You Asked For It

I was going to call this month’s essay “How the Sexual Revolution is Biting Itself in the Ass,” but I figured such a title would be indecorous, as well as somewhat lengthy.  Hence the more formal and well-mannered one given above.  Naturally, I’ll be discussing the ongoing witch-hunt and collective mania now sweeping America concerning “sexual harassment.”  Everyone else is, so why not me?

It’s a source of unfailing amazement to sane persons that left-liberals are always unaware that many cultural problems of our time are directly traceable to demands made by left-liberals in the past, and made without any thought as to the ultimate consequences of such demands.  I recall in the 1970s clueless jackasses on the Upper West Side going into paroxysms of righteous rage about the Shah of Iran, and how he was a monstrous dictator who oppressed his poor people, and how he, his dynasty, and his hated SAVAK had to be overthrown.  Well, they got what they wanted, didn’t they?  And now Iran is a frightening theocracy run by fanatics who are well on their way to dominating much of the region and beyond, threatening our allies, developing nuclear weapons, and stoking the fires of religious warfare.  I often wonder if those same Upper West Side morons ever stopped to consider how their brainless pro-ayatollah enthusiasm brought us to the geopolitical nightmare that we face today.  They were so insufferably smug in their anti-Shah attitudes while they ate Sunday brunch on 116th Street near Columbia University.  I can only assume they have forgotten completely about the Pahlevi dynasty, and are now directing their moral energy towards the BDS movement, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and other avenues of  liberal masturbation.

This forgetfulness is a characteristic of left-liberalism, which tends to jump from concern to concern with a frightening ease.  I’ve called this “going off on a toot,” or a kind of propensity for getting worked up suddenly about some perceived “wrong,” passionately denouncing it for a while, and then losing interest and going off on another toot about something else that one finds offensive.  Right now, in America, the current left-liberal toot is “sexual harassment” and how all perpetrators of it must be hunted down, cornered, and killed like rabid dogs.

Sexual harassment is real enough.  It can be minor, like tasteless remarks, smirks, patronizing attitudes, unwelcome touches, and the like; or it can be major, like rape, molestation, and clumsy advances or pressure for sexual favors.  But the larger fact is that the kind of gross and disgusting harassment so much in the news today is a direct result of something that left-liberals wanted and fought for and brought about: the Sexual Revolution.  And true to type, they have completely forgotten the relevant history.

What we call “the Sexual Revolution” was a seismic realignment of cultural mores in the 1960s that had this basic effect: it made all women the legitimate prey of alpha males.  This effect was not immediately noticed by young women at the time, for a number of reasons.  First, it was part and parcel of a larger generational revolt against all authority and societal norms.  Second, the Baby Boomer generation that carried out the revolution was in its late teens and early twenties, when sexual energy is at its peak.  Third, the development of effective and dependable birth control freed women from the age-old deterrent fear of unwanted or disgraceful pregnancy, and such liberation was so exhilarating that it temporarily blinded many women to the fact that they were now being treated as whores.

This Sexual Revolution was not merely one of behavior.  After all, people have disregarded religious and social norms about sexual relations since time immemorial, as all literature attests.  They were just more discreet and hypocritical about it.  The truly revolutionary changes were in attitude, deportment, dress, and speech.  All of a sudden it became acceptable to comport oneself like a shameless libertine or a promiscuous slut.  You could discuss sex openly in mixed company; you could use four-letter words freely; you could make unabashed comments about your own sexual reactions to attractive persons; and both sexes (but most particularly women) could dress in styles that were shameless, vulgar, and provocative.  What disappeared was a long tradition of reticence and natural modesty, both of which were casually dismissed as symptoms of an unhealthy repression.  Indignities that had previously marked the sexual habits of the most degraded of the lower classes now became acceptable in higher levels of society.

What also vanished was a complex apparatus of courtship procedures.  In their place all that remained were the leer, the pass, the wolf-whistle, the come-on, the feel-up, the direct proposition, and all the rest of the oafish advances in the repertoire of the classless boor.  In short, men were now expected to be boors if they wanted to get anywhere with women, and liberated women were expected to welcome the change as a sign of the new adult maturity.

Naturally, this seismic shift provided something of an erotic windfall for the alpha male, whose need to wine, dine, woo, and win a willing female partner had now evaporated.  Along with that need went any requirement on his part to learn something of feminine psychology and preferences, to master the norms of etiquette and proper attire, or to pay any attention at all to the most elementary rules of male-female interaction.  If intercourse was de rigueur on the second date, why bother with all this ceremony?  What’s amazing is how many women acquiesced in this degradation, and went along with it. This is the context in which the current “sexual harassment” witch-hunt has to be understood.  In a world where both sexes have lost all sense of the mysterious and potentially dangerous aspects of erotic desire, any sexual activity will be seen as “no different from drinking a glass of water,” as the early Bolsheviks argued.  There will be no need for any hesitancy or demure delays, no need for protocols of decorous behavior and courtship.  Men raised in a cultural climate where sex is understood to be no more than an animal function for mutual pleasure are certainly not going to understand why groping a woman’s body or masturbating in front of her are shocking and outrageous.  Why should they?  If hormonal desire is given free rein, and both males and females are presumed to enjoy sex without any moral scruples, aren’t gropings and genital exposure just easy ways to break the ice?

This is why the current witch-hunt is nothing but a misplaced feminist temper tantrum.  And make no mistake—this is a full-fledged witch-hunt, one where the rules of law, evidence, and the normal protections of the accused have been discarded tout court.  Accusation alone matters, and accusation is deemed sufficient for judgment and condemnation.  Men are being smeared, defamed, and having their careers wrecked without any recourse to the law.  And typically, not a single syllable of protest has been heard from the ACLU, our fraudulent “defender” of the civil rights of American citizens.

This witch-hunt has a mercenary, venal aspect to it.  All the men being charged are wealthy and prominent.  Gee, I wonder what that’s all about?  Could many of these long-delayed accusations be not just from traumatized feminist snowflakes, but from gold diggers who smell the possibility of a fast buck?  A great deal of modern American life is arranged to enrich self-proclaimed victims and their lawyers.  The current scenario has plenty of monetary potential, since no one is allowed to question the veracity of the complainants.  As in all witch-hunts, a lot of courtroom time is thereby saved.  This entire sexual harassment imbroglio, with its manufactured outrage and media-hyped hysteria, follows a very typical American pattern: work yourself into a moral frenzy to show how virtuous you are, while making sure that you get rich at the same time.

But forget about the gold diggers.  They don’t cancel out the real pain suffered by those women who have had to put up with swinish males over the years.  Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be blind to the historical context that has produced the problem, and which is still shaping our reactions today.  What’s really happening is what Ernest Belfort Bax described many years ago in his account of the blatant hypocrisy of a feminism that demands full equality but insists on retaining special female privileges.  Feminists want complete freedom and equality for women, but after tasting the fruits of the Sexual Revolution, they have decided that men should adhere to stringent Victorian codes of behavior when dealing with the opposite sex.  In other words, sexual freedom is a one-way street.  Women are allowed to dress and prance around like cheap tarts, taking degraded whore-icons like Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga as role models for attire and deportment, while men are forbidden to respond in any way to hormonal provocation.  Could anything be more childish and hypocritical?  We were supposed to get rid of the double standard, not reverse it.

One doesn’t have to defend the piggish behavior of a Harvey Weinstein to see that the actual source of the current mania is the Sexual Revolution itself, and the long-simmering but highly conflicted rage of feminists against the revolution’s consequences.  If you are willing to discard all standards of decorum in sexual interaction, you can’t limit that change to women alone.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

And girls, a piece of advice: Grow up.  If you dress like a whore, expect to be solicited like one.


Joseph S. Salemi has published poems, translations, and scholarly articles in over one hundred journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. His four collections of poetry are Formal Complaints and Nonsense Couplets, issued by Somers Rocks Press, Masquerade from Pivot Press, and The Lilacs on Good Friday from The New Formalist Press. He has translated poems from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, including Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Propertius, Ausonius, Theognis, and Philodemus. In addition, he has published extensive translations, with scholarly commentary and annotations, from Renaissance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, The Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and the Latin verse of Castiglione. He is a recipient of a Herbert Musurillo Scholarship, a Lane Cooper Fellowship, an N.E.H. Fellowship, and the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature Award. He is also a four-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Prize.