Sunday, December 10, 2017

The age gap (maybe) in attitudes toward sexual harassment.

surdumihail | Pixabay | CC0
It has ever been thus: Older folks say they can't understand why teens and twentysomethings like this or that, or believe this or that -- and the young folks think the oldsters are hopelessly behind the times. When I was a kid, the arguments were mostly over hair ("long-haired hippie commie fags!!!") and music ("it's all just noise!!!"). The generations also fought over the Vietnam War, which the World War II vets expected the kids to fight in without complaint, and to which the kids replied, "Hell no, we won't go!"

Today, the topics have changed a little, but now the Baby Boomers are the old farts, and it's the Millennials who think we're hopelessly out of date.

Take this article from Mashable that came across my Facebook feed earlier today: "Women over 50 see sexual harassment very differently than millennials". Judging by the author's photo, she's a young woman, maybe in her late 20s or early 30s. She's also based in the UK, which may or may not have anything to do with the thesis of her article, in which she claims women over the age of 50 are much more forgiving of men's behavior than younger women are.

The author's sample size is admittedly small; it appears she mostly talked to friends of her mother's in rural England. And she may be making more of this than it deserves. The article cites a British government study of attitudes, which found, among other things: "Wolf-whistling proved to be the most divisive behaviour, with 74 percent of 18-24 year olds, and 59 percent of 25-39 year olds considering it inappropriate. But, four in 10 women over 55 say wolf-whistling is acceptable, and 27 percent even said it was flattering." So 60 percent of women over 55 think wolf whistles are unacceptable -- roughly the same as the 25-to-39-year-old respondents. That's not exactly a groundswell of support for whistlers.

But the author is right that the attitude is out there. Just as some men are having trouble parsing this brave new world, where it turns out behaviors they thought were flirtatious aren't, some women -- mostly older -- are more willing to cut men some slack. I'm thinking of the flap over the holiday duet "Baby It's Cold Outside." To modern ears, it sounds like the man is trying to persuade the woman to have sex with him, and when she sings, "What's in this drink?" it sounds like a precursor to date rape. In the '40s when the song first came out, though, the reading was very different; the song's defenders say the woman was trying to figure out a way to stay and have a drink with the guy without ruining her reputation. Personally, I think if a holiday ditty needs to be accompanied by a short course on How Times Have Changed, it's probably time to retire it. But maybe that's me.

A number of holiday movies haven't exactly stood the test of time, either. My all-time favorite Christmas movie is "White Christmas" -- even though when I watch it now, it makes me wince. All the showgirls are dumb blondes, and the point of the plot is to get everybody married off. At least Rosemary Clooney stands up to Bing Crosby, I guess, even though (spoiler alert!) it turns out it's all a big misunderstanding.

In any case, I think if you're going to set a cut-off age for women who have more lenient attitudes toward male behavior, then 50 isn't old enough. A whole lot of women in their 50s today have been working their whole adult lives, and are very clear about what constitutes sexual harassment. Even 60 is too low. Maybe 65 or 70.

Some folks are wondering whether we won't swing too far in the opposite direction, to the point where touching a member of the opposite sex in any way could be construed as harassment. That's all-or-nothing thinking, and worries along those lines generally turn out to be overblown.

I agree that these are uncertain times. However, things have been bad for women for a very long time. There's that old saying that power corrupts, and men -- generally white men -- have been in control of our society for decades. Now women are emboldened to stand up for themselves and expect their complaints to be taken seriously. It's not just about getting married anymore. And men who have believed wolf whistles -- or worse -- were the best way to get a girl's attention are going to have to clean up their acts.

Sorry about the problem with the photos last week. Now that I'm home, I've fixed those broken links. You're welcome.

These moments of uncertain blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

No comments: