If you were a plump middle-aged person with a comb-over, wouldn\’t you think twice about disrobing in front of a colleague, a job applicant, or an impressionable teenager? The photos of sexual harassers that decorate the news these days show that none of these men is physically attractive. If Michelangelo\’s David is a 10, Harvey Weinstein et al., on a good day, score a 2.
These guys must, at some point, have stood in front of a mirror, but apparently they didn\’t let what they saw hold them back.You have to admire their confidence, their optimism, their touching certainty that they would be adored, no matter how they looked or what they did. In fact many of them, in self defense, claim that the encounters were consensual, for what woman could fail to be enraptured by the sight of their nakedness?
Perhaps this blissful self-assurance was the fault of an overly fond mother, who thought that whatever her little boy did was a sign of genius. But there I go, blaming the woman.
One possible explanation is that these gruesome Peter Pans lack a trait that even some higher animals possess: theory of mind, the ability to put oneself in the other\’s place and imagine what she is thinking. Enveloped in a rosy fog of infant narcissism, they literally cannot see the woman in front of them. The root of the disrobing and the groping and the sexual jokes and insults is the inability, or the refusal, to see the desired object as not just a scaffolding for T&A, but as a fellow human, with ideas, tastes, and especially distastes, of her own.
But there is an even darker possibility: that these men do see the women they harass as real persons, but ones to be degraded and humiliated, precisely because they are female.
I go back and forth between these two explanations. If the first is correct, a good set of laws and penalties plus education might bring about a culture shift. But what if the second explanation is the right one? In the face of such hatred, what response can we even begin to imagine?