Sex and the evolving male

wenching2The debauchery arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward boys.

Even Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart. The only surprise is that Fox News never found out with whom.

And, look, fellas. None of us are innocent. Back in the seventies and eighties, free-wheeling jokes and sexual innuendos were rife among the guys in the American Baptist Office of Communication. We thought the women were laughing with us, but now I doubt it. Once I quoted a Benny Hill lyric to one of my female colleagues:

Oh it’s an older woman for me;
They don’t yell and they don’t tell
And they’re grateful as hell;
Yes it’s an older woman for me.

My colleague laughed. But did she? Really?

And guys are still getting away with this shit. I watched uneasily as Representative Katie Hill, a victim of revenge porn by her abusive husband, announced her resignation from Congress.

“The forces of revenge by a bitter jealous man, cyber exploitation and sexual shaming that target our gender and a large segment of society that fears and hates powerful women have combined to push a young woman out of power and say that she doesn’t belong here,” she said.

“Yet a man who brags about his sexual predation, who has had dozens of women come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, who pushes policies that are uniquely harmful to women and who has filled the courts with judges who proudly rule to deprive women of the most fundamental right to control their own bodies, sits in the highest office in the land.”

Fittingly, her last vote on the floor of the house was to endorse the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Wicked temptation is particularly rife in adolescence when hormones blaze like bonfires and fantasies of sex recycle every five minutes like Liberty Insurance commercials. But the embers of lust never completely cool and most of us boys learn early that it’s important to keep our carnal urges under control. My mother’s social code, imparted early to my three brothers and me, was be nice and keep your hands to yourself. As we grew older and left the confines of the United Church of Morrisville, N.Y., we wrote our own codicils to the code. I like the way New York Times columnist Charles Blow puts it: “Consenting adults should feel free to express their attractions as they please without shame or guilt. Just play safe.”

Blow wrote these words some time ago amid a deluge of news stories about men who never learned to keep their hands and penises to themselves. “This is a Man Problem,” Blow wrote, adding his own codicil: “But, there is no ‘sex’ without consent. To believe that is a twisting of terminology . . . Rape is not sex; it’s rape. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault. Sexual advances in a professional environment, particularly from a position of power, are highly inappropriate and could be illegal.”

For weeks following reports that film mogul Harvey Weinstein is an abuser and rapist, thousands of courageous women decided they have had enough. Inspired in part by the #MeToo social media movement, women no longer hesitate to confront their abuser(s) for fear of losing their jobs or not being believed.

To be sure, the movement has led men to examine their own past to count the number of times their rushing hands and roaming fingers crossed consensual lines. In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, comedian Patton Oswalt spoke for a lot of us guys:

I’ve had to sit down these last few weeks and I’m going through my head – and I hope every other guy is doing this, of not even, like, physical acts — but, “Was there a remark that I made? Was there a way that I put things?” You’re just constantly now thinking of that. I see a lot of people saying, “Oh what, men are now supposed to triple-, quadruple-, quintuple-think everything that they say and do?” And you go, “Well, clearly women have had to double-, triple-, quintuple- think and say everything that they do, and look at all that they can achieve and do with that load on them! Can we maybe take a little bit of the slack? Will that be OK, Mr. Alpha Male?

Brother Patton makes a good point because confession is good for the soul, not because God is unaware of our bad behavior but because it makes ourselves aware of how far we have strayed. The Psalmist explains it this way: (Psalm 119:26-29)

When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law.

Indeed many of the men accused of predatory behavior have confessed their sins and apologized to their victims.

But the nation’s president continues to dismiss his several accusers as liars. Mr. Trump blithely denies a long string of abuse accusations by different women and so far the issue of his moral turpitude has not dismayed his small but loyal Republican base. Mr. Trump’s confidence in his small but potent base led him in 2017 to support Alabama Judge Roy Moore, an accused serial pedophile, for the U.S. Senate. When supporters of Trump and Moore were asked why they continue to support the two accused sexual malefactors, the common reply is, “What about Bill Clinton?” President Clinton, who has confessed and begged forgiveness for his sins, was impeached for lying under oath but not removed from office.

Most logicians will dismiss as nonsense the idea that it’s okay for Trump to be a sexual predator because Clinton was one, too.

But perhaps it’s understandable that Trump supporters in the deploratude think like that because the history of presidential sexual misconduct goes way back.

According to historian James Thomas Flexner, it began with the youthful flings of our first president.

“Although (George Washington) drank and gambled and (we gather) wenched as did his officers, he was known as a stern disciplinarian in military matters,” Flexner wrote in 1965 in the first of his six volume biography.

The use of “wenched” as an intransitive verb is an effort to shift the onus from the great wencher to the irrelevant woman with whom he went wenching.

If we accept the second dictionary definition of “wench” as “prostitute,” it’s a case of boys being boys.

If, however, we accept the dictionary’s first definition of “wench” as “servant girl,” to use her as a means of wenching sounds more like boys raping.

No one knows whether young George’s women were willing partners, but it doesn’t really matter. Even as a young officer, he was a white aristocrat who probably considered farm and pub girls as his inferiors. He knew he had power over them whether they liked it or not.

George Washington, as Flexner points out, created many precedents as the nation’s first president. Some of those precedents paved the way for powerful men to seek sex from powerless women anytime they got an itch. Jefferson impregnated at least one of his slave women. Cleveland conceived a child out of wedlock. Harding explored hidden spaces in the White House to have sex with a young woman. FDR and Ike were unfaithful to their wives and LBJ had several mistresses. John Kennedy’s sexual appetite was dizzying; he once told British Prime Minister Harold McMillan that if he didn’t have a different woman every three days he got terrible head aches.

Because bedrooms of yore were private places, we will never really know how many other presidents took advantage of powerless women. No doubt most of the men who occupied the White House were upright men who were faithful to their wives and treated women with respect. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think that list includes Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

But the aggressive disrespect Mr. Trump has shown for women is migraine inducing. Clearly he is not going to sit down and reassess his life and the harm he has done to his fellow human beings, as Patton Oswalt urges all us guys to do.

That’s too bad. Because as thousands of women are letting it be known that they will no longer tolerate crude and abusive behavior by men, we could use a little male moral leadership to speak on behalf of us guys: sisters, you are right, and we have been deplorable. We vow hereinafter to show you the respect you deserve.

But Mr. Trump, now ferociously tweeting falsehoods to curtail his own impeachment investigation, punctiliously denies his well-documented sexual misconduct. And there are no signs that his obtuse base cares about it.

But history has a long memory. And there is little he can say to erase the words that will be carved in granite on the walls of his presidential library:

“Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

About Philip E Jenks

Philip is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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2 Responses to Sex and the evolving male

  1. Nancy Dahlberg says:

    Hey Phil. Glad to see you are still writing and still relevant. It’s been a lifetime since we were colleagues at the holy donut. Congrats.

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