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Ending the sexual predation problem

| Friday, October 27, 2017

Yesterday, ABC News rolled out segments of reporter Diane Sawyer’s interview with actress Ashley Judd. Judd’s revelations of systemic sexual predation by Hollywood entertainment mogul and movie producer Harvey Weinstein gave voice to women nationwide through the trending hashtag #MeToo. The response of women around the country has been so powerful that former President George H. W. Bush apologized for an “occasional” pat he placed on the rears of women that his spokesperson claims was intended in a good-natured manner as a playful joke. Bush joins a long line of infamous, powerful and wealthy men like television personality Bill O’Reilly, journalist Mark Halpren and the former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes who have been ensnarled with allegations of sexual misconduct.

Judd’s hashtag has inspired more than 65 women to publicly join in an effort to once and for all end lewd advances toward and sexual assaults against women. The campaign urges women to take action despite their fears, knowing that other women and men will support them. In describing her experience with Weinstein, Judd outlined the classic modus operandi that characterizes chronic sexual predation: apply insistent pressure on the victim, deny the attack and reverse the role of the victim as the offender.

Tragically, every day many women from typical lifestyles outside the glare of celebrity status face harassment and assault from ordinary men in their communities like their employers or supervisors. On Thursday’s Good Morning America airing, Sawyer played the voice recording of one such woman who identified herself as someone who is invisible and has no voice. The woman described how she needed her job to feed her children, but her supervisor set her schedule so that the two of them would be alone during odd hours. Her voice quivered during her desperate plea for help as she wondered if anyone would believe her or even care about her predicament.

Inappropriate sexual advances against women happen because they are rooted in longstanding religious and societal customs. We need look no further than our U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment that granted American women the right to vote — ratified on August 18, 1920, less than a hundred years ago. Saudi Arabia, for example, barely a month ago ended one of its longstanding discriminative policies through a royal decree, which was the face of a global symbol representing their oppression of women. The kingdom will allow women to drive automobiles beginning in June 2018.

Weinstein blames his abhorrent behavior as a byproduct of his workplace coming of age surroundings during the 1960s and 1970s. Some contend that until Judd’s explosive expose of Weinstein’s conduct titillated Twitter, 21st-century workplace harassment was barely indistinguishable from 20th-century norms. This author can attest to 1970s chauvinistic attitudes on Capitol Hill, having witnessed disgusting harassment by a congressman at a bar on my second day as a congressional staff member. The congressman — who had earned a law degree from Notre Dame — propositioned a female college intern at the table next to us. After she politely rebuked him, the congressman turned to us guys sitting with him and described in graphically repugnant detail where he would like to pat her.

Ironically, during yesterday’s airing of Sawyer’s interview with Judd, even Madison Avenue advertising yanked on our societal sense of how strange it is for a woman to be an aggressor in a family relationship. Ford Motor Company aired its television commercial entitled, “Champions.” Juxtaposing the traditional notion of mom and dad roles, the announcer poses the question of how does Ford become the best-selling truck brand in Texas. With a football field in the background, a father stresses football fun and safety to his two sons before game time while the supposedly more reserved mother practically hyperventilates in her effort to cheer the boys onto winning the game.

The dad adjusts his sons’ shoulder pads and helmets saying, “Safety first. Have fun out there guys.”

Mom’s voice intensifies and builds as she instructs, “Be the hammer, not the nail. Drive with the shoulder, not the bodies. Go! Go! Go!”

Dad turns to her and asks, “Who are you?”

As the boys run onto the field, mom snaps her hand on her husband’s rear and startles him, causing him to jump away from her. The female announcer concludes, “Ford is safe, tough and game-day ready.”

On many levels the commercial conveys that men are sensible, women are tough, Ford is a great truck and we live in new times. Sadly, it trivializes the bravery of those women who stood up to the disgusting conduct of Weinstein and others like him. Overall, families need to raise their children to respect others, respect boundaries and limit their impulses. Despicable men like Weinstein need to be placed on notice that harassment and assault are not behavioral problems but crimes.

We as a society need to end our “boys will be boys” attitude that trivializes women. Ford truck owners or potential customers probably realize that merely reversing family roles in advertising may seem appealing to sell vehicles, but the product sells itself. Besides, Ford Fusion Energi electric plug-in hybrid owners like me usually respect the environment along with everything within it, most especially women.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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