Man Up

Luncheon on the Grass, 1863, Edouard Manet

The sex thing that’s going around right now gives me the willies.  As it should.  It’s gotten ugly and due to get uglier before someone seriously asserts sex is beautiful again.

Disclosure: you might want to hide this missive from the kids.  It might get raunchy.  I’ve written on race and firearms, and I promise to be as delicate and sensitive as can be.

Men — lots of men — famous men — powerful men — everyday men — all men are accused of sexual improprieties.  Sinister.  Egregious.  Insidious.  Preposterous.  Outrageous.  Loathsome.  Criminal.  The behavior exposed by public accusations this year defies description in a family newspaper and yet there it is, and there’s no way not to get the news down to the kids, the very girls and boys who need to learn and benefit from the adult world transformation of culture that is occurring right now.

Women are getting even.  Getting justice.

Expect male sex drive hearings in Congress.

The core pornography of our culture at last lays itself bare before the world in true modern reality show fashion.  The depraved decadence of the West on display, you might say, or perhaps the utter publicity of the whole thing exemplifies our great liberty and freedom.  Hugh Hefner is dead.  There is no one to defend the legacy of the Playboy Philosophy.

A feminist scholar named Andrea Dworkin defined western society as Rape Culture and she wasn’t wrong, as we have come to see.  Male animals pursue females.  It can get nasty.  Humans make rules — male humans — and taboos to regulate sexual behavior, and we break them.

What has come to light with accusations of media celebrities and politicians is how pathetic these guys really are.  Parading around naked.  Delusions of shared feelings.  Raging aging lust.  Photos of genitalia via cell phone.  Do these tactics of flirtation ever work?  Do these guys ever score?

Einstein’s insanity — doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?  Or if we believe the President from his Access Hollywood tape, bold or extreme gestures really do yield sexual conquests.  This scandal literally reaches up into the crotch of the White House.

Cosby used drugs.  Weinstein glamour.  Lauer locked the door.  These, including Donald J Trump, are just four major examples of the tactics of these self-styled sly seducers.  You could almost stop there and make a profound case for revolution against sexism.  These bullies, like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, deserve no cover for their sexual extortion.  In some ways it reminds me of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church turned upside down, where the bishops are the most glaring sinners.

And sin, as it were, trickles down to the common man like voodoo economics.  Note for the record that Original Sin as committed by Adam was not a sexual act of itself but a situation of sexism when he tried to blame Eve.

The mores and folkways of suppressing women all these millennia have gamed history in favor of men.  This is about to radically change.  Mark the year 2017.

A long time coming, the exposition of male sexual predations goes through the core of politics and heart of sociology to the very soul of male sexuality.  How men essentially perceive women.

We say we love them for their minds, and we do, but from the earliest carved Venus figurines there’s a basic fixation for tits and ass.

Clara, my eldest grandchild, barely ten, on a stroll with Grampa through a museum of art, asked me why all the artists were men and so may of the subjects were women, and so many of them naked.

I did not answer I don’t know.  It’s one thing for a grandpa to pretend to know everything and another to say you don’t know something you know full well.

Art history is so dominated by men there is no greater graphic evidence of mankind’s sexist ambitions.  From the cult of the madonna to Madonna the forms and likenesses of female human beauty attract the eyes of men, stir their souls and arouse sexual impulses.

We cannot blame the models.  The artists put these images before our eyes to evoke our pleasure.  Naked women beguile men.  The bare body is a sacred icon of human civilization because of the permissive visual boundaries of art.  Call her Venus and paint or sculpt her as a beautiful naked goddess.  You don’t see naked images of Joan of Arc, but France’s beloved icon Marianne is rendered with bare breasts.  The Statue of Liberty was originally drawn with bare boobs, an open gown.

I grew up in the Playboy era.  Learned to look down blouses and look up skirts from Hugh Hefner himself.  How to unlock a bra.  Whether a pinup penned by Vargas or glossy photo centerfold, there wasn’t one image in the magazine not gorgeous.  The term at the time was suggestive, and it was, it suggested hope someday to meet someone sort of like these women to be a girlfriend.

Pornography fosters sex fantasy and arouses desires and explains a lot of motivations behind bad acts in this world.  Under the First Amendment of the US Constitution we are free to view and publish obscenely erotic material.  We can think as we like.  We like to think the human body is a beautiful wonder and we look at others and admire them and feel no shame in showing or viewing others’ beauty.  We accept cleavage in everyday life, not just the cover of Cosmo.

A telling incident occurred two years ago at the Christmas market at Cologne, Germany when dozens of women were sexually assaulted by a rampage of marauding young men described as middle eastern migrants.  This wave of mass molestation ascribed allegedly to aliens suggests something about the way our culture is perceived and interpreted by outsiders:  Earth Girls Are Easy.

Wrong.  Not true.

Correcting such assumptions by our leaders in mass media and government serves notice to male thugs of all degree and class that women won’t be bullied for sex.  Women won’t be bullied.


Revered Beatle John Lennon once quipped that women should be obscene and not heard.  Funny line.  They are heard now, and they are least obscene.  And it’s not funny.

In the state of Alabama, a place in the US famous for recalcitrant attitudes, the Republican candidate for the Senate election next week, Roy Moore, now 70, is accused of fondling teenage girls back when he was in his 30s, and one girl says she was 14 at the time.  He campaigns on, a champion against liberal values, with President Trump’s hearty endorsement.  One can almost hear Moore’s defenders say, the state of Alabama has a long, proud history of mature men hitting on teenage girls — the term Sugar Daddy originated in Alabama.

In the state of Minnesota, where I live, two male state legislators, one US Senator and a famed folksinger and storyteller have been fingered among public figures engaged in hypersexual inappropriate behavior.  The two legislators, one from each political party, resigned, each accused of pestering and propositioning female legislators, lobbyists and political staff at the capitol.

Senator Al Franken, then a comedian, stands accused of slimy lips and tongue-forcing a kiss upon his co-star when on a USO road show entertaining armed forces troops before he ran for public office, and most importantly staged a photo of himself lecherously grabbing at the same co-star’s beasts while she was sleeping.  Who took that picture anyway?  After that, Franken was accused of playing grabass at the state fair as a senator, then again back in his USO days for grabbing some tit from a soldier who, reflecting back, says she should’ve smacked him.  Then another woman accused him of trying to plant a wet smoochy on her when he was a radio personality.  He apologizes profusely.  The president denounced him.  When the White House press secretary was asked how the president could condemn Franken and endorse Moore — in light of his own behavior — Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied that the difference was Senator Franken admitted wrongdoing.  Giant of the Senate that he is, Franken will man up and resign for the good of mankind.

Clarence Thomas should resign from the US Supreme Court.

And the prairie home companion himself Garrison Keillor got canned from National Public Radio and the Washington Post for inappropriately touching a coworker backstage at the radio show.  Citing employee confidentiality, NPR hasn’t detailed the charges.  Keillor’s explanations emote a catharsis of awkward ambiguity, his specialty.  He might appreciate the irony of sleaziness showing up on my own block, minus the bonbons.

Franken, Keillor and I were raised more or less in the same community, the greater Twin Cities, and we have slightly less in common with the two randy legislators, who are younger and come from our rural outstate area.  We come from the same mores and folkways of our generation and social class and assimilated attitudes of our times and our place.  Minnesota is not immune from misogyny.  Nor is it quarantined.  It’s as good as any scene to incubate the discourse of what determines appropriate sexual behavior and the consequences of misbehavior.  In the workplace.  At the Christmas market.  In life.

Gretchen Carlson

Also from Minnesota is a woman named Gretchen Carlson, a violinist and TV journalist, 1989 Miss America, and the one who exposed the sexual harassment of Roger Ailes and eventually of Bill O’Reilly at Fox News.  It’s unclear whether Fox represents the height of moral hypocrisy or merely mirrors itself in plain sight, like a snake who always was a snake.  Gretchen Carlson is a hero.  Admire her naked defiance.  Pun intended.

Ilhan Omar


Ayana Ife

Ilhan Omar is another name who comes to mind from Minnesota.  The first Somali-American elected to a state legislature, Omar represents a district of Minneapolis, though not my own.  In her 30s, she is a fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.  Recently she made news for calling out a Washington, DC taxi driver for treating her with racist and sexist disrespect.  I do not know her personally but have seen pictures of her.  She is an attractive woman who dresses chic.  She is Muslim, wears a head scarf and favors garments styled like those created by the runner up of season 16 of Project Runway, a fashion design reality show, name of Ayana Ife, a Muslim woman from Salt Lake City, Utah who says she wants to be a “designer for the modest market.”

No mention of Muslim women leaders is complete without Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner who survived assassination for getting a basic education.

After Gretchen Carlson I have listed three other women of note who are also fancy dressers.  All four are attractive ladies.  Three are Muslim.  Carlson wears shining blond hair styled all lovely, simple and flowing.  Miss America 1989 employed her power, used her beauty and white privilege to smash open the offices of professional sexism working from within her network.

Omar, Ife and Malala wear lovely scarves over their hair.  These three, the legislator, the fashion designer and the Nobel laureate, come to their leadership roles from backgrounds different from Carlson, different from me.  What they offer is insight into the future of feminism and femininity.

I don’t pretend to know the Quran.  I am an infidel, or more deliberately a pagan, and don’t care to quibble about religions.  My impressions of Muslim women are drawn from observation not scholarly study.  Minnesota is home to the largest east African immigrant population in the United States, refugees, and many of them live in Omar’s constituency.  Muslim women tend to dress with a profound, sometimes severe emphasis on covering a woman’s body — modesty reasons.  Some of the reason behind this is aimed at me — at all men — to obscure temptation and to not arouse our sinful desires.

Back when I was a kid at St Simon of Cyrene parochial school the women and girls were required to wear hats, scarves or veils to attend mass.  I remember the school girls in rows of pews in their uniform beanies.  Hardly anybody understood why — didn’t God already see our hair?  What about boys — we had to take our hats off.  Somebody educated me that women traditionally took great pride in their hair — like Gretchen Carlson and countless girls I grew up with — my dad called it their crowning glory — and as an act of humility, not shame, women in church were required before God and among the faithful to cover their hair.  That and to imitate the Blessed Mother, who always wore a veil, like the nuns.

Modesty.  I’m told the rules have changed, the Church no longer requires head cover for women, although the Vatican tour dress code prohibits sleeveless blouses, deep necklines and bare thighs and one can purchase shawls and scarves from the ethnic vendors on the street outside the gates.

Migrants and refugees come to the free world and who can blame them for being bewildered by the unrepressed messages from the rich world and its media.  The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil dispels its own myth.  We know what we know.  There is no excuse for wilding thugs grabbing cleavage on the fly at the plaza in Cologne, no way the victims were asking for it in their sexy attire.  Rape culture will fall apart as decadently as the Roman Empire.  The Third Reich.  On the streets, in the board rooms, in the home, women are taking charge and they will set the message.  They ask for equal respect.

This is happening now and it will have more far reaching effects than women driving cars in Saudi Arabia.

Lucretia, 1666, Rembrandt van Rijn

On a visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Art this year with both my granddaughters, Tess now 10 and Clara pushing 13, we came upon the Rembrandt.  I got excited to show them this painting because it’s a Rembrandt, and it’s the finest Rembrandt painting in North America.  Problem arose immediately and there was no looking away.

The title and subject matter is Lucretia.  It is an anguished portrait of a noblewoman in her gown simultaneously pulling the bell cord to summon her servant with one hand and with the other pulled a dagger from her bloody gut as she commits suicide from the shame of being raped.

The girls frowned and read the didactic label.

Why is she killing herself, Granpa?  And what is rape?

Oh man.  These are questions their parents should answer but they weren’t there.  Not even grandma.

So I said, she was violated so killed herself from shame.

Violated?  What do you mean violated?

I mean she was sexually abused against her will and though it wasn’t her fault in those days the women felt so guilty she killed herself.

I didn’t elaborate the way I usually do.  Troubled and dissatisfied, their innocence spooked, they took a last look and moved along with me looking for a more cheerful image like olive trees.  (Or Jesus nailed to the cross.)

Like Salinger’s catcher in the rye I could spend all day trying to catch these kids before they fall into the clutches of perdition.  This is not a world of my own making but I have responsibility to shape what it means.  I can at least act like a good role model of a good role model.  In light of the suspicions of the day I am self-conscious of being eyeballed as a creepy old man at girls soccer matches and gymnastic meets.

Still there are those guys who think they are God’s Gift to Women.  We’ll let women judge who among us who truly qualify as guys who, to paraphrase an American jewelry advert, came from Jered — that’s perhaps, like, special.  Some playboys play by some kind of sexual golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  They project what they would like done, the woman to parade naked, lie across the bed in odalisque, invite them to shower, open her bathrobe and masturbate before their eyes, grope their genitalia, etc.  Women don’t do that stuff.  Not unless contractually obligated or coerced.  And forcing a woman to witness such behavior under the auspices of flirtation does not qualify as mutual consent.

Guys, women aren’t interested in your erotic dreams about them.  If they were they’d say, have you dreamed sex dreams about me?  Only then might it be permissible to confide.  But not at work.  Or school.

No one disputes, despite a kind of test tube evolution, survival of our species depends on us continuing to mate.  We are hard wired for sex.  Controlling how and where and when we express our attractions has ironically been assumed to been fallen to men, who invented things like chivalry and preach religions of chastity, and men of government who enact laws to protect women’s rights.  Only yes means yes, otherwise it’s a no.  To get to yes one would have to ask somehow.  To ask in some kind of non-inappropriate way.  A mad crush or thinking you’re in love won’t justify bad acts.  Hearts will break.  Perhaps there’s a smart phone app, a guide to encrypting and unencrypting situational behavior.  With dedicated emojis.

Flirting and dating will go on.  And mating.  Seduction.  Romance.  Even courtship.  Things that can go wrong.  A boy gets a reputation for fast hands.  Another is a smooth operator.  Too bad we’re not all as saintly as Mike Pence.  As handsome as John Hamm.  We should all marry our heart’s desire like Johnny Cash.

Time for us to man up.  It shouldn’t be that hard.  Some of us have been practicing a while.  Support the women in your life.  Don’t condescend about it either.  Admit if you don’t like women, you are better off being honest.  It’s time to man up because women will hold us accountable, will put us to the test.  Our word is bond.  The covenant should be ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The future of what is sexy and who is sexist is being formed right now.  Boundaries are being set and eradicated at the same time.  Gender discrimination in society is virtually extinct among western civilization.  Sexual harassment is unthinkable.  The mind of the modern man has some creative catching up fast to do to keep up with the evolution of the modern woman.




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