Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sex vs. Sex

For the last week, the disparate worlds of national politics and college football have shared a common preoccupation with sex. On the political side, GOP candidate Herman Cain is fending off sexual harassment accusations like Mace Windu fighting off Sith attackers.

Hell yeah, I went there.
 Meanwhile, in a story that literally is developing by the hour as I write this, revered coach-for-life Joe Paterno of Penn State University is facing calls to step down on the basis of knowledge he held about sexual misconduct by his former assistant Jerry Sandusky. Seems Coach Sandusky had a thing for young boys and was allowed to more or less get away with inappropriate "mentoring" activity for years.

Both of these stories are huge. CNN basically has turned itself into The Herman Cain Did He or Didn't He Channel. The media testimony of Sharon Bialek, who with self-professed great reluctance has dedicated her allotted 15 minutes to describing how Mr. Cain groped her in a car in 1997, is on a pretty much constant loop. Once an hour they show a clip of Mr. Cain angrily denying the accusations. To be fair and balanced. Then they go back to Ms. Bialek's juicy sexual harassment details.

Over at Penn State, legions of rabid supporters of the Nittany Lions are struggling with allegations that the sanctity of a university football program might have been placed ahead of investigating and prosecuting a known sexual predator in its ranks. And with the fact that Joe Paterno, who is a college football god to those who consider college football a religion, knew about the predation and failed to address it in any meaningful way.

I'm pretty angry that both of these stories are getting equal time in the media right now. The abuses alleged in each are not equal in scope, importance, or credibility. One is getting too much scrutiny, the other not enough. The main thing the Cain and Sandusky accusations have in common is that they are succeeding in trivializing critical issues at their respective cores.

800 pounds is not enough in some cases.
Here's the thing. Several women have anonymously lodged sexual harassment complaints against Herman Cain. Sharon Bialek is the first to come forward publicly to tell her story. And...I don't get it. If every word she's saying is the gospel truth, then Mr. Cain came on to her, she rebuffed him, and he backed off.

Well, shit. Maybe Herman Cain is a serial harasser. Maybe he's a "monster," as another of his accusers characterized him when she was prompted to characterize him as a monster. I don't know the truth of any of these allegations. But in the case of Sharon Bialek, I don't see sexual harassment. I see a dude making a pass at a lady and getting turned down. IT HAPPENS.

By Ms. Bialek's definition, I've been "harassed" my entire adult life. Starting in college with men old enough to be my father inviting me to "dinner" and continuing through clients who fixed their eyes on my breasts while I tried to teach them about cold-calling, I've always known that men are horndogs. Sometimes being hit on is flattering, sometimes it's creepy. Once in a while it leads to something (or did, in the distant pre-Beloved Spouse era). But mostly my experience has been the same as Ms. Bialek's: You say "bad dog!" and the bad dog slinks away.

I am not minimizing what a shitty thing sexual harassment is. I consider myself very fortunate that I've never been subjected to institutional, pervasive, oppressive conduct that tied my professional growth to being receptive to pigs and their filth. I've been blessed with supportive male and female mentors who maybe worked my fingers to the bone but never expected me to "go along to get along." And I've never been put in a situation where I felt I had to give in to such pressure to succeed. Good fortune, and good luck.

But really? A man put his hand up your skirt? They do that, you know.

You can outrun most of 'em.
Or offer them a Walnetto.
So now, instead of picking apart Mr. Cain's unworkable 9-9-9 plan or calling him on the carpet for not knowing the president of Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, we have to listen to these endlessly repeated accusations of car-groping. It's not that sexual harassment isn't an important character issue. But there are other reasons the man isn't qualified to be President of the United States. And Sharon Bialek isn't letting us discuss them.

Then there's Jerry Sandusky. The allegations against him are graphic, disgusting, and heartbreaking. Read the indictment for yourself - don't let the Penn State administration or the ESPN talking heads convince you this is about an isolated incident of inappropriate touching. If the charges are proven, then Mr. Sandusky really is a monster: a serial predator who molested young men and boys he was supposed to be mentoring through his charity for at-risk youths. And the fact that the only punishment he ever received was internal discipline and protection from prosecution makes the entire Penn State athletic department - if not the entire administration - complicit in a truly heinous crime.

I find it distasteful that the Sandusky allegations are being addressed primarily as a sidebar to their effects on Penn State and Joe Paterno. This is not a sports story. This is not about how college football is so important to some people that it trumps education, research, and infrastructure at some schools. This isn't about the "boys' club" mentality that prevails when it comes to the almighty pigskin. This is about a criminal being given a pass to protect the reputation of a game.

And just now CNN is reporting that Joe Paterno will retire at the end of the football season. Which makes everything OK, I guess.

Jesus Christ.
 Sex spices up everything. Foreign policy and economic theory are difficult to comprehend, even in seven-second sound bites, so let's focus on which Presidential candidate is a pervert instead. People will watch, tongues will wag, and everyone can get their jollies while avoiding the tough issues. And we'll get the leader we deserve after such a scintillating campaign.

Pucker up, baby.
 But on the other hand, sex is too private and base to discuss in public, especially when it comes to pathological sexual behavior. So let's talk instead about gridirons and codes of honor and sacred traditions and how sad it is when those things get sullied by behaviors of which we musn't speak. And that way we can all continue to enjoy football.

And make obscene profits from it.
 Americans love sex, sports, and politics. Especially mixed together. But the mix here is off. The media are stirring the pot with the wrong ingredients. I want to see less of blonde women opportunistically remembering that someone told them a dirty joke, and more of college officials investigating how a child molester could operate in their midst without fear of reprisal for seven years. I want more of why a national sales tax could conceivably help this country, and less of what a scandal might to do poor ol' Coach Paterno.

But it's just going to be more of the same junk food, with some Kardashian for dessert, I'm sure.

And people wonder why I really do read Playboy for the articles.

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