The Universal Notebook: I believe the women, but …

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So, what with all the revelations and recriminations about sexual harassment, misconduct and assault, is 2017 shaping up to be a watershed year for women’s rights, gender equity and social justice?

As a man, a husband and a father of daughters, I would like to think so, but somehow I kind of doubt it.

On one hand, it’s a great thing that women are publicly demanding that powerful men be held accountable for their sexual misdeeds and inappropriate behavior. On the other, I’m not always so sure what being held accountable means.

I get a little uneasy when accusation equals conviction. Then, too, the range of behaviors being rebuked runs from the obviously criminal to the just plain creepy.

How are we to equate comedian Bill Cosby’s going to court for allegedly drugging and sexually molesting women with comedian Louis CK’s being tried in the court of public opinion for asking women if he can pleasure himself in front of them with comedian Al Franken’s being asked to resign from the U.S. Senate for pretending to fondle a sleeping woman? Not funny, not funny, not funny.

But not all criminal.

The use of economic and political power to force unwanted sexual advances on young women and men is wrong in each and every case, of course starting with loathsome casting-couch lothario Harvey Weinstein. And this form of perversion is clearly nonpartisan, as it was the apparent M.O. of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News, Charlie Rose at PBS and Michael Oreskes at NPR.

But what to make of a celebrity like Kevin Spacey trying to use his fame to get sexual favors? Isn’t every rock star in history guilty of that? I also found it strangely unsettling that Spacey was accused of putting the moves on a young man who was above the age of consent and that the young man’s mother, rather than the man himself, was on national TV making the accusations. Spacey said he didn’t remember the alleged incident, but he didn’t deny it either. Something odd there.

Deny, deny, deny. That seems to be working for President Donald Trump and Judge Roy Moore, as dozens of women accuse them both of sexual misconduct. That’s the primary reason I doubt we are witnessing a watershed moment for women’s rights.

If Trump and Moore can get away with (and, worse, get elected despite) taking advantage of young women and children by simply denying it, and Franken can be vilified for far less, then we are not really making any meaningful progress.

Franken admitted his inappropriate behavior, apologized for it and asked for forgiveness. If that’s good enough for Leeann Tweeden, it’s good enough for me. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Trump and Moore to apologize.

Partisanship rears its ugly head in these ugly matters whenever Republicans revert to the “whataboutism” for which they have become infamous. What about Bill Clinton? What about Hillary? What about Benghazi? What about? What about?

If you watch Fox News, you might think Bill Clinton was currently on trial for sexual misconduct that actually happened 20 years ago. It’s as if all Republican sexual aberrations are defensible because Clinton lied about having sex with a consenting adult. What you might not know if you watch Fox News is that Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about having sex with that consenting adult.

At some level, I’m afraid most men are dogs, sniffing around and prone to stray. Political history alone is filled with powerful men who have been accused of sexual transgressions – Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Grover Cleveland, Harry Truman, Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush. Even Jimmy Carter, probably the most moral man to serve as president until Obama came along, confessed to having lust in his heart.

I believe the women, but what we need to get right as a society – along with what behaviors are inappropriate – is what role due process should play when someone is accused of sexual impropriety. We can’t keep sweeping it under the rug the way Congress has done by paying out $17 million in secret settlements, but we can’t allow accusations to be prima facie evidence of guilt, either.

Ultimately, this is a time for men to listen and learn. We must take our cues from the women in our lives. Then maybe we’ll make enough progress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment after 40 years, finally elect a woman governor of Maine and a woman president of the United States.

Until these things happen, exposing male chauvinist pigs will only be a media circus.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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  • Charles Martel

    “Jimmy Carter, probably the most moral man to serve as president until Obama came along.” -Larry Sinclair

    I also want Maine to finally have a female governor…Mary Mayhew and a female president….Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos, Condi Rice, Sarah Palin or Mia Love.

    It is also ironic that the Left wants to open the flood gates to Muslim refugees when under Sharia law, men treat women as 2nd class citizens, can beat and rape their 4 wives at will, make them wear trash bags in public, allow FGM on their daughters, etc.

    The Portland School Board is voting tonight on gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms. No chance of THAT causing any sexual harassment problems! Gotta love the progressives who would be ridiculously funny if they weren’t so dangerously insane.

  • Queenie42

    Why did Roger Stone, AKA “Dirty Tricks”, know beforehand about Tweeden and her accusation against Al Franken? Why did he say that Al Franken was next on a long list of Democrats to be accused of unwanted sexual advances on women? That it was Franken’s “time in the barrel”?
    In my opinion this was a setup by Stone and others as payback to Franken for asking the tough questions and doing his homework exposing the corruption in the Trump administration and Sessions in particular.
    It is also my opinion that Tweeden has been “sticking it out there” for all and sundry to grab for quite some time. She even did a couple of grabs herself, one in particular in a photo of her grabbing a man on the bum cheeks. All done in fun at the time, I am sure. (snark)
    A lot of the skits on Saturday Night Live were done in poor taste. But it was all scripted. It was an act.
    If nasty critters like Roger Stone can get away with his jihad against decent men such as Franken then we all lose. Bigly.
    Resist.

    • drooo

      This is the attitude that has gotten us to this point in our history!! Keep crying, “vast right wing conspiracy!!” and you’ll be even more sorry! It’s useful idiots like the above author that enable weirdos like Weinstein Conyers, Lauer and Clinton to find safety in their misdeeds. Just spout the “correct political line” and just like that, the hounds shall redirect.

    • EdBeem

      Until Donald Trump is held accountable for his sexual assaults, I’m willing to give Garrison Keillor a pass.

  • Chew H Bird

    I was going to post about a “hypothetical” situation back in the 1970’s when a young lady decided to moon people out the passenger window of a car while travelling through Milwaukee but decided such a story might not be appropriate. However, the question is (while the act was illegal, in poor taste, and certainly dangerous), would such an act be considered harassment in today’s world? If not, would it be different if a male had performed the act?

    What is the difference between inappropriate and harassment? Yes, I believe the women and wager just about every female has been harassed at some point, probably multiple times… My wife works for an automobile dealer… I remember managing construction crews and hiring females… Those are two heavily male dominated industries that employ many young males with poor judgement skills. I am certain harassment and uncomfortable situations happen with great frequency in such environments. When is the line crossed between someone requiring a slap on the wrist to actual punishment for their actions?

    It seems to me a published article that simply implies some sort of question about harassment may have dire consequences in small towns everywhere and while victims deserve justice and relief, we need to find a way to make sure that an unwanted kiss at a senior prom by an inconsiderate person isn’t grounds for losing a job 20 years later. I have no solutions to this situation but I do believe the victims and know for a fact there are a great many people who have overstepped their bounds, either knowingly or unknowingly, and it is the “knowingly” that are most likely the problem.

  • Mainer1

    Ed is watching too much CNN Fake news!