Retorts: Vultures and victims, wise up

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-Minnesota is another prominent person caught up in accusations of sexual harassment (Wikipedia/Maria Taylor).

There’s a line in the 1987 film “Broadcast News” in which Albert Brooks’ character stares sourly at a network segment and growls, “Sex, tears, yes, this is the news.”

In a bit of deja voodoo, sex and tears and a lot more are indeed the news, and it raises a whole thornfield of questions, controversies, some heat and some light.

It all started with accusations that top Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was a serial sexual harasser. Many of those in Tinseltown professed to be  “shocked … shocked” that the casting coach – an institution since Alfred Hitchcock was in middle school – still existed.

The next big heavy shoe dropped when it was revealed that Judge Roy Moore, opponent of gay marriage and proponent of posting the Ten Commandments in the courtroom was – what’s the Alabama phrase? – “bird-dogging” teenage girls in his thirties. These accusations were especially problematic for the Republican candidate for a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.

Then there was Kevin Spacey and Brad Ratner and Al Franken and the list goes on and on. Sexual harassment and sexual assault have pushed North Korea and climate change off the front pages – for those of us who still read newspapers.

There is some, but not much agreement about what all of this means. I hope we can all agree that sexual extortion – demanding intimate services in exchange for a job or a role – is wrong and illegal. Molesting minors is equally offensive.

But what’s also happening is that any potentially sensual touching is being grouped into the category of sexual assault. My law books say that assault is an unlawful attempt to commit battery, which is defined as “any unprivileged … intentional touching of another person.”

The law commands us to refrain from “hitting, kicking, stabbing, poking, injecting or even kissing another person without that person’s freely-given consent.”

So, if I were to kiss my date – let’s say this is still 1978 – without getting her “freely-given consent” have I committed a battery? I am one of those people who doesn’t like to be hugged by anybody but Mrs. Jim. I got a big bear hug from a recent new acquaintance – a man – a few weeks go. Was I assaulted?

I’m not trying to trivialize a serious issue. My intent is to point out the problematic nature of finding a dividing line between rude and/or impetuous behavior and a criminal act.

This morning someone pointed out to me that most of those being accused of misconduct and shunned are over-50 men, suggesting that age-ism is colliding with sexism.

Add to that the too-late apologies of some prominent Hollywood women who endured the unwelcome attention of boorish men of influence without much resistance or warning to other women. Put simply, some ambitious thespians made a “deal with the devil” to advance their own careers.

There’s a legend that in the Victorian era, women would carry a hatpin with which  to fend off the sweaty advances of men. It seems a quaint notion today, but …

We are all covered up in this mess. The  entertainment industry glorifies women as sexual objects and victims. The fashion business places an emphasis on making both men and women look like available meat.

Too many people – mostly men, but some women, too – think they have a right to touch this and pinch that. Too many people – mostly women, but some men, too – are reluctant to refuse, scream, punch or otherwise stop the touching.

Parents should teach their kids about the importance of not trying to impose yourself on someone else, sexually or otherwise. People in romantic relationships should refuse to rationalize or “live with” a sexual abuser.

It all comes down to treating another person with respect. We won’t someday need a process of written permits for a chaste press of the lips if today we can just stop acting like pushy jerks or timid victims.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears each Wednesday. By the way, Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your turkey legs but watch where you put your hands, buster!

1 reply »

  1. Your law books distinguish a crime from a tort (or a retort). An unwanted touching is governed by the reasonable man standard. If someone squeezes past you on the airplane it might be unwelcome, but in most cases neither a crime nor a tort. If the tort is intentional there has to be some damage. So if your 1978 date objected to the kiss she has to prove what the damages are. You have given examples of battery, not assault which is an attempted battery. Casting couch???

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