Matt Lauer is the latest among the big celebrities to fall from grace. I learned about it from my neighbor this morning who mentioned it as we passed each other on the street while walking our dogs. He wondered when the revelations would stop. I wondered when the sexual harassment would end. We were both disturbed by it, but apparently for different reasons.
I’ll admit it. I’m naïve. I had no idea that sexual harassment was going on to the depth I’m finding out that it does. It’s not in my nature to make a pass at anyone. I have a terrible fear of rejection, which, as it turns out, seems to just make me an upstanding guy. Nevertheless, I struggle to wrap my head around how a guy could think he’s so incredibly good-looking and charming he believes people want to have sex with him, or see him naked, while he is completely oblivious to social cues.
Men, particularly wealthy men, seem to live in a completely different level of self-delusion than the rest of us. They’re kind of like those people who walk around naked in cities that allow public nudity. The only ones who do it are the ones none of the rest of us want to see naked. If that’s you, for the love of God, please put your clothes back on.
It’s clear that the revelations of sexual harassment of public and private citizens will continue for now. As difficult as it is to watch, and as much as dads like me want to pretend it’s not as bad as the media makes it out to be to help us sleep better at night, the facts won’t change. Sexual harassment, particularly by men towards women, is a human problem. We can’t rationalize it. We can’t dismiss it. We can’t ignore it. We can’t normalize it.
Sexual harassment has no religious or political bounds. It’s not just a Republican or a Democratic problem. It does not stop with conservative Christian or atheistic ideology. Humans are sexual beings. Our biology drives us to flirt, causes us to desire to procreate, and when it goes unchecked, it drives us to coerce, manipulate, demean, control, and force ourselves on others. What can we do? Where do we go from here?
First, let’s all step out of denial. I volunteer to be the poster child of sexual harassment denial. Realizing the magnitude of the problem isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s unnerving. I now look at everyone suspiciously. I don’t know who to trust, or what to expect. I fear for the safety of my daughters like I didn’t before. Denial was a much more comfortable, albeit unhealthy, place to live. But if we’re going to adequately address the problem of sexual harassment, we must be willing to have the uncomfortable conversation with the person who says they were sexually harassed. We must believe them.
Secondly, let’s stop giving passes to our favorite celebrities and politicians. Stop making excuses. If we require one to step down from their position, let’s require all of them to step down. We don’t need leaders and entertainers who feel they are above the law, no matter how much they tout our ideologies or how perfectly they sing our favorite lullabies. There are other great leaders and talented entertainers who can be decent and gifted. Those are the people we want representing us.
Thirdly, conversations about decency start at home. “Locker room” talk is never OK when it reduces another human being to an object of lust or shame. While feeling horny may be a right of passage, it’s not a license for conquest. People are to be engaged with, not “done” like a trip to a theme park. If we continue brushing these conversations under the rug at home, at church, in our schools, and in our business, we are allowing the behaviors to continue. We are choosing a destiny of degradation and dehumanization. Remember that we all belong to someone. If those behaviors are not good for our mothers, sisters, fathers or brothers, then they are not good for anyone else’s family either. Let’s teach that to our own kids. Let’s lead by example.
Fourthly, let’s put our puritanical ideologies about sex behind us and get educated. Most women are not waiting in the wings for Mr. Right to save them. How they dress is not an invitation for anyone to do anything to them as they wish. Mounting someone like a dog without an invitation doesn’t make you a man, it makes you an animal. Women are no longer property in our society, so let’s agree to stop treating them like they are. Also, gay men get to choose who they sleep with, and no, they don’t want to sleep with every man they meet.
Lastly, let’s collectively decide what kind of world we want to live in. Do we require decency of everyone? What will the consequences be when societal standards aren’t met? Regardless of whether it’s the president, or a janitor, it’s up to us to ensure laws are applied and carried out the same way against everyone who violates them. If we want this to end, and we all do for one reason or another, then it’s up to everyone of us to do his or her part to make the behavior stop.