This is not a proud moment for the male of the species. Virtually every day, men of power, wealth, fame, and accomplishment are being exposed as gropers, butt grabbers, pants droppers, and serial predators. The allegations are swelling like a tsunami reaching shore, carrying in its furious tide Democrats and Republicans, atheists and evangelicals, libertines and family men, intellectuals and coaches, gays and straights. (See Main Stories.) The common denominator is ownership of a penis and the amoral sexual instinct that’s a standard accessory with that piece of equipment. No woman I know is shocked by the scope of this scandal, but for many men, it’s a wake-up call. The grotesque stories pouring forth compel any man with a conscience to think hard about the daily vulnerability women feel in a world still defined by male power and physical strength—a world of straying hands, pressured come-ons, and physical assaults from priapic bosses, senators, mentors, teachers, gurus, and strangers.
By their nature, reckonings are painful and disorienting. Uncomfortable questions face us all. Have we been complicit by ignoring or accepting harassment as normal? Have we seized on accusations against members of the other partisan tribe, while dismissing the accusers of our own tribal leaders as “nuts and sluts,” as Bill Clinton’s defense team once put it? (See Controversy.) Liberals must now decide whether to topple Clinton from his pedestal, and whether their tarnished hero Sen. Al Franken should face permanent expulsion. Conservatives are debating whether it’s morally justified to elect an accused serial molester of teenage girls to the Senate rather than surrender a precious vote for a tax cut or a Supreme Court nominee. But what we’re confronting should transcend partisan point-scoring. In this watershed moment, we have an opportunity to establish stronger norms and expectations for male behavior, and appropriate penalties for those who cross the line. Let’s hope we don’t waste it.