By Barbara Smith
As a woman and a feminist, the topic of sexual harassment is a personal one for me. I honestly can’t name a single job I’ve ever held where I wasn’t sexually harassed, either by a coworker or a customer. Every single woman I know has dealt with harassment or assault at some point in their lives, and much of it is constant. The #MeToo movement is shining a light on the terrifying amount of power that men can and do hold over women, but it’s hard to gauge how much of a lasting impact it will have. In a world where it is dangerous to simply be a woman, it is tempting to write men off as evil, as monsters, as an exhaustingly hopeless lost cause. But I think there may be hope still, and part of that lies in trying to understand why so many men are the way they are.
As in most debates of nature vs nurture, I believe there is a mixture of the two. Your genes may set you on a certain path, but your experiences shape you and can sometimes take you in completely different directions. When it comes to the question of whether the men of today are misogynistic by nature or if it is learned, I lean more heavily towards it being learned, although I think it stems from very, very old evolutionary traits that have shifted and morphed over time, which we have not entirely shaken. I don’t believe a boy comes out of the womb ready to oppress women, but I do believe the world today is primed and ready to shape him into an oppressor. If this is the case, do boys even have a chance to grow into men who respect women as their equals, or are they doomed to become Aziz Ansaris, Louis CKs, and Harvey Weinsteins? While men’s paths may be set up to lead them in that direction, that does not mean they are determined to end up there.
The culture of misogyny has been shaped over millennia, starting with the primitive roles our ancestors held. As humans’ intelligence grew, we expanded on those roles, sometimes even shattering them. While it is no longer in our nature to perform these roles of dominance and submission, echoes of them still remain today. It seems that it is impossible to escape the world our primitive natures created. Girls are taught to sit still and be pretty, boys are taught to run wild and hide their emotions. Women are taught to obey and be sexually appeasing, men are taught to control and be sexually dominating. The cards are stacked against men and women when it comes to clawing out of these suffocating confines. If so much is determined already for us, do we truly have a choice in our roles?
I view this as a case that most closely resembles C.A. Campbell’s idea of libertarian free will. We are born into a world that offers us little option. If our parents don’t set rigid role examples for us, the media surely will. The only way we can break out of these roles is to go against what is determined for us, to fight back against what is in play. The chances of this happening may be small, but the chances still exist. We have witnessed amazing things happening, in the uprising of feminism, and the men who become our allies. Many men have confessed to their behaviors, big and small. Many women are demanding fair pay, better protection, and just retribution for the men who have harmed them. It is certainly an uphill climb, and there are men and women alike who think things will never truly change–that in the end we have no true free will in this pointless fight. But I believe that free will is all we have, no matter how narrow the chance to use it may be. Our ancestors’ nature may have set us up for millennia of struggle between men and women, but we still hold some power to change our present, and our future.