In “he said, she said” stories without corroboration it is difficult enough to know whom to believe. In the current political climate and cultural context it is even more so when we add sex and elapsed time.
Although we have come to recognize sexual harassment, particularly with the ultimate result of rape, as power more than sex, it is still titillating, frightening, disgusting and questionable as to where justice leads us in believing the differing stories of the victim or the accused. Except, it is clear that no one has the right to force themselves upon another.
In my almost nine decades of observing this phenomena of cultural evolution, we have moved from barely saying the word out loud to the #Me Too movement. However, we are still more than reluctant to teach substantial sex education as a normal part of health. Nor do we talk about this part of life to our children in the way that many proclaim families should. Sex appeal is another matter. Prevalent in entertaining, dress, advertising, jokes etc. it does not give permission for harassment, but it does set a climate beginning with adolescent curiosity to acceptance that something is wrong if the male does not respond. Likewise for the woman who does not attract such. This warped vision is the harvest we are now reaping.
From silence to front and center, we have women pouring out long-suppressed stories. They are thoroughly chastised for not having come forward sooner, but doing so completely turns their lives upside down. Is it any wonder that they kept quiet so long?
Growing up in a constrained society where we learned the facts of life in bits and pieces, mostly eavesdropping, I am not surprised by the delay. When pregnancy before marriage was a deep dark secret in the few cases that became public, there was talk in male circles of “If she takes me to court, I have five or six friends who will testify that they too had sex with her.” Guess who was the victim regardless of the circumstances. Acceptable behavior for the male! In the sense of fairness it must be admitted that women too can breach integrity in these matters – a tale for another time.
The pregnant female was sent away to have the baby, or in the few cases where marriage was considered the proper outcome, it was generally announced that it had been a secret marriage weeks before. Not to overlook love stories, but otherwise hardly the basis for a good marriage. At least at this point it is recognized that justice is not in these solutions either for the forgotten child in the first instance or the reluctant parent in the forced marriage.
Now for the situation in the current Supreme Court confirmation process: For many years I have been an advocate for different treatment for adolescents in criminal proceedings on the grounds that their brains were not fully developed. Therefore I was willing to allow some benefit of doubt to the nominee for behavior at age 17 even though the accused action was hardly one to be taken lightly. The more I learned about the party atmosphere indulged in that segment of society, the more I believed the entire accusation. It was cemented in when I learned of the nominee’s braggadocio comment that what happens at XYZ stays at XYZ, another long-held explanation for bad behavior. This attitude can also play a role in making an observer a co-conspirator. Note too the role of alcohol in all these participants.
If and when the matter is investigated properly we need to keep in mind that oaths are not completely “fool-proof.” There is great hazard in lying under oath, but it happens due to frailties of the human mind or character aggravated by time passage. Then there are the deliberate ones of good actors with a moral void allowing them to continue in the path of what started the whole affair to begin with.
It is near impossible to find a greater effect on the nation than that of a Supreme Court Justice; therefore no stone should be left unturned in the confirmation process. Always a political choice, it has become a devastating power play in recent years. Few question that the present pick was chosen for anything other than his known leanings toward limiting women’s control of our own bodies (under the guise of protecting us from ourselves!) making this brouhaha all the more tragic. Here it is power of the adolescent male continuing as well as political party power extending well into the future.
It is a sad story, with so many wonderful, honorable lawyers/judges with no such questionable history, that the selection is all too often made for political reasons. Will this decision be another power play with party prevailing over nation? Let us hope not. May the integrity of members of Congress prevail in recognizing responsibility to the nation, to all the people, rests in their hands. In this instance, particularly the Senate, it should hardly be questionable as to where their duty is.
Ruth M. Gadebusch is a Fresno resident and former member of the Fresno Unified School Board.