by Paul R. Hollrah –
Like religion and politics, there’s nothing like a discussion of the “war of the sexes” to get people stirred up. Once we’ve all agreed that sexual attraction is one of the most… if not the most… powerful of human motivators, that’s probably where all agreement ends. If we were to put 100 people in a room and ask them all to speak for five minutes on the subject of sex and sexual attraction, we’d likely have 100 different opinions.
When sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein were made public… followed just days later by multiple pedophilic accusations against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama… the disclosures set in motion what has become a wave of such allegations against the rich and powerful in New York, Hollywood, Washington, and elsewhere… a wave that has all the potential of becoming a full-scale tsunami. It has caused most thoughtful people to reexamine their attitudes toward sex and male-female interactions… especially if they are parents or grandparents of young people who are just beginning to experience the first subtle stirrings of sexual awakening.
I am the product of a sharecropper family in east-central Missouri. My father was one of eleven children, all devout Missouri Synod Lutherans, and all educated in one of three local Lutheran parochial schools.
In our classrooms, every school day began with two hours of religious instruction – either recitation of verses from the Holy Bible or sections from Luther’s Small Catechism. I recall that the Lutherans had everything pretty well figured out. First, they understood that a child’s brain has a certain finite capacity to absorb, especially in the realm of abstract concepts. But, whatever the dimension of that capacity, whether two minutes or two hours, they made sure that God got first crack at it each day.
Secondly, they left nothing to chance in the area of doctrinal interpretation. Every creed, every statement, every article of faith was followed by a lengthy explanation beginning with the words, “By this, God means…” and every child was expected to memorize and recite those explanations, all carefully thought out and set down for us by the Church hierarchy.
The fear-driven fundamentalism of the church and the gossipy parochialism of our small rural community were a devastating combination. There were “do’s” and “don’ts” to cover every conceivable situation, and the Ten Commandments were as much a part of our daily lives as eating and breathing:
Thou shalt not steal…
Thou shalt not kill…
Thou shalt not bear false witness…
Thou shalt not commit adultery…
Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother…
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife…
Thou shalt not get thy name in the newspapers…
Thou shalt not bring shame upon thy family name…
Thou shalt not fool around with girls… ever!
Somehow it all ran together, and as the years passed and we entered adolescence the distinction between the scriptural and the non-scriptural all but disappeared. The rules of life were burned into our very souls and we obeyed them, unfailingly. But it was the seventh commandment, the one having to do with adultery, that really caught our attention. As we came to believe during our eight years of religious indoctrination, there was no faster or more direct road from small town Missouri to everlasting hellfire than to violate that one commandment. It was the ultimate “no-no.”
It was an era in which there were hard and fast rules. Boys were taught that we were always to respect our mothers, our sisters, and all others of their gender. There was no middle ground; we knew what to do and what not to do. And when we reached dating age we knew that “no” meant “no.” By placing such great emphasis on sex and sex-related issues, our parents and teachers may have created a generation of neurotics, but we were all virginal neurotics.
But times have changed. Since the ‘40s and ‘50s we’ve passed through a “sexual revolution,” an era in which young women burned their bras and their hemlines rose to eight or ten inches above their knees. And even though we are now a half century beyond that era, any man who claims to understand what it’s all about is simply lying. The one thing that is certain is that there are hard and fast rules in the dating game, but they are no longer cultural, they are individual. And it’s up to men to correctly distinguish between a red light, a green light, a caution light, or no light at all.
It is into that sexual minefield that apparently colorblind men such as Bill Clinton, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Richard Dreyfuss, Bill O’Reilly, Judge Roy Moore, and millions more like them have wandered… assuming that every light they see is green.
Of all the A-list people who’ve recently been charged with sexual misconduct, I found the reaction of actor Richard Dreyfuss to be the most interesting and thoughtful. Dreyfuss has been accused by a longtime friend and acquaintance, a Los Angeles writer named Jessica, of saying inappropriate things in her presence and making unwanted sexual advances. She charged that on one occasion he exposed himself to her in his dressing room during the filming of a TV special.
In response to the accusation, Dreyfuss said in a public statement, “I value and respect women, and I value and respect honesty. I emphatically deny ever ‘exposing’ myself to (Jessica), whom I have considered a friend for 30 years. I did flirt with her, and I remember trying to kiss Jessica as part of what I thought was a consensual seduction ritual that went on for many years. I am horrified and bewildered to discover that it wasn’t consensual. I didn’t get it. It makes me reassess every relationship I have ever thought was playful and mutual.
“I became an ***hole – the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die.’ And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me.
“I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express… During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.”
Dreyfuss concluded by saying, “There is a sea-change happening right now, which we can look upon as a problem or an opportunity. We, all of us, are awakening to the reality that how men have behaved toward women for eons is not okay. The rules are changing invisibly underneath our feet. I am playing catch-up. Maybe we all are.
“I hope people can join me in honestly looking at our behavior and trying to make it right. We have to relearn every rule we thought we knew about how men and women interact because, after all, getting together is the most fundamental human compulsion. And if we don’t succeed in that, what do we have? I hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation we can have as a culture.”
Those are thoughtful words coming from the pen of a very liberal Democrat… the opposite end of the spectrum from what we’ve heard from conservative Republican Judge Roy Moore in Alabama. In a televised interview with Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel, Hannity asked directly if Judge Moore had ever dated girls in their teens when he was in his thirties. Moore responded, “Not generally, no.” Then he added, “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother… her mother encouraged her to go out with me.”
“Not generally?” Exactly what does that mean? Is he trying to tell us that, out of every five women he dated, only two may have been 15 or 16 years old? But the most startling part of Moore’s statement is his insistence that he never dated a very young girl “without her mother’s permission.” Note that Judge Moore did not even remotely suggest that he had ever asked men his own age if he could date their daughters.
If Hannity had been at the top of his game, he might have asked, “Did you ever ask the girls’ fathers if you could date their daughters?” If is all but a dead certainty that, if he had, he wouldn’t be running for the U.S. Senate today. He’d still be running for the state line.
Nevertheless, Judge Moore’s sick dating preferences aside, one wonders how many hundreds of thousands (millions?) of men now find themselves dreading the sound of their doorbell ringing… fearing that when they open the door they’ll be greeted by a strange young man or young woman, looking expectantly into their eyes and saying, “Daddy?”
Richard Dreyfuss is right. The Earth is shifting beneath our feet and who knows where it will take us? From this day forward, women and girls are in the driver’s seat. And since very few men are mind-readers, we’ll just have to await their instructions. | November 17, 2017
Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College. He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.