Flummoxed?

I have to admit, as I watch powerful men in all industries, from entertainment to higher education, tumble from their ivory towers in the #metoo movement, there are moments I have felt bewildered by it, or maybe that’s not the word. I’m not sure there is a word.

Please understand, this is not a justification or apology for anything these men have done. It is not a plea for clemency, as you will see.

I grew up in a world where I knew from a pretty early age that many (not all) men would see me as an object. I knew I had to be able to set firm boundaries and hold them. If those boundaries were breached, the message I consistently received was that the fault would be mine. It was the female condition, and no one seemed to think there was anything wrong with things being this way. Women didn’t like it; they decried being sex objects, but at the same time, we pretty much dealt with it. It was like having to drive somewhere in a blizzard because you had to get there or suffering through colds and fevers throughout life. It kind of sucked, but it was reality.

Am I the only one who thinks it kind of created a certain amount of Stockholm syndrome among women? Didn’t we just sort of reach a point where we felt it was the price of being female?

So I’m …flummoxed? Is that what I am? I’m just so shocked to see so many people of both sexes suddenly caring about what I grew up pretty much accepting as a fact of life. Like, there are real consequences—teeth—behind what used to be mere platitudes about respect for women.

And I guess…God, I know I’m going to get lambasted for saying this…I can imagine that men, especially men of a certain age, are flummoxed, as well. They grew up believing this was their right. It must feel like “suddenly” this once normal behavior is wrong. It feels like standards have shifted. I would argue the moral standard has always been there, but the societal standard was not.

I once had a conversation with a fellow speech coach about utilitarianism—the greatest good for the greatest number. He asserted that its chief weakness appeared when a majority inflicted pain on a minority, and he gave as an example a gang rape, which he asserted allowed the greatest good (sex) to the greatest number (the group of men). He was flummoxed—yes, that is the word—when I asserted that the rape was not good for the men. It may have been pleasurable, it may have imbued them with a sense of power, which they found satisfying, but good is a moral principle, in which case the rape was bad for everyone involved. He tried the attack again using the example of slavery, which I rebutted with the same argument. Slavery is immoral; therefore it cannot be good for anyone, even the apparent beneficiaries.

It is tempting to feel a bit sorry for the men who have been exposed and are being held accountable for what appears on the surface to be shifting standards in behavior, but the existence of so many men of all ages who have not engaged in this behavior speaks to our innate understanding of morality. The fact that society permits certain behaviors does not excuse us from moral responsibility for them.

In a time when so many people are getting away with so much greed and corruption, it is encouraging to see a fight for good going well.

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Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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