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Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 12:17 am

Shame on you

Pointing fingers at sex pests

 


The news from the Illinois Statehouse almost makes one nostalgic for the Illinois politicians of old, those sticky-fingered but charming rogues. Today’s Capitol, we learn, is a playpen for not at all charming jerks, creeps and pervs who feel not only empowered but entitled to prey on any females who cross their paths.

Sex at the Statehouse is not a new scandal, just another old scandal that we’ve forgotten. That subculture has been tolerated with a nudge and wink for a long time. A half-century ago Mike Royko used to write about “monkey girls,” the state of Illinois secretaries who hung onto their jobs by their tails. Taylor Pensoneau covered the Statehouse in the 1960s and ’70s for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, when entertaining “Springfield girlfriends” was an important part of the local economy. Talking with Mark DePue of the state historical library in 2009, Pensoneau recalled being at the then-popular restaurants – the Southern Aire, the Black Angus, the Mill – where he would see legislators dining at 11:30 “with this secretary or that gal who maybe worked over here for financial institutions or something. You know, you could certainly draw your own conclusion.”

You could write about it too, but no one ever did. Yes, I know – that was the era of sexual liberation and all that, women and men alike newly free to seek and enjoy sex. Only for women, sex wasn’t, and isn’t free if it’s part of a quid pro quo imposed by the males who control who gets what. For the mistresses of the ’60s, the consequence of not going along was the loss of a state job; today, female lawmakers or lobbyists risk having their careers blighted by men who scupper their bills if they dare to make a fuss.

The problem isn’t just that men break the rules, but that men decide what happens when they break the rules. The enforcement provisions of the state’s ethics system are laughably inadequate. Sitting lawmakers are given the power to investigate their colleagues and fellow party members, and the legislative inspector general has no power to suspend, fine or censure such offenders whose misbehavior is exposed.

In Pensoneau’s day, women had unofficial ways to make men pay for abusing their privileges. Mistreated women got their revenge by talking to the press. “More major stories that have led to the downfall of politicians, both in Illinois and nationally, have come because of either wives or girlfriends that have felt jilted,” he told DePue. Nor were “ordinary” women without recourse. Ross Douthat of the New York Times reminded us the other day that while the pre-1965 double standards that pertained for male and female sexual behavior were terrible “it was also true that women had real social power in those societies, and had mechanisms for essentially punishing through social exclusion men who misbehaved egregiously.”

We are seeing put-upon women assert that power again by recourse to shaming as a weapon against male piggishness. Today, the slap in the face in public takes the form of exposure on social media, which conveniently allows a victim of an unwanted advance to slap a man 10 million times at once. At lot of these guys seem immune to embarrassment, but, happily, their bosses are not. The People are the bosses of the Statehouse crowd; the editors at Champaign’s News-Gazette recently endorsed what amounts to political shunning in which voters punish not-quite-criminal misconduct at the polls.  

Don’t get your hopes up – nearly half the voters are male, after all. Nor are lawmakers likely to discipline themselves as long as (in the words of the News-Gazette’s unfortunate metaphor) “the foxes insist on remaining in charge of the hen house.” If this is to change, it will likely be women who will change it, and not just in the Statehouse. Women in all walks of life have to work with men and live with men who have or tried to take advantage of them, as Maya Dukmasova observes in The Reader. “We cannot and will not exile them all. We can’t and won’t put them all behind bars or sue them into destitution.”

They’re talking about instituting anti-harassment training at the Statehouse. Let’s hope that in addition to teaching men how to behave, the training teaches women some lessons that feminist mothers who matured in the ’60s and ’70s apparently neglected to teach their daughters, like how to dare speak to power or how to organize against a common foe. The whole aim of feminism in its successive eras – indeed the aim of civilization, by which I mean “civil-ization” – is taming male predatory instincts. That’s why men resist both feminism and civilization, and why it is essential that their resistance not succeed.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.

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