One of the ways boys become men

Peggy Orenstein looks at Trump the pussy-grabber as one bead in the necklace of temporary outrage.

In each case, by the time it’s over, we turn away from the broader implications toward a more comforting narrative: The perpetrators are exceptions, monsters whom we can isolate, eliminate and occasionally even prosecute.

Certainly, such behavior is not representative of men, not by a long shot. Yet neither is it entirely atypical. Sexual coercion, in one form or another, is as American as that baseball metaphor — a metaphor that sees girls’ limits as a challenge boys should overcome.

And this isn’t anything new. Those struggles in the back seats of cars have been a staple of movies and sitcoms since…well maybe since movies began. And before that it wasn’t the back seat of a car, but it was The Seducer.

Orenstein has been talking to boys about their attitudes to sexuality lately. What she learned is not surprising but it’s depressing as fuck.

One 19-year-old in Northern California, for instance, told me he’d spent the summer working at a bicycle shop. The all-guy staff whiled away their days talking in what he described as “incredibly degrading ways” about girls. At the printable end of the spectrum, they referred to the cafe down the street, which was entirely staffed by young women, as “the Bitches.” As in, “Hey, you want to go grab coffee from the Bitches?”

Funny thing – last night when channel-surfing I watched a few minutes of Philadelphia, including the scene in court where Tom Hanks explains why he never told the partners at his law firm that he was gay. There’s a flashback to the scene he describes: a row of naked men with towels over their groins lounging at an athletic club, telling jokes. The first joke we hear is: “What do you call a woman with ESP and PMS?” “What?” “A bitch that knows everything.” Roars of manly laughter.

That wasn’t even the point – the point was the next joke, the homophobic one.

[A]ccording to Michael Kimmel, the author of “Guyland” and a sociologist at Stony Brook University, silence in the face of cruelty or sexism “is one of the ways boys become men.”

That’s what Deborah Cameron said in her post on Trump – talking about women that way is a bonding exercise for men.

Trump should not be the end of the conversation, Orenstein points out.

“Don’t sexually assault women” (or, for that matter, “Don’t get a girl pregnant”) is an awfully low bar for acceptable behavior. It does little to address the complexity of boys’ lives, the presumption of their always-down-for-it sexuality, the threat of being called a “pussy” if you won’t grab one, the collusion that comes with keeping quiet. Boys need continuing, serious guidance about sexual ethics, reciprocity, respect. Rather than silence or swagger, they need models of masculinity that are not grounded in domination or aggression.

They do, but…

…but I can’t feel much confidence that would do any good, because guidance is all very well but they will still always end up with each other, rolling their eyes at the grown ups and showing how cool they are by rejecting all that pussy-whipped “guidance.”

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