Men who disrespect women are not real men

How men perceive themselves and how they are perceived by women from the cradle onward.

Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein gestures during the Allen and Co. media conference in Sun Valley (photo credit: RICK WILKING / REUTERS)
Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein gestures during the Allen and Co. media conference in Sun Valley
(photo credit: RICK WILKING / REUTERS)
SINCE ANCIENT times, military leaders have offered their followers pillage and rape as either payment for or as a perk of battle.
Sadly, this still takes place in pockets around the world in what we might term “uncivilized” nations. However, metaphorically, if not in actual fact, looting abounds wherever there is a manmade or natural disaster ‒ even in the most “civilized” countries ‒ and inappropriate sexual contact from groping to violent rape occurs everywhere.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the US, much has been written about cause and effect in this tragic tale, interweaving themes of power, control, submission, ambition, modest versus provocative appearance and behavior, media and industry cover-up and blame. While skimming over the all-too-familiar sordid details, I was struck by the torrents of analysis by or from the viewpoint of women and the paucity of reflection or admission of responsibility from the male perspective.
The murky Weinstein story focuses mainly on men in positions of power and privilege and the women they prey on. In modern times, the “distinguished” list has included at least two US presidents, numerous politicians and entertainment and sporting “greats” on both sides of the Atlantic.
But this is only a small part of the story in the Western world. There are wider issues of sexual, psychological and physical abuse to be addressed that pertain to ordinary men and women from all strata of society. These have to do with how men perceive themselves and how they are perceived by women from the cradle onward.
Largely by dint of superior physical power and prowess, men historically took for themselves dominant roles in society and the home – their “castle” – unfettered by the responsibilities imposed by childbirth and childrearing. Man was the hunter who put the food on the table; women cooked the food, kept the house and looked after the children. While this changed in form over the years, the substance mostly remained the same.
Men managed to maintain this status quo until the Industrial Revolution when women began to work outside the home. From this time onward, women began to see possibilities for improvement in their lives. Most importantly, they won the right to own property and vote independently of their male “protectors.” Then, with persistence and ingenuity, women steadily breached previously male bastions – academia, government, the medical and legal professions, the judiciary and media. Today, they also hold high positions in all manner of industry and commerce, though they are still underrepresented.
But this has come at a price, sometimes a tough one for many women. Men – who had been raised from birth to believe that the world was theirs for the taking, whose mothers fed them the choicest morsels from the dinner table, pandered to their every whim and excused early signs of bullying and entitlement, and whose fathers encouraged manly pursuits and dismissed aberrant conduct as normative male behavior – are struggling to hold on to their dominant role in society.
While many, it is true, have adapted to the changing order, there are still many others who can’t handle challenges to their traditional authority and act out, both verbally and physically, in the workplace and at home.
Thus, there is, today, still an undercurrent of male sexual harassment of women throughout society, often with the complicity of other men and sometimes facilitated by women – mothers, partners and teachers – who are intimidated by demonstrations of masculine power and don’t always know how to deal with it.
It says, in the second chapter of the Bible, God realized that “it is not good for man to be alone” so, he made him “a helper [helpmate] corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:18). God then took from the man what is traditionally accepted as a rib and fashioned it into a woman. “And the man said… ‘it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’… Therefore a man shall… cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23–24).
Commenting on these passages, renowned 19th-century rabbi and thinker Samson Raphael Hirsch says that in this way the “single human being became two, thereby demonstrating irrefutably the equality of man and woman.”
In the Judeo-Christian ethos, respect for the other is a given. However, there is an imbalance in pockets of Western societies in the way women are viewed and they are still being objectified by some men as sexual entities and inferior beings rather than as worthy, sentient, equally contributing partners.
Parents and educators have it in their power to teach male children from a young age that teasing to the point of bullying is not OK; that showing respect for others is not being a sissy; that women are not the opposition, but can bring to any relationship emotional and intellectual dimensions that are different but complementary.
This is the way to build a healthy and safe society for all.
The writer is a journalist and freelance English-language editor who made aliya from Australia in 2000 and lives in Jerusalem.