Posted by Thomas J. Hubschman
“All men are dogs.” More than one woman has said that to me over the years. They did so matter-of-factly, almost as a confidence, as if I were somehow not a member of the male sex or were being given the benefit of the doubt as an exception.
At first, I thought by “dogs” they meant low-lifes, bastards. When I realized they meant that when it came to women men cared only about sex I confess I was shocked. For one thing, I guess I had supposed males were better at concealing the deeper intentions beneath their wining and dining and witty conversation. I felt a sense of shame as a man at those words, just as I feel a sense of guilt because I’m “white” and privileged at the expense of those who are not, even if I do nothing overtly to claim that privilege.
Since the first accusations were made against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the idea that “all men are dogs” seems all but taken for granted, no longer a statement made only among good friends of opposite sexes. A flood of accusations against not just celebrities and politicians but against sports figures, physicians and just about anyone else has been let loose. And those, of course, are just the malefactors in public life. By what factor do you multiply their number to come up with a figure that matches that of those equally guilty among our neighbors and other ordinary males?
For some reason the behavior of Bill Clinton and more recently the indictment of Bill Cosby and all the news stories over the years about frat-party gang rapes, prominent athletes’ sexual assaults and other newsworthy sexual misconduct did not cause a break in the dam of pent-up feminine anger that the accounts of Weinstein’s behavior has. All of a sudden it’s as if every woman alive has a personal reason to assert that “all men are dogs,” except what they are revealing is far worse than what my female friends seemed to be saying when they used those words. And, indeed, just about every woman does have a story to tell of sexual abuse ranging from being groped on public transportation to date rape, if not something worse.
Are all us men really Harvey Weinsteins but just don’t have the power or the opportunity to do what he did? That’s what’s being asserted by some women. If they’re right, if Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss academic who teaches at Oxford University and speaks regularly in public forums as a voice of moderate Islam, a family man – as unthinkable as a rapist as Bill Cosby had seemed back in his days as “America’s father” – if the likes of Ramadan and Cosby turn out to be sexual criminals, is it not perhaps true that all men are indeed dogs – mad dogs?
But if an entire sex is psychopathic does the word have any meaning? If we men are all mad canines, or most of us, is not madness the norm and hence by definition not aberrant?
I have always maintained that Bill Clinton’s behavior as asserted by his accusers over the decades was pathological. The fact that he, like Cosby and Ramadan and the nice pediatrician or clergyman we would no more suspect of being a child molester than we would our own father, comes across as charming, bright and sincere makes it hard to imagine him forcing himself on a woman. But isn’t this where the sexual abuser and the confidence man merge? They both have to gain some measure of trust in order to place their victims in a vulnerable position. You have to have confidence in someone, especially a stranger, before you turn over your life savings to them for safe keeping. You also need to trust someone, or at least want to trust him, before you go to their hotel room, private yacht, examining room, Oval Office or rectory alone and defenseless. Anyone who tricks another human being into placing that kind of trust in him and then robs, rapes or murders her lacks an essential moral sense. Such a person does not feel and think as a normal person feels and thinks.
But, it’s constantly asserted, it’s all about power, by which is meant the ability to exert one’s will on another’s. I don’t deny that, but does that mean virtually all men, all human beings for that matter, will act in a similarly despicable fashion as have the rogues gallery of sexual monsters who have been outed in the last few months? Make me a CEO or head producer or dermatologist or clergyman and I immediately turn into a potential sexual predator? I don’t think so. I think these men, and perhaps some women as well, are sickos to start with. Ambition drives them to positions of power, and that’s when they get their chance to act on their inclinations. But not every German could be turned into a camp guard in a concentration camp, and some members of the SS were excused from the killing of civilians because they could not bring themselves to do so.
Many people can be brought to act in certain situations as they would not otherwise do, but only a minority are capable of truly atrocious behavior. Many of the perpetrators we have been hearing about belong in the first group, fewer to the second. It’s a good idea to distinguish between the two without excusing those who are guilty of less heinous offenses while identifying those who are deranged people masquerading as normal. Not all dogs are the same. Not all dogs are even dogs.