Friday, November 17, 2017

Sexuality and American Society

I find myself cringing with all the news about sexual harassment these days. I find myself considering all sides of these stories, at least all sides that we hear. I wonder if we're not holding the bar for past events too high, yet I respect and support the need to elevate the bar with regard to the ways men and women are treated related to their bodies, minds, and right to live without harassment or inappropriate predatory behavior. No women or man should be harassed or inappropriately treated in matters of attraction, sexuality, relationship, or any other matters. That's a given.

Yet, on the path to understanding attraction, sexuality, and relationships, people act with all kinds of clumsiness. That's especially true with regard to sexuality. As men and women become aware of sexual desire and interest in others, their actions are affected greatly by the contexts in which they live. In many places, there is nowhere to go to discuss sexuality and appropriate behavior towards those you are attracted to. In these cases, people are learning from what's available rather than what is reliable. Also within every context there's a great variety of what is seen as appropriate behavior and response, and what is seen as inappropriate.  In a sense, as people become sexually aware, it is an awkward process--a process with many missteps. Yet there's a difference between missteps and inappropriate predatory and abusive behaviors.

With the daily reports of groping, inappropriate conversations, and nonconsensual acts, I find myself looking back in time to a time when most women could expect to be harassed almost daily. Many men acted inappropriately towards women in many, many contexts. In general, women were more often treated as second class citizens whose bodies were more important than any other aspect of their humanity. It was degrading and still is degrading when it happens. I remember the pain when boys held up ratings as girls passed on the college campus, the remarks made when I walked down a street, and the constant verbal harassment in places where I worked. I also remember the dates gone wrong. We were learning about attraction, relationship, and sexuality, and in some cases these situations could be described as abuse and harassment, yet I know in all of those cases it was a situation of unknowing and little good leadership or mentoring about appropriate and positive relationship behaviors and actions. There is a long historical acceptance of inappropriate behavior with regard to sexuality, and that has to be unlearned and deleted from our culture, and we all have to work towards this change. Fortunately I grew up in a home with a strong mother who used her voice to stand up for her rights--this helped me as a young women to stand up to inappropriate behavior, yet like most women my age, I also accepted comments and behaviors that would now be considered harassment, but back then were the norm.

America, in general, has always had a difficult time talking about sexuality in open, honest, and natural ways. The fact that for many it's a taboo subject, has made the situation difficult and problematic. Hopefully all the discussion now will help our society to move forward with regard to optimal discussions and education related to sexuality and appropriate behavior as well as respectful treatment of men and women with the multiple types of relationships that exist. We can't accept the bad behavior of the past, but rather than focusing on scapegoating and finger pointing, I think we have to look ahead as to how we'll help people embrace the wonder and beauty of sexuality, relationships, and attraction in ways that are honest, uplifting, and positive rather than old time acceptance of behaviors that were disrespectful and dehumanizing. Of course, however, in issues of abusive, predatory behavior, we have to act with greater legal and moral strength. Onward.