No one who isn't black can ever know what it's like to live in that skin. Decent, compassionate people of any origin can understand that prejudice and racism are wrong on every human level, but they can't know what it's like to be the subject of it.
Just as a white person cannot know what it's like to be of color, no male can know what it's like to be female. He can't know what it's like to be objectified by gender. Even if decent, compassionate males understand that sexual harassment is wrong on every human level, most can't know what it's like to be the subject of it.
Once again, stories of the pervasive, insidious power/control plays that men inflict on women are stepping out of the closet and into social consciousness. But we've been here before, and if not exactly on this scale, often enough to make you wonder what the hell is wrong with us. Why don't black lives matter as much as white lives? Why don't females matter as much as males?
The actions of Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Cosby, that famous chef guy ... are nothing new. They're just the latest names to put faces on despicable behavior. But what they did and what other males do every day, often mindlessly, because they can, is the story of every female's life. Every. Female.
I'm guessing that the current tsunami of sexual harassment revelations has prompted unpleasant memories among most women caught in the wave.
I was 4 or 5 the first time a male sexually power-played me. My abuser then was a babysitter. He seemed mature and strong to me, but was probably a teenager barely into high school. I had scratched my thigh, and, lip quivering, showed him the wound. He took me into the bathroom, he said, to clean it up, which he might or might not have done. I don't remember. I do remember that he closed the door, opened his fly and presented his genitals.
I was 20, riding an overnight train from Paris to Aix-en-Provence to visit a college friend who also was spending her junior year abroad. The second-class compartment seated either four or six, I don't recall, in two benches facing each other. I was slouched against the window, eyes closed, in the middle of the night, when a fellow passenger seated himself next to me. He put his hand on my thigh. I pretended to be asleep. His hand began to stroke my leg. I was scared, but my anger was stronger than my fear. Mustering what I hoped was a rough equivalent of "Leave me alone," I sat up, wide awake, and barked at him: "Laissez-moi faire!" I actually said, "Let me do it," but apparently the aggressive message was received. He left the compartment.
I was 33, traveling in the Philippines to gather material for several magazine stories. One early morning, in the northern Luzon city of Baguio, I went for a run along a winding road through the city's unpopulated, densely forested outskirts. Traffic was light, mostly, it seemed, taxis and small public buses. A taxi passed me from behind. I rounded the next curve and saw it parked in the little bypass ahead. The driver was standing by the fender, staring at me. At about 25 yards away, I could see that he was masturbating. I turned around. About five minutes later, a different taxi passed by from behind, curving its way back toward the city. I rounded the next bend, and saw it parked along on the shoulder. The driver was standing outside, staring at me. He was masturbating.
I was in my early 40s, stretching my hamstrings after my morning run on the sidewalk in front of my house in Santa Monica. My legs were straight, my palms were flat on the concrete, my nose was tucked into my knees. As a pedestrian walked past, he placed his hand on my rear and said, "Nice ass."
When the Roger Ailes harassment story broke last year, I wrote about it here, about how so many people, even enlightened people, still don't get it. Am I a pessimist for wondering if a higher volume this time denotes more profound comprehension?
Yesterday, the mouthpiece for Donald Trump, that proven pussy-grabber, said that sexual misconduct allegations against him were fake news; that any woman claiming to have been his victim was lying. Given Trump's breathtaking unfitness for his job, his demonstrable racism, his wholly unfamiliar relationship with the truth, what he says is never surprising, and it's seldom credible. But people voted for him knowing that he was a serial harasser.
So although I'd like to believe the loud, broad conversation about our morals and the content of our collective character will effect marked and sustained change, habit and history say otherwise. It has been 26 years since a reluctant Anita Hill shocked America and risked her reputation and career to testify about a can of Coke and a pubic hair. It raised America's sexual harassment consciousness. It didn't matter then.
Does it matter now?