“Flirting is NOT an invitation to touching. You know what is an invitation to touching? Being invited to touch ... with words.”
I recently received that comment from a woman, and I thought long and hard about whether to reply at all, this being such a very delicate subject. Any response is likely to blow up in my face, and I am not fond of being hoist with my own petard. But fools rush in, as they say ...
Let's be honest, boys and girls, we are bombarded – all day, every day – with images that convey very unsubtle sexual messages without a word being said. Indeed, much of advertising is based on just such images. Nothing new, of course, as the TV series Mad Men made all too clear. The game, then as now, was/is just how far to push the envelope, while maintaining plausible deniability.
In many ways, the mating game follows that same pattern. The Beatles "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" aside, the game of love (and lust) is all too often a mine-field filled with unspoken signals. Or to borrow another musical reference "I thought that you'd want what I want" followed of course by "so sorry, my dear".
Fitting, I suppose, that “Send in the Clowns” leads me to Al Franken.
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The Franken/Tweeden Affair is informative in many ways, context for starters. The events occurred, after all, on a USO tour, tours that are notorious for their thinly-disguised – or more honestly, undisguised – sexual nature. The audience is mostly horny young males just past adolescence, and the powers that be are only too happy to supply them with what they think they need – half-dressed babes, bawdy humor and sexual innuendo (and that's putting it way too mildly).
Take the sainted Bob Hope – please, as Henny Youngman would say. There's a reason Hope showed up on these tours with the likes of Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe, and it wasn't for their acting talent. Hope's ribald cracks left no doubt about that:
"Marilyn Monroe may not be able to make banana cream pie, but she can sure make my banana cream."
Bob: "Let's play television."
Marilyn: "How do we do that?"
Bob: "I twirl your knobs, and you watch my antenna spring up."
The tour in question carried on in that not-so-proud tradition, with Franken providing the raunchy punch lines and Leann Tweeden and the Dallas Cheerleaders providing the pulchritude – and it's a safe bet the soldiers were there to admire the cheerleaders' rear-ends, not their routines. I know I'll catch hell for saying this, but if women don't want to be treated like sexual objects, maybe they should stop behaving like them.
To that point, video from the event shows Leann Tweeden suggestively (some would say lewdly) rubbing herself all over the country singer and members of the band. Gotta ask before you touch? Well, did she ask before she touched? Obviously no. Did Franken mistake Tweeden's suggestive behavior as a signal he could behave likewise? Obviously yes.
I hope someone can explain to me why is it okay for Tweeden to behave as she did, and not okay for Franken to follow her example. I'm sure someone will try, but this seems like a clear double standard to me. And yes, I know women have suffered under a double standard for a very long time. But is the aim here revenge or a new standard? And another double standard is no standard at all.
To a lot of us – even a lot of women I know – the Franken/Tweeden matter was something of a tempest in a teapot, a minor kerfuffle he would likely have survived politically, if it had been an isolated incident – but it wasn't. And that, in my opinion, is one measure of how these things should be judged. Was it a lapse in judgment or was it a pattern of behavior?
Bottom line? Franken got what he deserved, but at least he had the decency to own up to his behavior and apologize sincerely and profusely:
“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing – and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine – is: I’m sorry.I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.
But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us – including and especially men who respect women – have been forced to take a good hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women. For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate.
It’s obvious how Leann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it – women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.”
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Contrast that heartfelt apology with Roy Moore's denial and accusations that all his accusers are lying and part of some liberal plot to destroy him and Christianity. Well, if this Latter-Day Pharisee was a Christian, he would fall down on his knees, confess his sins, and beg forgiveness from his accusers and his God. But he's not a Christian – he's just another religious huckster, in a long line of religious hucksters.
Some will charge that bringing up Moore distracts from the matter at hand. I beg to differ. The glaring difference between Moore and Franken illustrates a point I've tried to make here and elsewhere. As comforting as it might be to flatly state that any and all such behavior, including any and all unwanted touching, should be harshly punished, common sense rightly says the punishment ought to fit the crime.
If touching a woman without voiced permission is the new unwritten law, I plead guilty here and now and throw myself on the mercy of the court. My crime? When a woman extends her hand for me to shake, I take that as a signal I'm allowed to touch her hand without a word being spoken between us. Indeed, in some casual social circumstances, I sometimes lightly kiss her hand instead of shaking it.
Let me repeat – I do so only in certain casual social situations; I would never presume to do so in a business environment or any other circumstance where I thought it might be deemed inappropriate, let alone be deemed offensive. The fact is, I have never once had a woman take offense at this courtly gesture. To the contrary, most have reacted with a pleasant smile or warm laughter. But I assure you, if a woman were to take offense, I would immediately and genuinely apologize for giving unintended offense.
Let me make myself perfectly clear – or at least as clear as I am able – I am obviously not equating lightly kissing a woman's hand when it is offered with grabbing her ass or her breast (or other parts of her body I won't mention) when it is not offered. But by the same token, an unwelcome touch should not be equated with assault, let alone rape.
We are all living in a time and place where the unwritten rules of the mating game are being rewritten, and I'd say it's about damned time. But while we're about it, let's try to keep our heads. Like it or not, in this matter, as in any other, good judgment ought to prevail. And I repeat, in all matters, the punishment ought to fit the crime.
©2017 Tom Cordle