Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News but gets $25 million to ease the sting of such a humiliation. Not to worry, though, it wasn’t because he is a serial sexual harasser, it is because he was losing advertisers. Roger Ailes is also out, but he got on the order of $40 million to leave. And, of course, we have the Ol’ Pussy Grabber occupying the White House. So, once again sexual harassment is back in the news and topic of conversation.
This is going to be a hard article to write because I want to explore sexual harassment from a psychological point-of-view including an evolutionary approach. This is bound to piss some people off. In fact, there is no way to not piss people off when talking about sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, sexism, and any other of the ways that men exploit and injure women. Sounds like fun! Let’s get started!
Let’s start by looking at a couple of examples of sexual harassment that are probably all too familiar to most women, hidden from many men, and never in the news. I think it is important to be familiar with all of the ugly forms that men harass and assault women. So, read through them, please, and focus on the women in the examples.
Afterwards, I took two of the Chili Peppers to the storage room where we kept the box sets and CDs. As we looked in the cabinet, they pressed up against me and told me about all of the ways we could make a super sexy sandwich.
At first I thought they were joking. When I realized they weren’t, I ran from the storage room to my office, where I closed my door, sat down at my desk, and cried. I was humiliated and weirdly ashamed, and embarrassed that I was humiliated and weirdly ashamed. There was far worse going on in the music industry at the time, and I thought I was a badass. Being a victim didn’t fit my self-perception.
Just saw you re-posting a long piece about sexual harasment [sic] is bad, and how Donald Trump is a scary man. Then you post a picture of yourself naked on a beach. I thought long and hard about writing a response. Simply put Natalia, I like & respected you for a long time. But when you write “don’t sexually harass me” and pos [sic] naked, I have to wonder, just what kind of a double standard you are trying to promote.. ‘Here I am, naked, but don’t grab and harass me’. Because I also follow your (very beautiful) Instagram, I know you also recently posted a picture of yourself with ample cleavage. I like that picture more, the nude beach one is not very flattering though you get bonus point for your nice tummy. I guess the question I have for both pictures is, What is your message? Trying to have it both ways?
On another occassion [sic], while walking to a friend’s place, a biker zoomed past me squeezing my breast! All I could manage to let out was a screech which I am pretty sure he didnt [sic] even care to hear.
There are some pretty funny, weird, disgusting, and, sometimes, helpful social media sites on dix pix. Here’s one that I think most women will find helpful, Bye Felipe, on Instagram. It is a site devoted to women posting the disgusting things men send them on the Interwebs. The site is run by Alexandra Tweten. It can be cathartic. It can be harrowing. It can let you know that you are not alone. And, it can leave you feeling ashamed of many men out there.
Well, after that tour of ugliness from around the world let’s get two things out of the way: (a) go take a shower or get an enema or a stiff drink (ha ha, do you see what I did there?) and (b) not all men. Before moving on, let’s hear from a tweet by the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, himself.
It’s almost like he thinks that men are going to rape when given the opportunity. Gee. Go figure. But, not all men.
Not All Men
Not all men: bullshit. Yes all men. Some men just have a wider range of circumstances under which they’ll violate a woman, and some men are willing to commit more egregious offenses. And, given the number of women reporting some kind of sexual violation by men, I’m willing to wager that most men already have. The only question is which level of violation have they committed. So, why is this? Why do men sexually violate women?
The most egregious violations, the ones that occur when the man knows what he’s doing and is taking advantage, the one that the Red Hot Chili Peppers incident represents are caused by a lack of empathy. As tempting as it is to blame narcissism, psychopathy, privilege, entitlement, or any other reason that might be given. It all gets down to zero-degrees of empathy at the time the assault occurred.
Zero-Degrees of Empathy
Sasha Baron-Cohen‘s cousin, Simon Baron-Cohen, has studied empathy for the past thirty years and wrote about it in The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. Empathy is the ability to experience the feelings of another. Baron-Cohen attributes acts of cruelty to an erosion of empathy at the time of the act. Empathy isn’t a constant emotion or experience like happiness it waxes and wanes. And like happiness, some people have more of it than others.
The reasons for this erosion can be from biological errors in the empathy circuits to extreme corrosive emotions or dehumanizing beliefs or situational. You know like the empathy erosion that Brock I’m a Fucking Rapist Turner who brutally raped a young woman who had passed out behind a dumpster, you know, like you do. He not only brutally raped her, he sodomized her with a splintery hunk of wood. You don’t do such things your first time out. So, where’d Brock I’m a Fucking Rapist Turner’s empathy go to? Did it go where mine just did into the disgust I feel for another human being who could do such a thing? Did it go into a belief system that says women aren’t human and get what’s coming to them? Was it corroded by some awful emotion he projects onto women? Or was he just born with a defective empathy circuit?
What about the fellows from the Red Hot Chili Peppers? The fine upstanding gents they are? What happened to their empathy? They were right next to that woman. They couldn’t see her confusion or uncertainty? Of course, they could. They’d been there and done that before. They knew how she was likely to react. They knew that they could probably — like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber — wield their celebrity like a cudgel and beat that woman into submission regardless of whether she would actually want to have sex with them.
Violation of Social Norms
So, what about the other assholes on our list? The man who wrote to the author about her nude picture contradicting her longing to be free from sexual harassment. It’s almost like he thought that if she showed her naked self, he was given permission to have sex with her. Or do what he wanted? Or that if he became aroused enough by her appearance, he wouldn’t be responsible for what he did? What the fuck?
Again, he is not thinking of her as a person with a depth of multiple desires and wants and contradictions because if he had, he would know that there are times when you want to be on a nude beach and times when you don’t and there are no times when you want to be assaulted sexually or otherwise. Again, there is a lack of empathy, but there is more than that.
It’s like when you see someone driving badly and you think it’s your duty to teach them a lesson so you shout at them or flip them off or follow them or whatever it is you do. He’s trying to correct her aberrant behavior and point out the contradiction in her behavior. But, that’s not all. He’s trying to enforce the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. A woman cannot be both according to our Puritan ways.
When you violate the social rules, you’re fair game for everything from kidding to physical attack. The more important the rule that has been violated or the greater the degree that the rule has been violated, the harsher the reaction. Obviously, for this fellow, the Madonna-Whore thing is a real important rule and appearing nude in public is a serious violation. Her cleavage was violation enough. What’s a guy to do? A girl throws a bit of cleavage at him, she must want to have sex with him, right?
Flirting Gone Wrong
Well, psychology has an answer to that as well. The Social Issues Research Center published The Flirting Report in which they compile the research into flirting and seductive behaviors. And, this is where things get a bit complex… but, also, simple. The simple side of it: men are idiots. They over interpret the “signals” that they perceive women as giving.
Flirting is a form of social communication in which we play at sexual interest. It helps avoid the loss of face of rejection. If you haven’t overtly inquired, you never have to be explicitly rejected. There is an evolution to it. The better flirts were more likely to reproduce, so whatever traits led to flirting were passed on. While there is a genetic component to flirting, there is also a social component. There are rules that vary by culture and over time. We have to learn them. Some of us learn them better than others.
Studies show that men tend be overly optimistic about friendly interest from women. They tend to interpret any friendliness as sexual interest. It is a way of optimizing opportunities for reproduction. Of course, this means that modern men are easily confused by their interactions with women. Perhaps there really is something to Pence not wanting to be alone with women. Perhaps he really does assume that all women want to have sex with him.
The Dopamine of More
And the boy on the motorbike who grabbed the girl’s breast? He had dehumanized her, but probably had more issues with impulse control and executive functioning. Opportunity plus having successfully done such things before equals assault. That style of assault is on the path to rape, though. The thrill of just grabbing a girl quickly fades so that you have to do more. Either you give it up or you escalate. Either way, it is dopamine driven. You want more. You want to do it again.
When I wrote about Anthony Weiner’s wiener we addressed the phenomenon of dic pix. In that article, I suggested that everyday sadism might be a motivation for sending them. But, everyday sadism is probably a motivation for all sorts of sexual harassment that women face. It is the reward of inflicting pain, discomfort, and fear on others. Those ideas that sexual harassers harass women because women are weak and can’t fight back is probably correct.
When men commit sexual assaults great or small, they are motivated by a combination of erosion of empathy, dehumanizing women, the dopamine of more, and sadism.