The Shape of Things to Come

There are no excuses…forced, non-negotiated sexual encounters are repugnant.  Promises of career advancement or threats of career derailment used as a weapon in a war of desire, are repugnant. All such behaviors are repugnant. What about lesser transgressions?

What’s a poor boy to do under the new rules?  Is it harassment if a fourteen year old boy doesn’t attempt to hide his bulging crotch during school hours?  What will become of the “come on”?  The boundaries are shifting quickly.  With all the recent emphasis on powerful men one wonders about those men who aren’t powerful in a public sort of way yet possess charm, decent looks, a quick wit–will they squeak by, will they get a pass to the prom?

If sex itself is about power, is it possible we’re seeing some women enacting a kind of revenge against those who have bitten the fruit of passion and then tossed it aside?  When a woman gives a man (or another woman), or a man another man the ultimate conjunction of genitalia, and then suffers in the hours or days that follow…conjunction remorse…what happens? Feelings of rejection, damaged self-esteem, even anger….(which helps to bolster the ego)…ugly thoughts honed to a razor’s edge serve as emoluments for the broken dreams, promises, hopes and wishes of the person “wronged.”

In the old days, the last century really, a trysted but spurned woman would trash, the rejecter’s reputation with rumor and gossip and even with graffiti. With the coming of the internet and its sporn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest; such rejections get instantly globalized, often reaching into spheres that used to be almost inaccessible.

Accusations with little or no substantiation may now be enough to bring down the high and the mighty. What may have once seemed consensual given the dream or promise of a future together, or even the playful frisson that comes from being an object of desire, may now be viewed as malfeasance…

Per Rod Liddle points in a recent column from the Spectator, “Take a look at the Harvey Weinstein case. He seems to me to be a repulsive, odious human being. One’s sympathies are surely with the Italian actress Asia Argento, on whom the gargantuan slob ‘forcibly’ performed what the papers refer to as a ‘sex act.’  And perhaps our sympathies should still be with her when we learn that she then, um, went on to have a five-year relationship with Weinstein which involved quite a few more of those ‘sex acts,’ I would guess. But should we not at least wonder a little at the real nature of their relationship?”

Liddle goes on to note that any resistance to a claim of sexual harassment “…will incur a vilification every bit as extreme as if one had committed these acts of harassment oneself. Simply to hold such a thought would make one an ‘abuse denier’. Denier! Denier! Has any word been more traduced in our current century?”

One aspect of the sexual harassment equation that has yet to get much attention is the agency of women involved in the dailiness of sexploitation. When it comes to hookups or marriage plots, men don’t have a monopoly on manipulativeness or ulterior motives.

A recent confession by a former political correspondent, Melissa Kite, puts it succinctly…”Look, what I’m saying is, women are not always passive victims. I certainly wasn’t. I enjoyed the charged atmosphere of politics. I thrived on it as well as the men did; more than some of them maybe.  Did I go further with others? Oh dear, I think I did. I was young and insecure, chippy, worried about making my mark. And I was still thinking that some day my prince would come. So I kissed a few frogs at Westminster, thinking maybe, just maybe, I’d marry an MP. It was my workplace, after all, and your workplace is where you meet people.  I won’t make excuses for real assault or harassment but I’m not comfortable with the current narrative which casts all women as helpless. This is setting our cause back light years. There can be no excuse for genuine harassment and abuse. But flirting? Flirting makes the world go round. Well, it made my world go round anyway.”

What constitutes harassment has fast become a no-mans-land as Lara Pendergast points out in From Chaperones to Modesty Wear, a sexual reformation is underway…”The wrong words, gestures or body language might now render them[men] guilty of one of the new crimes popping up on social media — for example, ‘creeping’ on someone or being ‘too handsy.”  “Trending now”…the new-speak is rushing in. A moral panic over sexual harassment may lead to criminalizing certain postures and even certain sight lines.  Woe onto those persons [men] who are caught seeming to gaze at any part of a woman besides her head or her feet.  The sunglass industry is sure to benefit.


FOOTNOTE:  The fashion world has jumped on board with the latest fashion couture from Jil Sander featuring a lanky woman wearing a man’s button-down shirt cut to be worn backwards, along with a similarly cut backwards sports jacket. The sack-look is coming back.