Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of Martians and Venus fly traps

GIVEN that they intersect so often, you’d think men and women view sex in the same way.

Seemingly not.

I realized this while alternately moderating and participating in a discussion about protecting women journalists in sexual harassment cases. Last Friday’s forum followed a presentation of safety tips made by Cherry Ann T. Lim, assistant executive director of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), during the CCPC’s 22nd quarterly meeting.

Here’s what I observed and realized:

Talk about sex, women giggle. Talk about sexual harassment, men giggle (I suspect they only titter in mixed company because anything as loud as a guffaw or an audible sex crack will draw dagger looks from us).

When hearing about a case of sexual harassment, women frequently ask this about the victim: how is she? Men are fixated on other details: what was done to her?

Depending on the gender, there’s a difference of emphasis in the term, “sexual harassment”.

Generally, males react strongly (can one say “primordially”?) to the “sexual” aspect: Is the victim attractive? Did she invite the attack? Did she resist? Really, did she resist? Were the sexual advances unreciprocated, really now?

Really, I reminded the two men I asked after the forum that in a case of sexual harassment, it’s implied that the sexual behavior of one of the parties is unwelcome. One fellow argued that sexual harassment may be “reverse harassment,” or retaliation by a female aggressor who morphs into a victim after her advances are spurned by a hapless male, now accused of being the predator.

The other man said that if he were attacked by a “carnivorous” female, he would only cry out for help if she wasn’t to his liking.

I’m convinced that both men were serious and not humoring me (proof of that being that they did not feel the need to preface their views with “seriously,” a white flag men sheepishly wave about when a subject exacts an involuntary Jekyll-and-Hyde reflex despite these enlightened gender-sensitive times).

On the other hand, the women I’ve asked say harassment occurs because “men believe they can get away with it.” Sex may make the world go round but the bottom line, baby, is about power.

The power that puts one beyond the pale of sensitivity and accountability is not only embedded in formal positions or traditional standards of authority. It can come from a perception of superiority, making a predator think his maturity, experience, and even sentimental intentions absolve him from appropriately responding to a peer’s discomfort with or rejection of his advances.

Lim reported that “the key factor in dealing with sexual harassment is its impact on the victim, not the intention of the perpetrator”.

“Abusers should not get away with it” is as unequivocal a message a victim can send out in a world of “misunderstood” gestures where “nice” can easily become something else when there are no witnesses but the two of you.

In 1992, John Gray wrote in “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” that the two genders are “diametrically different” in needs, values and ways of communication. Likening men and women to beings coming from different planets, Gray pointed out, for instance, that “men complain about problems because they are asking for solutions while women complain about problems because they want their problems to be acknowledged”.

In the recent case of sexual harassment filed by a local correspondent against a news source, I realize that when a victim speaks out about abuse, her struggle is just beginning.

In this enlightened age, where sexual politics scours a victim for the credibility to claim to be one, I value being a member of a gender that’s still stereotyped as virgin or whore, Venus or Venus fly trap (a plant that traps and liquefies insects).

Let predators be warned: no woman struggles alone. A sister will not just be a whine in the wilderness.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 27, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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