Decent dudes, don't let the perverts prevail

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

All these sexual harassment and abuse allegations are enough to make one's head spin. Almost every day, we awake to another accusation or confession. Then there's the convoluted combination of both, which I call an accufession -- an accusation followed by an "I don't remember it the way she remembers it, but I'm sorry" confession. With all the craziness, I find myself contemplating how this affects the decent men among us.

I offer no excuses for perverts or their perverted actions. (Needless to say, I'm talking about those who are, in fact, guilty.) They need to be called out, and they need to suffer appropriate consequences. So I throw that disclaimer out there right now: I don't excuse men who walk around in their underwear in front of women co-workers, install locks under their desks so they aren't disturbed as they engage in sexual abuse, or grope women who are asleep and cannot, therefore, slap the snot out of them.

So don't get it twisted while reading the rest of this. I am not defending pervs. My focus here is on the decent dudes who find themselves in a bit of a quandary these days.

Take a look at something I posted on social media last week:

"I really do feel for decent dudes these days. After boot camp this morning, I decided to be a superhero and go to Planet Fitness and get in a quick additional workout in the 30-minute circuit room before having to rush to work. ... A man came in right after I started, and while I was on one of the machines, the positioning made it difficult to see the light that lets us know when it's time to move to the next location. I heard him say something to me as I lay awkwardly on my stomach on this leg machine, but I didn't hear everything he said; I only caught his last word, which was 'sweetie.' I asked him to repeat himself, and he said, 'I'll let you know' -- meaning he could see it was difficult for me to see the light and would let me know when it changed to red. I noticed that when he repeated himself, he said only, 'I'll let you know.' I thanked him, but almost immediately, I thought about how he dropped the 'sweetie.' The current climate of sexual harassment allegations and parsing language that could be deemed inappropriate may not have crossed his mind at all, but it crossed mine, and, again, I thought of good dudes who now have to figure out what is okay and what is not and what will be misconstrued. Some will say, 'Give me a break. Guys know what's acceptable and what is not!' But I'm not so sure it's that clear anymore. Maybe this was especially poignant for me today because I'm a 'sweetie,' 'honey,' 'babe' kind of person -- meaning I use those terms on others rather freely (admittedly, not with guys who are of age, but still...). Just so much to consider in this whole debacle and dilemma of sexual harassment allegations."

This is a dilemma not reserved for men only. Women, too, are being forced to rethink our approach. But let's face it: this comes down heavier on guys. Pausing to consider before acting and speaking can't hurt. Rethinking is not necessarily bad; it's just unfortunate. I feel for the good guys. I also feel for the single ladies. I joked recently that we single ladies had better just get used to singleness because the good guys are shying away from reaching out, not willing to chance any allegations.

And some really are questioning what behavior is acceptable now. Consider, for example, a man and woman hanging out. There was a time when it was considered a turnoff if he asked to kiss her. "If he has to ask..." she'd joke with our friends. It was acceptable for him to just give it a try and hope for the best. If she wasn't interested, she would rebuff his attempt. Message received, and they moved on. Nowadays, that might be coined harassment, the end of his good reputation, and the start of everything else that accompanies these accusations lately. So what exactly is sexual misconduct? Much of it is obvious, of course, but some of it, now, is not -- leaving decent dudes confused and reticent.

As we all work our way through the accusations, confessions, and accufessions, I offer a bit of advice:

Ladies, I can understand not coming forward with allegations because you've been physically threatened. Fear is a powerful thing. But these reports of women remaining silent because they don't want to jeopardize their careers make me shake my head. Don't prostitute yourselves. If your career is more important than your dignity, you get what you get.

Gentlemen, if you can't keep your hands to yourselves or you find power in preying on a woman's weakness, get help. All this "I don't remember if I did that" speaks volumes. If this behavior is so common you cannot clearly say, "No, I did not," you're already too late to the counselor's office.

And decent dudes, while you have to be careful and discerning these days, please don't let the bad guys win. We need more, not less, of the innocence and respect you exude. I know it can be a fine line to toe, but don't let the perverts rob you of who you really are. Hearing "sweetie" from someone whose motive is pure is actually rather ... well, sweet.

Adrienne Ross is owner of Adrienne Ross Communications and a former Southeast Missourian editorial board member. Contact her at aross@semissourian.com.

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