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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
May 24, 2018

4/24/2018 2:19:00 PM
Male bias is historical, pervasive
By GREGG BONELLI
For the Daily News

One in five college women will be sexually assaulted this school year. While the definition of the offense is vague, the reality of the moment is crystal-clear for any victim.

I am from an earlier generation that was defensive of all women generally. As Boy Scouts, we were supposed to help them across the street and open doors for them whenever possible. It never occurred to me that it might be considered demeaning for an adult woman to wait for an eight-year-old kid to tell her the coast was clear to cross the street. That's how deep the problem goes.

Imagine a goldfish in a bowl empowered to set the standards for behavior to make the world a better place. Regardless of how educated and empathetic she might be to all she sees, or reads, or even thinks about it all, she's still in a bowl. The very nature of her container distorts her view of everything and there is no escaping it, she has an inherit bias.

We have it as well, all of us, regardless of how hard we try not to have it. (Did you mentally flinch when I used "she" there, implying that a woman might ever be given so important a position? Even though we were talking about a fish and it was just a hypothetical?)

When I speak with my criminal law and criminology classes about rape and sexual assault, regardless of how scientifically accurate the statistics are that I use to make my points, the truth is I don't really know what it's like for the victims of those crimes. I can't ask the young women in my classes for specifics without embarrassing them, and I would never want to do that. But I need - we all need - to hear what they have to say about it.

We generalize as politely as possible and tiptoe around the issues that Lady Gaga does a better job of addressing in her video/song about it - "Till it happens to you." It's not just educational, its outside the bowl for all of us who don't understand what's involved, and we need that.

Bill Cosby has been on trial. We all are if we are men in today's society. If we've done right by the women we live and work with, then we may have nothing to worry about, although a conversation might be in order to find out if they would like for us to open doors for them, or not. It's our daughters and granddaughters who deserve better than what our mothers had to tolerate in their world.

Not only should "no" mean "no," but "It happened if I say it did" should be enough for a victim to be taken seriously.

The damage done by the crime is not always visible, or even biological; it's psychological and the invisible scars it leaves last a lifetime. We men mitigate our concern by pointing out that some women are willing partners to lots of men and even pretend not to mind being serially intimate. That's a fallacy, boys, wise up; you're being fooled for money again and just rationalizing your ignorance for the sake of imagined nobility.

Unfortunately this problem is pervasive in our culture as far back as we've had romantic literature and proffered it to young minds as a model for proper behavior. Men wrote about it mostly, or at least were the ones whose views other men promoted. There are no books of the gospel written by women that were included at the all-boys conference in Nicaea, although Ruth and Mary and other women where known to have left their thoughts expressed in words in their lifetimes.

I came up through this system, loved my teachers and learned much of what they tried to teach me. All of this (here I can turn around and face the academic world behind us all and wave my arms inclusively), has been offered to promote the wonder of man and his "special" relationship with the divine - the one that conveniently lets him be in charge.

If all are equal without pronoun, then that should mean men and women both. As a first step toward a better world, I suggest we make a change in our foundational liturgy from now on. Let's go with: "We now hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

I added "now" to make it current, and took out the gender-biased pronoun to remove the implication that one sex is in any way better than another in a democracy where everyone gets to vote.

As a practical matter, I now have to consider whether to show this to my wife before I submit it to my editor (a man) who may need to run it past his publisher (a woman), which must all have happened already or you wouldn't be seeing it here in the paper. Is this a great country or what!





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