high-powered producer could score them a great role in a cool movie, only to find that the only thing he wanted was sex. For those who got out of his hotel room without him touching them, the experience was degrading and a waste of time.

I get it. One night in the 1980s, the car service that took me home late from my job at a New York bank asked if I’d share a vehicle because heavy rain had made taxi scarce. I was in my early 20s. My taxi companion, a woman in her 40s, informed me that she was a top bank official looking to hire a new officer and invited me to lunch to discuss my career. At lunch, however, she made an indecent proposal: she’d put me on salary to a job I’d never have to show up to as long as I became her live-in boy toy. She didn’t threaten or grab my bits. But she wasted my time and my self-esteem. Was my body all this high-powered executive saw of worth in me?

When I confide this story, reactions range from incredulity — you should have gone for it! — to derision. Sounds hot! Dismissal, men who have been there will tell you, is typical. Former professional bicyclist Joe Papp told me he was “sexually harassed and then assaulted  (groped, kissed against my will) by [an] inebriated female colleague. One other female colleague present. Reported it to ownership next day — they laughed.”

Pundits point to Weinstein and Hollywood’s male-dominated executive suites as central to the propagation of rape culture. “To solve the problem, Hollywood needs new executives and decision-makers: women,” Adam Epstein writes at Qwartz. “Nothing of substance will get done until there are more women bosses in every department, and at every level, of the film business.” Gender equality is great — but it won’t eliminate sexual harassment and assault. According to one study, one-third of American men report being sexually harassed in their workplace during the last year.

As Roxane Gay wrote in The New York Times, “Sexual violence is about power. There is a sexual component, yes, but mostly it’s about someone exerting his or her will over another and deriving pleasure and satisfaction from that exertion.”

You could transform America into a matriarchy. It might be great. But it wouldn’t free us from rape or sexual harassment.

Only a revolution against inequality could do that.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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