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MARTHA SEZ: Reflecting on the #MeToo movement

December 8, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

We are nearing the end of what has been a very strange year. Next year, 2018, will very likely be strange, too; at least, that's how it looks from here.

Among the myriads of bizarre and untoward occurrences we have all observed this year, one of the most surprising is the recent upswell of reporting on incidents of sexual harassment. Lately, women have been pouring out their stories, many of them accounts of wrongs suffered in years past, wrongs myriad and various, resulting in a veritable tidal wave of accusation.

You may have noticed that I particularly like the word myriad today. It can be used as an adjective or a noun, and comes from the Greek, meaning 10,000 or innumerable.

Assumably the ancient Greeks could count up as high as 9,999, but that was the limit. The number 9,999 was where they drew the line. Counting to 10,000 was a bridge too far, in their estimation. While they were good at astronomy and architecture and other endeavors that require sophisticated math skills, they felt that 10,000 of anything- soldiers or gnats or whatever-was an innumerable amount, countless. Myriad.

I am reasonably sure that the ancient Greeks could count to 10,000-after all, once you've gone as far as 9,999, you probably have the hang of the decimal system, and could go on pretty much indefinitely-but that they just didn't see the point, in much the way we feel about a zillion.

Why now? Why is this the year women start saying "Me too," naming names and pointing fingers? As we know, sexual harassment is nothing new. It has been going on as long as anyone can remember.

When I was a child, television comedians commonly made wife jokes, in the style of Henny Youngman's famous "Take my wife-please."

Pretty girls were one thing, wives were another. As W. C. Fields remarked in "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man," "I'd rather have two girls of 21 each than one girl of 42."

On the one hand, little girls played dress-up as brides, with long, white veils. On the other hand, in common culture, the word wife was often another term for shrew or nag. This hurt my feelings. Did I say so? No. It was part of the air we breathed.

This year, when asked whether we ever experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or elsewhere, many of us older women are taken aback. Why, yes! Well, of course. Much of it was taken for granted. Sometimes we even took unwelcome sexual advances, however repugnant or embarrassing, as a compliment, or a sign of affection, and now, looking back, we see they weren't.

The subject is complicated. Isn't it? There are degrees, and variables.

My old friend Richard doesn't understand women's complaints about certain male sexual transgressions. For example, he theorizes that a man exposing himself to a woman isn't necessarily hostile, but simply an act the man might find exciting because it's considered naughty.

I tell him it feels threatening. How would he like it if some strange woman exposed herself to him? He says, sincerely, that he would consider that very interesting. At this point, I simply throw my hands up in the air and say to myself that there is no use talking about it with him, much like counting past 9,999.

Strangest of all, to me, is the practice of certain elderly men, all of them considered highly respectable until the news came out as part of the recent upswell, of parading around their respective workplaces either naked or clad only in underwear.

You don't hear of youthful or middle-aged men marching about undressed. No, it is only the very old (and of course the very young, the toddlers, who peel off their clothing and run around naked, without offending anyone) who engage in this behavior. Perhaps the oldsters are reverting. From now on, every time the names of certain celebrities and statesmen come up, we will imagine them in their underwear. This is unavoidable. At first I envisioned white Fruit of the Loom underpants, but then other possibilities presented themselves. Baggy boxer shorts printed with yellow rubber duckies. Union suits. They may also be wearing black shoes and socks.

I don't understand why appearing at meetings or at the water cooler in the workplace inappropriately attired is considered harassment, but I do see how it could get tedious.

What's next?

Have a good week.



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