The Pivotal Generation
My mother, born in 1924, grew up in the time when she was sexually abused by her alcoholic father and was told to keep quiet about it. If she told anyone, it would bring shame to the family. She suffered severely for holding her feelings inside. Her granddaughters, born in the 1980s, now have come to age in a time when an unwanted pinch, touch, or kiss is reported, and consequences are sometimes paid by the male aggressor. Born in 1952, I am a member of the pivotal generation. I find myself swinging both ways on sexual harassment issues that seem crystal clear to younger women. How can we change societal expectations without doing things like disgracing a former president a year or two before his death? How can we fairly deal with all inappropriate actions reported? Can we agree on a scale of the seriousness of some inappropriate actions versus others? We presently still pick and choose those people who should get away with anything sexually inappropriate or deemed harassment. Most importantly, how can we handle false accusations that make both men and women look bad?
A few years ago, I personally watched a wonderful male teacher get accused of inappropriate touching. A report was made and administration began an investigation, only to have the middle school-aged accuser be overheard giggling and telling friends it never happened. She was just mad at the teacher about the grade she had in his class. All action against the teacher was dropped, but he ended up retiring years before he planned to due to jokes made about him, many from fellow teachers. As many men have found, once accused there is a stain on one’s reputation.
This seems unimportant to many women until they know someone who is falsely accused, and then it becomes more obvious as to why many men in positions of authority are nervous about interacting with female subordinates. Of course, in years past, sometimes women were involved in promoting inappropriate actions by a male boss. As a teacher I once taught at a school with a male principal who would announce at happy hours where many staff were present that female teachers couldn’t leave the bar without kissing him goodbye. Some women would laugh and encourage other women to kiss him. I actually kissed this principal one time before leaving for the evening. I’m ashamed of myself now, but how does one resist something like that without looking like a spoil sport?
I have no big answers. I do think we need to have an understanding of the older generation and their dated ideas of social interactions while reminding them what expectations are now. We need to raise socially conscious boys. The phrase “boys will be boys” needs to be deleted from our minds. I do wonder if every big social pivot like this has been so painful.