Guest Opinion: Have we really turned the corner?

With the steady tric-, tric-, trickle of dramatic, high-profile sexual harassment allegations and firings, some of us have been asking (and pundits have been pontificating on) whether this is a major turning point in our society — if this is the beginning of the end of the widespread, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, trauma that women in general and some men have had to endure merely to exist in our society.

And the answer is, seemingly, yes, since it is not likely that that genie will be completely stuffed back into the bottle.

However, a much more pertinent question is whether this turning point marks the beginning of a dramatic turn toward resolution and cure of the festering, hidden-in-plain-sight malignancy that has been a fundamental aspect of our culture and of (mostly) women’s day-to-day experiences for the entire run of our history.

Or, does that yes instead point to no more than a slight step forward on a gradual, long-term, agonizingly incremental, arc that may, perhaps, someday become a non-issue for some generations to come in some uncertain distant future?

Cultures, of course, do change over time, but rarely do major alterations in the dominant narrative become fixed in the short-run in consequence of some vision imposed by current events or by persuasion or coercion, no matter how dramatic, enlightened or oppressive.

Cases in point: The national winning of women’s right to vote almost a full century ago that, at the time, may have seemed to (mistakenly) portend a great shift away from unbridled male entitlement and dominance. Likewise, the end to officially imposed oppression of black people over 150 years ago, followed by a de facto imposition of less obvious forms of those same horrors throughout the times that followed. One can also add the more recent same-sex marriage victories and the election of a mix-race (some say black) president, neither of which has relieved people of color nor less mainstream sexual and gender individuals of their delicate and often dangerous positions in our society.

Why is that? One reason is that cultural tendencies run immensely deep and fixedly within our personas, well below the more apparent, but largely subservient, influence of the intellect. Surface societal changes have only very minor impacts on the deeply-held, largely knee-jerk, responses in the hearts of all but the rare few who have somehow managed to resonate with the admonition for us to not (necessarily) believe what we think.

Another driver of the inclination to hold to the status quo is a generally prevailing belief in the legitimacy of seeking dominance for (a) one’s ideas and ideals and (b) one’s personal position in life, often manifesting as unquestioning support of attempts to achieve an ascendancy to power for themselves, their own families or cultural identities, ideological group, religion, political party, gender, even sports team, over those they deem to be rivals or obstacles to that quest.

In short, societal revelations have only a minimal ability to work their way past those barriers to reason. Changes, therefore, are more likely to be generational, as younger folks, either as tendencies to independence or rebellion, allow alternative views to supersede the fixed interpretations of their elders.

Given those realities, where does that leave us as we follow the surprising turn of events that has begun to expose the rampant power-driven abuses previously swept under a multitude of rugs until now? Irrespective of how it all plays out in the long run, we can be buoyed somewhat by the vastly overdue calling to account of some of those who have needed to be thwarted in their more blatant transgressions.

As for our society as a whole, whether the current drama turns out to result in no more than a short-lived surge in the chaotic advance towards a more benevolent world or manifests as a major leap forward, either way, we can be grateful that there is, at least for now, an increased opportunity for those who have experienced abuse to find some degree of solace in an atmosphere (hopefully) more supportive and understanding of the traumas they’ve endured.

— Donald Wertheimer lives in Ashland.


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