Essex column: Guys, be men, be role models, be respectful | PostIndependent.com

Essex column: Guys, be men, be role models, be respectful

Randy Essex

This isn’t difficult, guys.

Don’t touch women (or children or other men) unless it’s absolutely clear that your relationship already includes touching.

Don’t make sexual comments to women unless it’s absolutely clear that your relationship is sexual in nature.

Don’t leer.

Surely you can figure out when to keep your pants on. Surely.

What’s happening in recent weeks, with the #metoo phenomenon following long-delayed disclosures of Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct, is finally a moment for women to assert themselves. It’s a time for boundaries that we all have long known are appropriate to be strengthened and made clearer.

For me, the stories of behavior by Louis C.K., Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore and so many other men are baffling even as they ring true.

What rings true is that, sure, I’ve heard guys’ locker room talk, as our dignified president described his gross comments about the license he thinks celebrity gave him to sexually assault women.

What baffles me is what men get out of this.

We are all sexual creatures, yes. And our society is inescapably sexualized. And we do a poor job of talking about all of this.

But that doesn’t give anyone license to, say, grab the back of a woman’s neck and force a kiss on her, as Franken is accused of doing during a USO tour. Or, ick, for a man to expose and arouse himself, as Weinstein, Louis C.K. and others have done.

How can such conduct not be deemed embarrassing and decidedly unmanly? I thought being a man (or an adult of either gender) included being self-disciplined.

The argument that some of these guys were brought up in a different era is laughably hollow.

I knew better when I was a teenager, I knew better in the ‘80s, I know better now. We all do.

I don’t recall a time when I’ve made a suggestive or sexualized comment to a colleague. This does sometimes require awareness. I used to interview college students for internships, spending full days talking with aspiring journalists. I consciously reminded myself to keep my eyes above young women’s necks — for their sake and mine. How could they otherwise be confident they were being judged on the merit of their work or respect me as a boss or mentor?

I had a great role model. My father kissed Mom on the cheek every morning before he left and every night when he came home. I never, not once, heard him talk about a woman’s anatomy or say something that suggested women were subordinate or to be objectified. He was a quiet man who instilled values by example, not by lecture.

I once had a brother-in-law who talked about women’s appearances and, when I was about 12, showed me a dirty magazine. My immediate thought was whether he was faithful to my sister. I lost trust in him, just as I have no respect for men today who objectify women.

Men have an obligation to model good behavior to our sons and nephews and neighbors and co-workers, especially if we are bosses. Actions are more powerful than words. We do this at home, in public and in the workplace by how we conduct ourselves.

This is why, when my son was 11 and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke, I wrote an opinion piece in the Des Moines Register calling for Clinton’s resignation. Consent aside, Monica Lewinsky was an intern in her early 20s and he was the boss, sending the wrong message to young men across the nation.

This is why I think Al Franken should leave the Senate — to show that he will live the principles he has preached. You lose credibility as a champion of decency and compassion if you will grope a sleeping woman’s breasts. Strike two is mugging for the camera while you’re doing it.

This is why I fret for the future of manhood when we elect a president who boasts about sexual assault and then defends it by saying it was just guy talk and wasn’t even true. So, boys of America, it’s OK both to regard women as sex objects for you to grab and it’s OK to lie. Thanks, Mr. President.

Sexuality is complicated and confusing, apparently no less so for the rich and famous. Our sexual selves are our most vulnerable selves and we work to protect them.

For that reason, I’m in awe of the women coming forward on the record. They force us to think about the male-dominated culture that has engendered and abetted loutish, sometimes criminal behavior.

Moments of intimacy are precious.

These incidents being exposed are not those joyous moments. They are selfish acts of aggression.

My wife taught me something profound early in our relationship. As a young man is wont to do, I said I wanted to make love to her.

“No,” she said. “If we get there, you’ll make love with me.”

Yes. That one-word difference is the very heart of the matter.

Randy Essex is editor and publisher of the Post Independent.