I believed Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. No woman would put herself through this ordeal purely for some political gain or if her charges were not true. And no woman who has been a victim of sexual assault forgets who did it.
I found Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony a typical example of white male privilege in action. Anger, outrage, and all about HIM and his family. The power of the Old Boys’ Network remains in tact.
As a recipient of multiple unwanted advances over my lifetime (from a stranger on a bus, to a doctor, to a boss), I feel vindicated that this previously ignored and ubiquitous practice of sexual assault and harassment (that nearly ALL women have experienced) is finally getting the attention it deserves. And I admit to a genuine thrill each time I read about men in power (Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves, Heath Evans, et.al.) who finally face consequences, after years of serial abuse.
On the other hand, I have also felt growing unease, pondering — Why is the default response to each new allegation, from so many otherwise responsible and accomplished men, STILL resistance, denial, and dismissiveness? This question has not led me to a good place. Because I’m afraid the answer comes from some very core differences between males and females. Here is my thinking. And, please, for a moment, forgive my gender binarism.
We know that the male in any usually seeks to mate with as many partners as possible, as often as possible, to maximize the chances of passing on his genes. Females, once impregnated or having laid eggs, generally focus on the care and nurturing of offspring and often aren’t even able to become pregnant again until their young are grown.
Think of humans the same way. Because there is certainly enough scientific evidence showing marked biological differences in the way different humans approach sex. Let’s take testosterone. We all have it. It’s the hormone largely responsible for libido in both men and women. But normal range for males is 280-1100 nanograms per deciliter; the normal range for women is 15 – 70. Clearly what is normal in one gender looks something like an overdose in the other.
How does this biological difference play out? From Psychology Today: “When a male’s T-levels rise beyond a certain point, he can hardly help but have sex on his mind virtually all the time… Very much like animals in heat, males ‘under the influence’ may have great difficulty in perceiving females other than one-dimensionally—as objects for lustful gratification.
We all recognize there are ALSO societal norms that continually reenforce gender differences. For men, frequent sexual conquests are usually envied, a sign of prowess, something to brag about to peers. Women with similar experiences are still too often labeled as sluts and so, women learn early to keep their sexual history private. These attitudes permeate our culture.
In addition, we are all familiar with the other myriad ways gender stereotyping pervades our lives. (Assertive boys marked as leaders; assertive girls labeled pushy or bossy. A forceful male executive admired; a similarly strong female called a bitch.)
So, how does this relate to sexual harassment? Unfortunately, I think it means that because men experience sexual desire as a more continuous and primal instinct, they don’t, when operating under the influence of testosterone, seem to be able to remember or care that the object of their desire may feel radically different.
And that gets me to a dark place. Bottom line, deep down, I’m afraid men don’t consider “forced sex” all that big a deal. After all, it’s just sex, right? Mostly, they figure it feels good and since they want it all the time, women can’t really mind THAT much. So, why all this fuss? It’s certainly not a big enough deal to ruin a man’s career over, right?
And this is how I explain Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Because he and the President and our male-dominated Congress may think these accusations don’t really say anything important about the essential character of the man? So what if Kavanaugh held a girl down, covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream, or forced another to touch his penis? Isn’t that just boys being boys?
So discouraging. Much deeper than just a reluctance to believe women. I’m afraid that men fundamentally don’t see sexual assault and harassment charges as particularly serious.
And how then do we ever change such attitudes when the causes are so deeply rooted in biological and cultural norms? Maybe what we need is a widespread, long-term re-education program. What if women take on the responsibility of telling the men in our lives that sexual assault for us feels less like one more sexual escapade and is more akin to males experiencing anal rape. I suspect that’s an analogy that may help many of them understand that “NO means NO!” Because these are NOT acts of sex. We’re talking about acts of violence, brute force and personal invasion that are completely unwanted.
What do you think?
SUGGESTION: For a fascinating, first-hand account on how testosterone changes behavior, listen to Act II of this 2002 episode of This American Life entitled Testosterone.