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Are All Men Dogs?

“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.Author: Mood210

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.

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The Freedom to Be Harvey: Why We Tolerate Sexual Predation and Mass Killings

Does the US constitution ensure our freedoms even if those freedoms may occasionally cost the lives of others? Is sexual predation also about freedom, albeit of a different sort?

Numerous women came forward last year to say they were victims of acts of sexual aggression perpetrated by the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Similar allegations have been made against the sitting president, and a new charge surfaces almost every day against one or another male in the public eye.

Meanwhile, mass shootings by lone gunmen have become as predictable as the change of seasons. Each time one occurs we react with shock and horror and the usual debate about gun control is raised and then fades away. When recently an especially egregious slaughter occurred, 58 people with scores wounded at a concert in Las Vegas, we went through the usual ritual of trauma and grief with more calls for stiffer legislation on one side and the blockage of any such effort on the other. Statue_in_Minute_Man_National_Historical_Park

But this time I heard something that caught my attention that may help explain our inaction about both gun violence and sexual predation. The World Service of the BBC in covering the shooting in Las Vegas interviewed some Americans about what they thought. Along with expressions of outrage at our lax gun laws and the countervailing insistence on our constitutional right to “bear arms,” the reporter came upon one man who calmly stated that incidents like the one that had just taken place in Nevada were deplorable but that the occasional shedding of blood was the price we pay for this precious freedom we enjoy under the constitution.

That honest statement may help explain both our unwillingness to change our attitudes toward both the possession of weapons capable of mass murder and sexual assault. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone who’s in favor of the freest interpretation of the Second Amendment is also a sexual predator. The correspondence between the two attitudes lies in our willingness to make a trade-off between security from gun violence/male predation and our “freedom” as Americans and/or males.

Freedom, as Orlando Paterson has pointed out in his classic work on the subject, is not just the absence of constraint. It can also mean the ability and the legal right to constrain. It was a freedom of the slaveholder to own other human beings while also enjoying the freedom not to ever be a slave himself. Sexual predation is freedom in this second sense, specifically male sexual freedom or power. We tolerate it for different reasons than we do gun ownership but with a similar reluctance to question its basis.

The British actress Emma Thompson stated in an interview she gave following the Weinstein revelations that virtually every fifteen-year-old girl has already been groped on a crowded train or otherwise sexually abused. But without a sense of license to exert their sexual privilege if only anonymously on a crowded train, males would not behave as they do. Society, male-dominated and male-protective, gives them the permission to gratify their sexual urges, and it does so from a very early age.

If, for whatever the reason, we choose to let things remain as they are it’s because not enough of us are willing to tip the balance between containing sexual predation and gun violence and the sacrifice of our (mostly male) freedom such restrictions would entail. For a similar reason we don’t care to acknowledge the modern economic and social disenfranchisement African Americans have endured under modern federal, state and local government policy over the last hundred years, as documented by Richard Rothstein in The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – and then face up to the substantial efforts required to make amends. Such a recognition would mean supporting a substantial national program to make up for those disenfranchisements, and that would entail a diminishment of white freedom – i.e., white economic and social preeminence.

So, we will likely go on enduring the occasional shedding of blood that gun-holder frankly accepts, along with recurrent tales of men in high places abusing women (preferring not to look at the daily abuses that take place right under our noses) as well as the next entirely predictable instance of an unarmed African American being killed by a policeman without cause. We will not acknowledge why we endure them: our refusal to tolerate any restriction on a constitutional liberty however dangerous, our protection of male dominance, the privileges we enjoy as whites. To act otherwise just wouldn’t be American.