Thursday, August 12, 2021

Sex in the City

Sexiest man alive? Or sexual predator? (Politico)
Is Andrew Cuomo the sexiest man alive? According to People Magazine he was definitely in contention. Back in 2013 he made their list. 

Of course that is a pretty laughable – if not extremely sad description of a man who has sexually harassed numerous women while governor of New York. Some of those accusations are pretty graphic and serious. As a result he has decided to resign as governor while nevertheless maintaining his innocence.

That claim has no merit if the details of some of those accusations are true. He says that his behavior is the product of his generation which considered it quite normal. And was unaware that those lines have been changed. In other words, his behavior - which was once socially acceptable - is now seen as sexual harassment. In his mind he did nothing wrong.

I think he’s probably right about those new lines. Behavior that was quite common just a few years ago is now considered harassment. Now any unwanted touch is considered harassment. In fact the President himself came close to that with his own behavior  in the past. But in his case it did not rise to the ‘harassment’ level. It only rose to the  ‘creepy’ level. He apologized and went on to become the President.

Cuomo’s behavior is however of a different level. He crossed lines that existed long before his claim of generational change. 

All of this is a result of  #MeToo, a very positive development. Because of  that women have finally stood up for their right to be treated with dignity and respect. And not not be objectified. Women are not sex objects. They are human beings. 

But the culture in which we live has been objectifying women for what seems like forever. That should be obvious to anyone living in the 21st century. Whether it’s Hollywood or a Madison Avenue ad agency... in all forms of media, electronic or print. That is how People Magazine came to have an annual ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ issue.  Sex is glorified.  Especially casual non martial sex. That allows human nature to take its course a lot more freely. Which is not a good thing when it comes to male female relationships.

None of this means that Cuomo is off the hook. Just explaining the culture. There is something called perosonal; responsibility. No matter what the culture may be, men have to control themselves. Any urges to act upon a lustful thought must be resisted. And yet when someone is called sexy as People Magazine called Cuomo, he have thought it gave him license to behave as he did. Believing that his advances toward women were appreciated. After all, what woman wouldn’t want to have a relationship with the sexiest man alive? That and the power of his office ay have created this perfect storm.   

Someone once wisely said that ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely’. We see this all the time. The higher up the flagpole someone rises the more invincible they think they are. And get away with impunity in such matters. Only to eventually find out that they don’t. Ask Harvey Weinstein. Or Les Moonves. Or Charlie Rose, or Bill Cosby. They all did what was very common in Hollywood. by powerful men who held the keys to success for many females in the business. The casting couch is much more than a legend.  #MeToo has finally put an end to that. At least for now. 

This new standard is a step in the right direction. A direction of which Judaism is keenly aware.  And which has some pretty strict standards of its own. Halacha has a high standard for physical contact between the sexes. 

There are 2 interpretations of one aspect of that Halacha. According to the more stringent view there should be no contact at all under any circumstances other than under life threatening situations. In which case not only is it permissible, it is required. That is the Chasidic approach. 

Another legitimate approach is to consider any platonic contact between men and women  permissible (including a kiss that is commonly called a ‘peck on the cheek’). The intent here is to avoid any contact that is sexual in nature. Otherwise it is perfectly fine. I have been told that this was a common practice among Orthodox German Jews (Yekkes). 

For me (as might be expected) the most sensible approach is somewhere in the middle. Which means to avoid all contact unless a Chilul HaSehem can result. So that if (for example) a woman that is not knowledgeable about Judaism innocently extends her hand to shake a man’s hand (or vice versa), one should do so. Embarrassing someone that doesn’t understand our ways and simply wants to make a friendly gesture should not be rebuffed. This is my practice and I believe it is the practice of most of the non Chasidic Yeshiva world. 

Another Halacha in this vein is Yichud. It is forbidden for a man and a woman (not married to each other) to seclude themselves in a closed room together. Although there are various different applications of this Halacha, the idea behind it should be obvious. Secluding oneself with a member of the opposite sex gives rise to circumstances where a sexual encounter can happen with no one to witness it. In some cases it will be consensual and in other cases it will not be. Either way it would be a sexual encounter that is not Halachicly permitted.  

In a culture such as ours, a man ‘hitting on a woman’ has always been  seen differently by men than it has by women. Prior to  #MeToo, men saw it as normal. But women often saw it as unwanted attention that can and often does lead to harassment, molestation or even rape! When a man and woman are secluded in a room together, this can and does happen. Until #MeToo, women often just sucked it up and did nothing about it. They feared losing their jobs or social ostracization. Accusations were often not believed or dismissed as over-reactions. #MeToo changed all that. 

If one is a religious Jew and follows Halacha pertaining to male female interaction, this would not happen. That it does usually means that those laws were ignored.

It’s nice to see the prevalent culture catching up with Halacha in these matters. But we have a long way to go. And who knows. After the #MeToo phenomenon wears off, we may just go back to square one.