Sympathy for Those with Good Intentions

office-spaceI’ve felt a strong sense of kinship with Winston Churchill since reading William Manchester’s magisterial account of the late British prime minister and statesman.

Churchill is remembered among most historians as the greatest national leader of the 20th century.  Yet, he was a remarkable anomaly:  Despite his vast powers of  discernment and foresight, he remained largely an anachronism, certainly throughout his advanced years, failing to let go of many of the things he cherished most, namely, Britain’s unrivaled superpower status and his diminutive island’s vast global empire.

While I lack Churchill’s genius, I readily relate to his sense of anachronism. With each passing day, I feel like a duck out of the increasingly turbulent waters of American cultural life – and, granted, that’s a good thing.  With each passing day, I regard myself more and more as a cultural anachronism.

I was raised to appreciate certain social boundaries and proprieties.  I always operated under the assumption that these conventions, which evolved and were refined over centuries, went a long way toward keeping the world on an even keel.  And what baffles me is the fact that a growing number younger people not only regard these proprieties as stodgy and retrograde but even as discriminatory, if not downright evil.

Vice President Mike Pence obviously was raised with a similar sense of propriety.  Apparently inspired by the evangelist Billy Graham,  he practices a set of safeguards to avoid any hint of sexual impropriety.  He has made it a standard practice not to dine alone with any woman, even within a professional context, or to attend a party where alcohol is served unless his wife is present.

Remarkably, though, far from lauding Pence for his sense of propriety, some feminists are opposed to it.   Writing in a column that appeared in Vox, attorney Joanna L. Grossman opined that this strategy not only lacked honor but was also likely illegal.

In the view of some feminists, this practice not only implies that women are temptresses but also essentially prohibits half the work force from getting ahead through building a strong working relationship with the boss.

“Wow!” is all I know to say in response to this.

The 21st century work environment seems so complex and fraught with risk now days.  I’m glad that I’m retired and out of it.

Like many anachronistic retired men in their fifties, I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on life’s good fortune.

One of the things for which I feel profoundly thankful is that my parents raised me with the values associated with good, old-fashioned Protestant propriety and rectitude. I am encumbered with many personal faults and failings, but I can honestly say that I have never pressed my advantages – that is to say, physical advantages – with a date or other female acquaintance. I was raised to regard such behavior as deeply repugnant – the worst form of boorish behavior. And as a teenager I knew that my folks would come down on me fast and furiously if I evinced any such behavior.

I always thought that establishing boundaries was a critical facet of good behavior.

In the course of my upbringing, my folks helped me acquire another invaluable skill: an awareness of the complexities of all social contexts. I learned how to be conscious of nonverbal cues. And I really think that this skill was of critical importance in helping me understand what was at stake when I entered the workplace as a freshly minted 23-year-old communications professional on a university campus in the summer of 1985. Fairly early in the game I realized that the racial and sexual complexities of that particular work environment constituted a veritable minefield and that as a white male, I needed to act accordingly.
Frankly, I was surprised at the number of white male colleagues who never understood this.
And in this day and age, such critical discernment is desperately needed.  I know that in the view of millions of women, men carry an ignoble legacy.  And, granted, there is arguably an element of truth to that.  But I can’t help but harbor a measure of sympathy for the decent, well-meaning ones – the ones who regarded gauche behavior in the workplace as execrable as I did – and still do.

About Jim Langcuster

A Southern late-Baby Boomer whose post-retirement focus is on building a post-racial, post-Confederate Southern regional identity. If the election of 2016 underscored one thing, it is that this country is intractably divided and that radical devolution of power to localities and states is the only way to save the American Union.
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1 Response to Sympathy for Those with Good Intentions

  1. Peg Boyles says:

    I applaud your personal virtue in this sensitive matter before us as a culture. But I urge you to cast off your anachronistic way of thinking, especially as the father of daughters just starting their journeys into adulthood.

    Please don’t forget that numerous sanctimonious faith leaders, politicians professing deep and abiding religious faith, and many upstanding communtiy leaders have hidden years and even decades of perpetrating horrific sexual abuses.

    Most women will agree to many shades of distinction between “decent, well-meaning” men and serial harassers/abusers. But there are a lot of caveats along the way, most of which fall into the category of “microaggressions,” an important category of political correctness.

    The way to fix it? Listen to women. Full stop.

    Stop talking and listen. This will take a while, and it will be hard, because you haven’t experienced and can’t experienced what women do. Men need to stop “mansplaining,” justifying their own behavior when women tell them certain actions make them feel belittled, unsafe/harassed, or under assault.

    We’ve been struggling to get through to you for decades, despite being called shrill, overbearing, cold, frigid, bitchy, lacking a sense of humor, failing to appreciate men’s biological imperatives (apparently in the sexual domain, they just can’t control themselves, so it’s up to us to do the job. “Better to marry than to burn.”).

    I urge you also to consider that many men of every political persuasion carry an image of themselves as decent, upstanding, and well-meaning. But do they share the off-color joke in the hallway, or drop a casual comment on the voluptuousness of the new intern, or the fact that so-and-so (female) seems to have let herself go/had a boob job/needs a good lay? Aggressively asserting power over, especially displays of physical power, or belittling a subordinate/female partner can feel sexually threatening.

    Most adult women have heard and smarted under the allegations that women share equal or some responsibility for sexual harassment, abuse, and assault/rape. You may have expressed these beliefs yourself. Our manner of dress, makeup/perfume, and/or flirtatiousness suggest we’re “asking for it,” and therefore open and available to any sexual advance.

    All wrong. If you put a move on any woman (child, another man) without her consent (even if she previously consented to something sexual) it’s an assault.

    First and ultimately, though sexual “misbehavior” has something to do with men’s unique sexuality, it’s mostly about power. Men do it because they can.

    Until women gain equal power on all fronts, political, economic, domestic, male sexual entitlement will continue.

    P.S. Don’t go down the Trump/Moore route of accusing many women of launching false assault allegations. It happens, but research has shown it’s rare.

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