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Fragments of Shame, Contrition and Desperate Denial

Trapped in ‘a man’s world’

Robert C. Koehler | 11/21/2017, 2:19 p.m.
Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse are catching up with powerful perps, sometimes decades after the fact. The only real ...

The “man’s world” I grew up is shattering into fragments of shame, contrition and desperate denial. Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse are catching up with powerful perps, sometimes decades after the fact. On Capitol Hill, we now know about a “creep list.” Women shouldn’t ride alone in an elevator with these guys. This is our democracy.

The only real surprise in all this is that suddenly it matters . . . that women — as well as young males, children of both genders — were harassed, humiliated, raped by powerful male adults: that “me too” resonates in the news. At one time, outright denial of a sexual abuse allegation wasn’t even necessary because, even if it were true, so what? That was then. The idea of “a man’s world” was solid and, well, boys will be boys.

“When Nelson got in Moore’s car” — this is Beverly Young Nelson, describing an attempted rape by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in 1975 — “she said he drove behind the restaurant and parked near a dumpster instead of taking her home. Nelson said Moore groped her and tried to force her head onto his crotch. Nelson says she yelled and tried to leave the car, but Moore locked the door.

“‘I was not going to allow him to force me to have sex with him,’ Nelson said. ‘I was terrified. I thought he was going to rape me. At some point, he gave up.’

“Nelson said before Moore opened the door — at which point she either fell out or he pushed her out — he told her: ‘You're just a child and I am the District Attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.’”

She was then 16 years old.

Tempting as it is to revel triumphantly in moral judgment of Moore, the homophobe and evangelical hypocrite, I can’t avoid putting his suddenly newsworthy behavior into a larger social context, not to let him off the hook but to figure out how real change can occur. Moore and all the other celebs and bigshots caught in the current avalanche of sex-abuse allegations have at least one thing in common. They grew up in a world where sex was a dirty secret and discussion of it was taboo, except adolescent-to-adolescent: “Did you get any last night?”

Men who attain power in such a world do so, often enough, unencumbered by maturity, which requires respect for the feelings of others. All they have is power and, creepily, a sense of permission.

And thus I quote President Trump: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

"The truth is that the scourge of sexual assault in the military remains status quo" -Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

A man’s world is a world that values domination. It values winning. At the same time, it devalues “female” qualities: nurturing, empathy, love. These are for sissies.