On “Sexual Harassment”

As I am writing these words Israel is rocked by a “sexual harassment scandal” that looks as if it will force half the country’s senior police officers to resign. And they are not the only ones; I personally know at least six or seven fellow professors, all men needless to say, who have been charged with, and punished for, the same offense. The problem is anything but unique to Israel. It is something all “developed” countries have in common. That is why I want to discuss it here.

Sexual-Harassment-Retaliation-Lawsuit-Settled-540x280That, too, is why I want to put it on record: I live with a woman who used to be my student. Thirty-two years ago, during the first hour of a course I gave, I asked what, in retrospect, may have been a silly question. Looking me straight in the face was a woman I had never met, though later it turned out that she had seen me many years before. Without a moment’s hesitation she gave back as good as she got. As she turned my words into a joke the class roared with laughter. I blushed—the only time, she says, she saw me doing so. One thing led to another and today we have as happy a marriage as both of us could wish for.

For as long as homo sapiens sapiens—I am not so sure we are in fact, sapiens, or else presumably we would never have followed our inclinations, met a partner, and have children—men have pursued women and women have pursued men. Not all societies allowed the individuals concerned, both male and female, freedom of choice in the matter. Many considered that marriage, with all the economic and political issues it often involved, was too important to leave to mere infatuation. Judging by the fact that, in today’s “advanced” countries, between thirty and fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, perhaps not without reason.

To make sure there would be no free choice, young men and women were made to lead separate lives and carefully chaperoned. When and where freedom of choice did exist most men went after youth, beauty, and fertility, briefly anything that could make their fellow men jealous. In many cases, and if only because life with a woman who is not your intellectual equal is boring and foolish, they also wanted wits. Women wanted men who could offer protection and a comfortable life that would enable them to have children and raise them. If the men in question could also command the kind of power and authority that would make the woman’s friends jealous, so much the better.

Enter “sexual harassment.” If, by “sexual harassment,” we mean attempts by people of both sexes to link up with others of the opposite sex—here I shall ignore gay couples—then surely, in spite of all the precautions taken, it has always existed. That some of the advances have always been unwelcome is a matter of course. Had there not been room for trust and parry, charge and counter-charge, advance and retreat, briefly trial and error, how would people be able to get to know each other? And where would the joy of falling in love, perhaps the greatest there is, be?

If, however, we mean “unwelcome behavior” “the critical words,” according to one definition—that is prohibited and punishable by law then according to NGram, the Google program that allows you to check on the frequency terms are used, it only dates to the 1970s. Since then it has taken off like a rocket. And no wonder; under this definition, any- and anything can be “constructed” as sexual harassment. In the words of one American female military pilot to whom I talked some years ago: sexual harassment is whatever I decide to report to my superior.

Many of the accusations are false. Nor is it hard to see why this should be the case. Disappointed love, the desire for revenge, and the pressure feminists put on their “sisters” to “show courage” and complain can all play a role. Not to mention greed. Even as I was writing this article, somebody in Israel made the bright suggestion that “victims” with a “mental impairment” should be paid pensions.

Here I do not want to dwell on the immense number of men who have been accused, often, anonymously and often for alleged “crimes” they committed, often quite unwittingly, years, even decades, earlier. Nor on the fact that, once one is accused, one’s chances of getting out in one piece without losing everything—including, very often, one’s wife and children—are slim indeed. Instead, what I want to do is say a word about the consequences for women.

First, had the laws and rules now in force in Israel and many other countries existed thirty years ago, my student and I could never have fallen in love as we did. True, she keeps saying that, in that case, she would have gotten to me anyhow; but that is beside the point. The point is that, in most organizations, for every horny male with a good position and income there are several no less horny young females whose position and income are not as good. And who, as a result, will do almost anything to sleep with him in the hope that he will divorce his wife—if he has one—and marry them instead.

After all, marrying up has always been one method, perhaps the most important method, in which women made their way in the world. Ask Madame de Pompadour, the fishmonger’s beautiful daughter who, aged sixteen, became maitresse en chef to France’s Louis XV and retained that position until her death. Or take Wilhelmine von Lichtenau, popularly known as “the beautiful Wilhelmine.” A trumpeter’s daughter, she too was sixteen when she assumed the same position with Prussia’s Friedrich Wilhelm II. Or any number of similar cases. Today the invention of “sexual harassment” is slamming the door on that way shut.

Second, for a long time now feminists have been claiming that women are just as talented, just as able, and, above all, just as tough-minded as men. That is why they deserve equal treatment, including the right to occupy all posts society has to offer. But how to reconcile this idea with the teary-eyed complaints about “sexual harassment”? If a woman is not strong enough to say “no” to a man who is making advances at her and is “traumatized” instead, how can she expect to be promoted to, and function in, posts that involve stress, demand responsibility, and require toughness?

The answer, my dear ladies, is blowing in the wind.

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