Thursday, October 05, 2006

Propositioning Pages-- Ho-Hum

I was thinking about the flashy Wilbur Mills drunk-with-a-stripper incident of 1974 and how dreary and Puritan the Mark Foley naughty-messages-to-pages scandal seems by comparison, when I found Wonkette’s comments. The level of media outrage is inversely proportional to the level of entertainment I feel.

Naughty emails? Good grief. Young women have forever been fending off naughty overtures of males in the workplace. It was a coming-of-age ritual. Sexual harassment laws have squeeze the juice out of raging workplace hormones, but it’s time that equal opportunity offered young males a chance to deal with ogling oldsters.

My first encounter with inappropriate advances was the New York University professor who singled out mini-skirted me to collect my work at a local bar, rather than after class with everyone else. An older girl in the dorm, larger than I and from the Midwest, dressed me in one of her old, shapeless winter coats, boots that were too large for me, and a dowdy babushka on my head. “What should I say?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about having to say anything,” she said. “He’ll get the picture.” Indeed, he took one look, handed me the essay, made no pretence of asking me to stay for a drink and that was that.

I frequently shunted aside naughty male comments with a laughing admonishment, “What would your wife say if she heard you talking like that?” An artless reminder from a young woman negotiating a workplace unregulated by harassment legislation, in hindsight it seems a prudent comeback, steeped in guilt with a mild edge of threat.

Men often tried, “I liked to get into those pants.” Such genius, such wit. My favorite retort: “They’re not your size, and I don’t think you’d look good in them.” I heard many a teehee from the sidelines.

On one occasion, a longtime married racetrack gambler offered me two tickets to the Preakness Stakes. I turned them down. He muttered, “So you don’t play the game.” I had no idea what he meant. Another gambler and friend explained, “The tickets are worth hundreds of dollars, He was propositioning you for sex without offering money. That’s the game.” Oh.

Asking me to plug in the copier and other equipment by crawling under a table was, however, a bit too much. The business owner’s mistress was never subjected to this indignity, and an unseemly audience of males who insisted on this uncomfortable ritual. Why the hell was the equipment always unplugged anyway? When I was fired for taking a sick day for cramps, a nice African-American case reviewer called it harassement, and I collected unemployment. By that time, the sexual harassment laws were newly in place.

The points made by Justin Zarkoff at Wonkette are well taken; there is no point in cloaking the Wilbur Mills era in fuzzy haze of reminiscence. It was a time when boys were men, and women were put upon. Still, it’s futile to try to choke sexuality out of human existence. It’s there, folks. Men and women are attracted to beautiful youth. Sexual innuendos and passes are made. I will probably be shot for being politically incorrect by saying, it’s fun to be young and sexy and desired. It’s good for young people to learn how to handle themselves in these situations. The Washington pages were not little girls, like the poor Amish children murdered in Pennsylvania. These were older male teenagers in the Big Bad City amongst legislators, as corrupt a group as ever gathered in a single location. American political history is shot through with scandal. I expect the public response is partly homophilia, partly outrage at Foley’s hypocrisy in shilling for legislation against sexual predators.

When I meet women my own age who were little Roman Catholic girls in the 50s and 60s, I find our mothers had a single response to any V-neckline that even remotely threatened to show cleavage. Out came two tiny gold safety pins and a ladies’ handkerchief that was pinned across the opening, to our humiliation. Today’s teens grow up in a media circus of salacious titillations. It’s time for parents to equip them with the moral equivalent of gold safety pins and handkerchiefs. After that, they have to find some an older wiser friends and mentors to coach them through the negotiations of sex and power. It isn’t as naughty as the media are making it out to be. Grow up.

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