It has been some time since voices in the media triggered my masculinity radar. My attention, like most folks, has been focused on the political chaos generated by the Muller Report, the Democratic primary debates, tariffs, Iran, North Korea, etc. However, a discussion on NPR featuring E. Jean Carroll the advice columnist for Elle Magazine and author of “What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal,” and Chavisa Woodsauthor of “100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism got my attention.
I’ll start with the ending comment on the show. I believe it was Carroll, when asked how we can move forward to gender neutrality glibly stated that “we should move all men to Montana and re-educate them.” Her clear meaning is that every American adult male is sexist, treats women as inferiors and at any time can turn into a sexual predator. Obviously there are some who do belong in this basket of deplorable men. However, her hyperbole only further accentuates the cultural divide between the sexes and does only harm to a meaningful dialogue on gender neutrality.
Chavisa, in her book, chronicles all of the occasions where she was sexually harassed. In the interview she mentioned the numerous times that while out and about in her urban neighborhood she was subject to verbal abuse by men. She attributes this harassment to patriarchy and the cultural bias among men against women. However, during the interview certain lifestyle descriptors were revealed which I believe distorts her data. She describes herself as a lesbian with a purple mohawk hair do who often walks hand in hand with another female. Let me be clear. I am not excusing bad behavior because Chavisa is a lesbian but I want to emphasize that what she experienced was not necessarily a product of male sexism. More likely triggered by homophobia and folks who have a hard time tolerating differences. In addition, an inappropriate comment by a man does not automatically mean that man is a sexual predator. He very well might be a good father, husband and generally respectful to women he works with. I agree that men should cease and desist from what they believe are merely amusing or teasing unsolicited comments. Men who do this are just playing into the hands of those seeking evidence to condemn masculinity.
Nuance is not a dirty word. It is important to distinguish between true sexual predators and misogynists who are more driven by power needs than sexual needs and men trying to adjust to contemporary cultural norms about interacting with women.