A question has been wandering through my head for the last few days. I will put it as bluntly as I can. What one earth would make a fat and ugly old man like Roger Ailes or Bill Reilly think that any woman on this earth would want to have sex with him? I am aware that there are people, male and female, who would submit to sex, or even use sex, to further their own purposes. But how would someone as plainly unattractive as Bill Reilly think that any woman would actually enjoy climbing in bed with him? I think the answer lies in a seriously perverted notion of female sexuality that has been allowed to exist unchallenged, and has perhaps even been supported, for some time in our culture.
There is a scene that showed up in several films in the past that became something of a film cliché. The most recent example is the scene in Doctor Zhivago when the character Victor Komarovsky, played by Rod Steiger, grabs Lara, clearly with the intent of having sex with her. She resists, but he pins her to him and starts kissing her. She beats his back with her fists, but gradually her fists release and she embraces him. Nothing else is shown, but the film makes it clear that Komarovsky gets his way.
The scene has an underlying suggestion, namely that the man’s force has stripped the woman of all resistance, and she is sexually aroused by his violence and becomes a willing participant in the act.
Seen in that light, the underlying assumption of the scene, and of its like in several other films, is not just inaccurate. It is ridiculous. More. It is an insult to women. Much worse, it is quite likely the kind of thinking that some men use to justify their treatment of women. From the street bully doing catcalls to the disgusting, pawing Roger Ailes type, some men give themselves the justification for their conduct that women actually enjoy their uninvited advances. They are patently wrong, but they persist in their views, and at least some part of our culture tacitly or subliminally supports them.
I say all of this for two reasons. First, it is a confession. I am a white male, and I have developed the usual white male prejudices. I find myself having to struggle to align my instinctive attitudes with the undeniable principle that there should not be any difference in basic human rights between men and women. I’m not even sure that I can do much about that at my rather advanced age except keep telling myself that the culture in which I was raised was flawed in that regard, as it was flawed with respect to other races and other religions.
It is the second reason that is more important. Achieving equal rights among the sexes is not merely a matter of passing laws. The right to vote, the right to bear arms, the right to an equal wage, the right to advancement in employment — all these things are merely recognitions of the obvious. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution does not allow women to vote. It merely recognizes the injustice of denying women the right to vote. Equal pay should not be granted to women; it should be recognized as a fundamental right.
To put this succinctly, the recognition of the fundamental, inalienable rights of all human beings requires not just the passage of laws. It will take a root change in our culture. What is really offensive about the conduct of Roger Ailes and Bill Reilly and Bill Cosby and the rest is that, in some strange way, they thought what they were doing was culturally acceptable. They even thought that the women, the human beings, with whom they were dealing wanted it that way.
The recognition of women’s rights has been greatly increased by the efforts of both individuals and organized groups. The full recognition of those rights, however, awaits a change in our very culture. It doesn’t help that we vote in a president who endorses sexual violence, but it is my fond hope that Trump is the last gasp of a sadly outdated world view. The full recognition of the rights of women, of people of other races and of people of other religions awaits the coming to adulthood of the American culture.