Jill Gruenberg: Guest opinion
July 26, 2011
John Edwards, Ben Roethlisberger, Julian Assange, Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silvio Berlusconi, Anthony Weiner, and yes, even Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Sadly, these are just a few of the names that have been in the spotlight recently for a variety of sex scandals.
I am struck by this seemingly unending parade of athletes, politicians, and world leaders who seem to be unwilling to control their libido. Before you presume that I am lumping these individuals together indiscriminately, let me state that I believe that there are vast differences between the categories of illegal behavior versus unethical or immoral behavior versus that which is “simply” inappropriate. A sex scandal such as former Congressman Weiner’s, which raises the question of propriety, is significantly different than an alleged sexual assault that centers on the issue of consent such as that involving star NFL quarterback Roethlisberger.
The current trend of sex scandals is disheartening and signals an underlying imbalance in the fragile social equality between men and women. Granted, it is not fair to take the example of a few men behaving badly as a blanket condemnation of an entire gender. Yet the headlines do show us that there are some men who feel a sense of entitlement to their sexual urges and subsequent gratification no matter the cost to themselves or their partners.
This pattern of arrogance and power also sends a concerning message to society, to women, and to young men about what is “normal.” Some might argue that these recent cases have shown the offenders and the public that there are significant consequences to such impropriety – forced resignations, fines, probation, decreased popularity, and even arrests. On the other hand, there is a subtle yet dangerous societal message that continues to be condoned, which is that when it comes to sex, “boys will be boys.” And when society turns away from the harm this belief causes to women, we are all granting our implicit permission for this behavior to continue.
We are creating a dangerous climate when the idea that men have insatiable and uncontrollable sexual appetites simply as a part of who they are becomes not only a belief, but an excuse. This attitude creates the platform upon which sexual violence occurs and thrives. Rightly so, there are countless men who would find this generalization of all men as sex-crazed animals lacking self-control offensive and limiting to their own humanity.
As humans we are not the same as other animals in that we possess the ability to distinguish right from wrong and exercise our free will in choosing how to act. And that is exactly the message that I want the young boys with whom I work in the local high schools to understand. There is a way to be a “real man” that does not have to include infidelity, insensitivity, indiscretion, or the use of power and control in their sexual relations. The true problem that underlies this recent tirade of men behaving badly is our buy-in to the flawed belief system that exists as a product of our social conditioning.
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All you have to do is look through a fashion magazine, watch popular music videos, or simply turn on the television to see that there is an entire industry that feeds us ideas of what it means to be a “real man” or what it means and looks like to be a desirable woman. These are ideas that we are unquestioningly sold, not because they are right or even true, but for the financial gain of others.
A common factor for all of the men in these recent sex scandals is that they are, or were, men of power. And sadly, for many men power leads to a sense of invincibility and entitlement. In addition, women play into the dynamic because for many women power is an aphrodisiac. However, in cases such as that involving former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is fair to ask the question, Is there such as thing as a consensual sexual relationship between an employer of his prestige and an employee with few resources whose job depended on the approval of her boss?
This is a perfect example of the gray area of consent, yet hopefully most would agree that although Schwarzenegger’s actions were not illegal, they were certainly not something we want our young boys to aspire to. It is time that we, as a society, expect more from our leaders and role models, as well as from the men in our lives and in our communities. I truly believe that most men will be the first to join the movement to move beyond such limiting and diminishing stereotypes of what masculinity looks like, and I will gladly be there to welcome them.
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