The War on Men

Jan 17

What can these dancers tell us about sexual harassment?

Read on.

When I was young and cute and a photographer’s rep in New York City, I was propositioned so often it was like regular bowel movements. Seriously.

One prince of a fellow told me, in  these words, that if I didn’t put out, I wouldn’t get the job. I didn’t get the job. Luckily, he was one of many art directors at a major ad agency (think Mad Men), so there were other less committed ways to get work.

Another guy got a glazed look on his face while I was making my pitch, came out from behind his desk, and swooped me up in a Hollywood kiss. I was speechless, literally, and ran out as fast as I could. However, I must admit that while it was inappropriate as hell, and I avoided him like the plague from then on, it was . . . exciting.

When I went into publishing I was hit on many times, notably in taxis. Once by an editor who was gay. I asked him if he had lost his mind. Another was chairman of the board of a major publisher, who made the moves on me in yet another cab, and on my  business partner in a hotel lobby before a meeting. We decided that we had to give the guy points for one thing: he didn’t ask for a threesome.

For me to say, “Me Too” is an understatement.

You want to talk about unequal pay for equal work! I once found out that the guy who had the editor’s job before I did was making exactly twice my salary. Twice! So I screwed up my courage and marched in and asked for a raise. Well, I got a little more, but not nearly what That Guy was making, even though it was agreed that I was doing a better job than he ever did. But, hey, sweetie, he’s . . . a man.

Sigh. In time, things got somewhat better in the equal pay department, but just to be sure I started my own company. Running your own business is not for the faint of heart and sometimes you don’t get paid at all, but at least it’s not sexist.

So. I must be squarely in the Me, Too movement, right?  Well, yes, more or less.

I agree totally that true sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated. Of course, women should be in positions of power and be respected and fairly compensated for their work. I believe that “no” means “no.” Except, just maybe, sometimes, in certain cases . . .when it doesn’t.

Sorry about that, uber feminists, and maybe it’s a generational thing, but a little coyness used to be a lot of fun. I don’t mean being forced into anything — but being coaxed into it was, well, part of the dance, so to speak.

Personally, I have been pushed into a number of corners, literally, but never let it go any further. Unless I wanted it to. It would have been horrible to be seriously mauled— or raped! But that’s my point: actual sexual assault shouldn’t be lumped in with minor incidents of sexual harassment.

Here’s a fun litmus test:

In my class on Impressionism at the New School we discussed the above painting by Renoir. We agreed it was a lovely example of his work, until someone suggested that the young woman was being harassed by the young man. A discussion of “no means no” ensued until I couldn’t stand it any longer and spoke up.

My impression (sorry about that) was that the male dance partner was not doing anything untoward, just being very forward, and that  the young woman was enjoying the attention, although not outwardly encouraging it. I find him very masculine and sexy and her very demure and lovely.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing, in my opinion. But others disagreed. And interestingly, when I showed it (in a totally unscientific study, to be sure) the women thought it was fine, the men thought it wasn’t. Hmmmm.

Sure, the guy in the painting had more than dancing on his mind. And what’s wrong with that? I hope to god she would say no, if she wanted to, and that he would back off. Or say yes, and they would get it on.

Which brings me back to the Me,Too movement,  The pendulum always swings wildly on all social issues and hopefully it will come to center, where women aren’t victimized — and men aren’t all vilified.

I think we need to get a grip,  and see that there’s a difference between a wink and a nod and an actual sexual assault. Let’s not go back to the Bad Old Days, but let’s not trivialize rape by making such a big deal about every leer and inappropriate remark or sophomoric attempt at humor (R.I.P. Al Franken). I don’t agree that a zero tolerance approach works here.

My physical therapist, who is one of the most gentlemanly men I know, says he doesn’t know how to approach women any more.  My brother, probably the least lecherous man in the film industry, is afraid to tell the assistant director she looks nice today. A group of women in France – in France! — is protesting the Me Too Movement for going too far (Bonjour, Amour) and taking a lot of flak for it. Some are calling this movement, The War on Men.

Got an opinion on all this?

Is this the end of flirting as we knew it? Must we sign a notarized statement before that first embrace? Is all this correctness making Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (and girl)?

Let us know!



FYI: The Dance at Bougival, painted by Pierre-August Renoir in 1883, can be seen at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.




  1. Louise /

    Been thinking about this for a while.

    As a rape and molestation victim, I’m definitely a #metoo. On the other hand, guys have generally been quite respectful to me. Maybe I wasn’t cute enough…

    But I think the eye of the beholder in this case has to be the woman (or man–see Bruce Weber) involved.
    No does mean no. Flirtation isn’t a no…it’s maybe. And I’m all for it. But guys have to be able to recognize it…and if they can’t, keep their hands to themselves.

    It happens that I don’t mind the wolf whistles…as long as there’s nothing weird behind them. But if another woman does…then the guys should stop. And if that means all men need to stop whistling, period, so be it.

    There’s a much bigger issue at play here than demonizing men…it’s how men have always treated women, and not only sexually. Just like being black in this country (and I’m not, but trying to paraphrase what I understand–hope that’s not a problem for anyone) seems to mean always knowing people see you as such–which makes it the defining element for you in life, regardless of anything else about you–so is being a woman. This is true in salary disputes, harassment claims, abortion rights issues, and everything else. Let’s face it…we’re still second class citizens, at least in this country. Just look at the numbers. I’m devastated to say this, but I never expected to see a woman in the White House…and I’m afraid I never will.

    So…I guess I’ll be okay with loosening the chains a little when we all get paid the same as men, when the proportion of women in controlling/leading roles in the workforce are a hell of a lot more equal, etc.

    • Hi, Louise
      I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment sooner! The ways of the blogosphere are sometimes a mystery to me and you were lost in the waiting to be approved zone. Of course, you’re approved! I love your comment. By coincidence, just saw the documentary, RBG, in which she says at her Supreme Court hearing that she doesn’t want any special treatment for women, she just wants men to take their feet off our necks. (I may not have gotten the wording exactly, but you get the gist.) And I do hope we’ll get to see a woman in the White House, although, at the moment, anything to do with the White House is looking grim.

  2. colleen mccourtney /

    hear hear Pat.
    this is bordering on a witch hunt, stay the course.

    • Our obvious target must be The Harasser in Chief. How is he getting away with it, while others are losing their jobs and being vilified? This is, of course, a rhetorical question, as he is getting away with everything — so far. One lives in hope.

  3. Yesterday, I read on the internet that a new survey reports that millennials believe that even compliments from men can be considered sexual harassment. OK, I must admit, that one left me scratching my head. No compliments allowed with social media dating? What ever happened to the “social” part?
    I am probably bias about this, but I believe thanks to the boomers, Gen X and the millennials are experiencing a totally different workplace. There are now laws on the books: equality is expected and respect demanded. No means no!
    Now we need to use good old common sense and then maybe we can accept a gift of flowers without believing there is an evil motive intended.

    • It’s so good that millennials and Gen Xers have changed the rules. And BTW, they’re also pretty much color blind and blase about what used to be called sexual deviancy,
      But OTOH, we don’t want to label a compliment (!) as harassment. Really, people, get over yourselves. Valentine’s Day is coming, and it used to be fun, not fraught with peril.

    • Natalie /

      How terrifying that a compliment is harassment in the millennial handbook. After a yoga practice Monday, i told the 60 something year old practitioner next to me that she has a beautiful body. She was grateful and didn’t serve me with a summons. I told her i hoped it wasn’t inappropriate to share.

  4. Great post. Taxi cabs – I never knew but then I’ve only visited the big cities. Flirting vs. sexual harassment – there is a difference that mostly has to do with inappropriateness, timing, threats, etc. When you truly respect the other person your interactions will turn out fine. I believe the problem often comes from having power (even fantasized power) take over your thinking. Mistakes in reading body language will still happen but misreadings can be corrected before any action is taken. Also, immature males must learn to filter thoughts before words come out.

  5. Thanks, Lisleman. You have it so right about the power thing, and for a long time, simply being male gave you power over women. But you also point out subtleties that some are overlooking, like misunderstood body signals. It happens.
    Some would say that “immature males” is a redundancy. Not me! I’m so against man bashing, just want us all to get along.

  6. Natalie /

    OMG! Yes! My friend and I have been discussing the very same. I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been “harassed” to an extent. How can someone who had a consensual relationship with someone then go back and say they were taken advantage of? Sigh, this is getting out of hand. The NY Times article about Aziz Ansari is an excellent example. The woman was upset he didn’t offer her red wine! Get a grip!! Good for you for sharing your thoughts!

    • I hope it turns out that Aziz Ansari is guilty of nothing other than being adorable. Is he too cute or what? I also want to point out that all of the female commenters (so far) don’t see men as the enemy. No woman should,IMHO. Yeah, we’ve all been harassed to some extent, and true sexual misconduct shouldn’t ever be tolerated, but there ARE good guys out there and let’s get some perspective on this whole thing.

  7. Pat, I am totally with you on this! Flirting was one of my all-time favorite games, and it’s a shame to see so many calling it harassment. Gals, get a grip! (Please note that I didn’t use “feminists.” In my book feminists want equal pay, equal opportunity, respect, and a really great dude in their lives.)

    • Yeah, the really great dude thing works. As someone who had that, I recommend it highty. But how can we find that guy if he can’t make the first move— or any move. I’m afraid that the good guys will be intimidated by all these new rules, and the bad guys won’t give a damn.

  8. This seems a bit out of hand, I agree. The Al Franken thing is a shame. Nothing on a par with the rest of them but . . . it is what it is. Every day, I think, Who’s next? But it sounds like many deserve it. And many are getting away with it. (Won’t mention any names of the “obvious.”)
    I like the way you think.

    • Thanks, Bob. I won’t name the Obvious Harasser In Chief, either, but it bothers me that he still has his job — and Al Franken doesn’t. One of the messages this sends is that you shouldn’t admit your mistakes and apologize as Franken did.

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