This Unholy Mess


The Anti-Golden Rule

The #metoo movement is a revolution. It aims to provoke nothing less than a major re-ordering of society, ending a particular form of ubiquitous, below-the-radar slavery.
The vision is clear. But now comes the daunting question: how to make the collective realization into the real deal, a lasting change?
This is tough stuff. To realize how widespread and entrenched the oppression has been is also to have some sense of the deeply-rooted human traits that have sustained it. These are obviously some of humanity’s most regrettable traits, yet they cannot be disowned or buried in the back yard. They are part of us for better or worse. They represent what could be called the Anti-Golden Rule.
It’s a sad mangling of the actual Golden Rule, one that comes with a huge “ick” factor; it is so embedded in human behavior that relatively few ever completely break its hold; those who do are revered by the rest of us. Its most economical expression is: “Do unto others—if you can.” I prefer another iteration, in the form of a question: “What good is having power if you can’t use it?”
I like putting it that way because this issue is after all about power, much more than about sex or anything else. It’s about the peculiar “Masters of the Universe” drug that seems to be automatically injected into the bloodstream of the male of the species when he achieves anything that looks like “success.” The greater the success, the more rabid and deranged the behavior. The power he wields is especially heinous because it can involve both social and raw physical domination, not just to oppress, but to co-opt and implicate the victim in the act, regardless of how much resistance she (or he) demonstrates. It is so filthy that the victim feels covered with filth, too, on some level, and is shamed by it.
Most working women know all about this, of course, whether they are employed in high-powered offices, fast-food outlets, or anything in between. If the night-shift manager is in the mood and thinks he can get away with it, he will harass his staff members. He will do it, as Bill Clinton memorably said, for the worst possible reason: because he can.
A nasty truth is that we are all, men and women, at least a bit like Bill Clinton and the rest of the gang, in the sense that we share the desire to achieve, to accrue power in society at whatever level we can. We all want to distinguish ourselves, and when we do, we naturally want to display and use our power to do things that give us satisfaction, most often things that those less “distinguished” cannot do. If we get a promotion and a raise at work, we can then move to a nicer neighborhood or buy a fancy car. It’s the payoff we give ourselves for attaining our new power. But here is where the line is drawn, and where women do not suffer anything resembling the extreme male madness of this drive: while it’s one thing to enjoy benefits—say, getting backstage passes to a spectacular concert, or last-minute reservations at a busy, chic restaurant–it is something entirely different to extend that power to physically subjugating and humiliating those who are less distinguished and powerful.
So will this horror go away, now that we acknowledge it?
Given that the seeds of the problem and their most repulsive manifestations are hard-wired in every male, it won’t happen automatically, and very likely not completely. The need of the testosterone-impaired to engage in inexcusable expressions of power is too strong, too tempting, too insidious, too corrupting. Yet there is a hopeful bit. Because of the sheer number of women (and some few men) who have come forward with their stories, we now, as a society, have a real chance to wake up. Awareness is a huge deal here—the decisive factor–because if we truly grasp that #metoo is not a one-off, sensational moment of headline grabbing, but an urgent SOS that requires constant vigilance from all of us, then we are in a position to create a new standard. If we can manage never to forget that humans are like this—that men especially are like this—then we are choosing never to let that truth out of our peripheral vision. Ever. We then have a chance to fulfill the revolution, to come to the deep realization that “normal” is what we demand it should be.

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