The bad stories that bring shame, we usually keep to ourselves.
It’s a sign of a real change in our culture that every day it seems we hear of a victim coming forward. They’re telling tales of the sexual kind that display how we as humans treat each other badly. And they’re setting off a chain reaction of emboldened people coming out of nowhere, who feel no shame in saying “me too.”
From the front page news involving Kevin Spacey to Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K., from gay to straight, we’re all hearing their victims’ stories of power and abuse. Spacey and Louis C.K. have admitted and apologized for some abusive behavior; Weinstein’s attorney has said he had no non-consensual sex.
And it’s not all about a perverse form of White privilege. It’s pretty diverse on all sides.
African American actor Terry Crews has made a claim that he was groped by a high-level Hollywood exec at a red carpet event. Los Angeles Police are investigating.
This past weekend, the Hollywood Reporter broke a story of a man who claims he was harassed in the 1980s by George Takei, the “Star Trek” star and Asian American civil rights activist. Takei firmly denied the story’s allegations.
Hollywood’s headlines these days show it’s no different from the Catholic Church. Or higher ed.
Sex and power are always part of the equation in any societal institution. Worse when it’s happening in the very industry that creates the mythic images for our culture.
Of late, higher ed has had to deal with sex and power from all corners. Professors and managers abusing power in the Ivory Tower, unfortunately, is not uncommon. Most of that hanky panky, however, has been overshadowed by student bodies struggling with defining exactly what “no” means.
It’s also made us all realize that Title IX applies to more than assuring there’s a fully-funded women’s soccer team on campus. Aside from equity in sports, the equity extends to every aspect of life between the sexes on campus.
That’s why higher ed bears greater responsibility than we think. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos shouldn’t tinker with that.
She can do something to bring fairness to those shameful “kangaroo courts” used in schools that tend to spare the victim and make greater victims out of the accused. The rationale has been: This is an administrative process. Outside the legal system, the worst that can happen is expulsion. But to a college-aged accused, expulsion is no little thing. It’s still a major life altering event.
If the desired effect was to heighten a teachable moment, the process does anything but. More likely, if a male student is the accused, the whole thing has only confirmed his anger and future misogyny.
Clearly, something has to be done before we get to accusations and hearings.
Here’s a preventive approach.
We need a new kind of sex education that’s more than just birds and the bees, or graphic excerpts from Gray’s Anatomy.
It doesn’t have to be touchy-feely, but it needs to teach our students what it means to be a human being, and how to treat each other as humans.
In the social equation of men and women, we can’t rely on mere intuition or empathy. We need to ask questions. Men asking women. Women asking men. And we need to listen to each other.
It’s a new form of discourse, the advanced version of the elementary school “how-to” on intercourse.
At the very least, since men seem to be the perps in most cases, we need something that teaches people in college what it means to be a man.
Does it mean guns, beer and football? The objectification and dominance over women? Does “no” mean something else? Is “party” a verb?
Because if you listen to the stories of victims and their powerful abusers in the news, there seems to be something that people aren’t getting presently in their learning lives.
If we had more of it, (somewhere, freshman, sophomore year as students figure out what responsibilities exist away from home), maybe we can do something about growing a new generation of misogynists, and Weinstein, Spacey and C.K. would not be a thing.
Emil Guillermo is a veteran journalist and commentator. He writes for the civil rights group AALDEF at http:/www.aaldef.org/blog
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