The 1989 film, ‘When Harry Met Sally’ explored the question of whether it was possible for a man to be friends with a woman without seeing her in sexual terms. This question is as relevant now as ever. A very insightful editorial this week (unavailable on line at the moment) by Chicago Jewish News editor, Joe Aaron - who is observant - may answer that question.
I have my differences with Joe. His ‘over the top’ criticism of Israel’s sitting Prime Minister chief among them. But this doesn’t mean that I never agree with him. When he stays off his penchant for bashing Netanyahu, I often find myself agreeing with him. Occasionally he hits a home run. Last week’s column was one such occasion. His opening words were ‘Men are pigs’.
I’ve heard this phrase before. It usually refers to how men generally see women as sex objects. This doesn’t mean that all men act on their thoughts. Nor does it mean that they reveal them. Even to themselves. But anecdotal evidence increasingly seems to point to this as a biological fact. Men upon initial contact with attractive women (or men if they are homosexual) see them as sex objects. At least subliminally,
I know that this is not the politically correct thing to say. And I’m somewhat surprised that Joe used that as his opening phrase. Most people with Joe’s politically liberal perspective will say that when they see an attractive woman they see only their humanity. Not their sex. But I don’t think that’s entirely accurate.
I suspect that what really happens with good men is that they overcome their inclination to see attractive people as sex objects. Judging them on merit. Not on sex. In most cases this is done on a subliminal level. This enables a normal non sexual encounter. But if one is a healthy heterosexual male it would ridiculous to say he does not see an attractive woman on those terms. At least subconsciously. Same is true for a homosexual man that sees an attractive man.
Let us demonstrate this by example. An attractive female journalist meets with a male for an interview. In most cases the interview proceeds on a professional level without incident. The interviewee will behave as though his interviewer was sexless. What is in the back of his mind might not even reach his own consciousness. But I believe it is there. There is no denying that a heterosexual man will notice a woman’s beauty. The only question is whether he will admit it. Even to himself.
Proper behavior under these circumstances is called having self control. If one lives in a civilized society and was raised properly it is ingrained behavior.
There are those who will question my hypothesis and say that men do not always look at an attractive woman and see ‘sex’ – even on a subliminal level. But the evidence seems to be accumulating to the contrary. There are far too many people that cannot control their behavior when they encounter someone they are attracted to. Often these people are highly respected for the contributions they have made to society. But they are people whose libidos have gotten the better of them.
Joe noted the long list of people that fill that bill. One of the most prominent among them is journalist and author, Ari Shavit. Shavit had become somewhat of an icon because of his recent book analyzing in depth the Israeli left and right for not giving the other side proper consideration. His was a highly sought after interview since the book’s publication. In at least one such interview he saw his interviewer (Danielle Berrin) as a sexual conquest and acted on it.
After she made this event public without naming him, Shavit came forward with his ‘non apology’. Claiming his attempt at ‘courtship’ was misunderstood. Well the actions described by Ms, Berren hardly qualify as a courtship by any definition. That he seemed to have no clue that what he did was inappropriate (to say the least) is very telling about how this ‘champion of human rights’ sees women: They are sex objects first and human beings second.
But as Joe noted, this behavior is not limited to secular writers. It encompasses every segment of humanity. Which includes respected athletes like Tiger Woods; respected media moguls like Roger Ailes; respected entertainers like Bill Cosby; respected Presidents like Bill Clinton and John Kennedy; respected politicians like Eliot Spitzer; Presidential candidates like Donald Trump, John Edwards and Gary Hart.
And then there is the recent history of such things in Israel. As Joe further noted, powerful men in politics, the army, business, and even rabbis have been caught taking advantage of their position and - at one level or another - satisfying their lust for beautiful women (or men if they are homosexual) – obviously seeing them all as sex objects.
Just this week the Israeli rabbinate revoked the Semicha of a rabbi accused of sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct.
Just this week, one if the leaders of the settler movement was forced to resign in the wake of accusations of sexual assault.
In the last couple of years the most prominent Religious Zionist rabbi in Israel that appeared regularly on TV to give Torah lessons was accused of abusing boys.
And one of the most prominent Chasidic rabbis in Israel – fleeing from country to country around the world after he forced several young woman to have sex aith him in the name of ‘increasing their spirituality.
We had Silvan Shalom, the deputy prime minister forced to resign after 11 women came forward and accused him of sexual harassment.
We had Israeli MK Oren Hazan accused of a varierty of disgusting behavior including exposing himself.
And just recently we had a man that everyone thought would be the next army chief of staff resigning after several female soldiers said he tried to force them to have ssex with him.
And then there are the American versions of those people. Like a respected rabbi who went to great lengths to watch women get undressed before they go to the Mikvah. And a respected rabbi the was forced to resign because he convinced young boys in his charge to go into a sauna with him so that he could ogle them while they took showers.
This is only a small sampling of respected people whose libido got the better of them.
I’m not sure what to do with all this information other than to reiterate that Chazal’s observations 2000 years ago were exactly on target and as applicable today as they were then. Ayn Apitropus L’Aayos. And to reiterate that it would be prudent for all of us to recognize what I believe to be a simple biological fact. And that self control simply is not enough.
The rest of civilized world ought to recognize it too. And take steps to prevent abuses. Just to take one example - placing men and women together in combat units. While it is true that doing so is an expression of equality between the sexes, it is one of the dumbest things the military establishment has ever done.