I was recently interviewed by a French TV station, looking for my feedback on sexual harassment in America and its impact on the relationships between men and women in this country. They compared and contrasted the relationships we have here with the ones men and women in France share—and are mystified at why they are so different.
In France, and in much of Europe, there is an openness we do not have in our culture. People kiss one another in greeting, touch is used frequently—and personal space is not something people think about. Yes, they do have sexual harassment issues like we do, and rape is a problem there as well. So why are they so open and we are not? I blamed it on culture.
Though the US is a melting pot of folks from other places and cultures—we do have a national culture along with the ones that different subsets bring with them and that continue to influence them. But it is the larger culture that demands space, reinforces the importance of good boundaries, asks for safe spaces, and is very aware of how and what they say and do might impact the feelings of others. Many express concern about a climate of correctness that has shut down all discourse and disagreement.
Now for the irony—sexual harassment is epidemic—and men (mostly) are acting out sexually in large numbers, especially when they have an advantage that helps them get away with it. How could this be in such a climate and culture? Maybe because we had stopped talking about these things in frank and open ways—which would help those who needed it to ask for help and speak frankly about their experiences.
#METOO should help. So should all the discussion that is bound to take place in boardrooms, bars, and among friends and acquaintances when they come together socially. Not just women, but men need to be able to share at least some of what they are feeling and why they think this is happening and what can be done about it. Instead of men being viewed as potential predators, not to be fully trusted at work on in a social setting—maybe we should try harder to understand their feelings in this new dating and relating culture and listen to what it is they have to say about it.
We need and want each other. Underneath everything else, we are very much alike. Wouldn’t it be a much nicer world if we could show more affection, talk more freely, and be ourselves without fear of being labelled or rejected as incorrect?
Common sense dictates that we treat stranger encounters with care, that we not take unnecessary chances, and that we avoid leaving ourselves vulnerable to potential predators. These are good guidelines for living—but there is a lot of room between them and the distrust, anger, and judgement that is occurring too often between the sexes. We won’t be a safer or better people by shutting down open and honest dialogue and discourse. And telling guys to watch everything they say and do will not improve their behavior—only lead them to be more cautious and less emotionally available to women who they may be interested in or who may be interested in them.