Sexual harassment is a cultural problem

Mona Charen

June 08, 1993|By Mona Charen

I'M glad, I suppose, that sexual harassment is being condemned in the national press. The most recent example is a study commissioned by the American Association of University Women showing that the behavior is widespread among junior high and high school students nationwide.

But there is a distressing lack of clarity in the discussion of the issue, and I fear that a facile and superficial understanding of the problem will lead to simplistic and formulaic solutions -- like consciousness-raising classes -- that will skirt the true problem.

In the first place, any study that purports to find that 81 percent of students are victims of something (other than math quizzes) is suffering from overbroad definitionitis.

Still, the fact that more than 60 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys aged 13 to 17 report that they have been "touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way" is evidence of something. But what?

That's the critical question. What is going on here? Is this the early blooming of the kind of sexual harassment that the feminists claim is a male-invented weapon to subjugate and humiliate women? Is that what 11- and 12-year-old boys are thinking?

I submit that we are not dealing here with a political problem of the war between the sexes. We are dealing with a cultural problem. The overwhelming vulgarity and seaminess that has come to dominate our culture in entertainment, mores and manners has borne predictable fruit. We are raising children and adolescents who think nothing of telling an 11-year-old girl on a school bus to have oral sex with her father (an actual case), or threatening a 12-year-old with rape.

Is this shocking? Only to the inattentive. Turn on network television any night of the week, and you will get an earful of coarse language, puerile double entendres and vulgar innuendoes. And that's during the family hour. Many of the magazines sold at supermarket checkout counters look like soft porn.

How can parents who allow their pre-pubescent daughters to wear bras on the outside of their clothing, like Madonna, be surprised to learn that coarse sexual talk and manners are common in the halls of junior high schools?

This culture, awash in cheap sexual thrills, has lost sight of the noble, the fine and the uplifting. Sex is too important to be cheapened without disastrous results. When we demean sex, we demean our humanity.

My religion, Judaism, is a religion of laws. There are thousands of laws regulating every aspect of human conduct. But there are more rules about sex and eating than anything else. Why? Because those are behaviors we share with animals -- and it is doubly important that we invest them with meaning and and sanctity.

If our kids are behaving like boors, grabbing at bodies, leaving obscene notes in lockers and spreading sexual rumors, as the study indicates, it is because we adults have permitted them to be instructed by 2 Live Crew, "Married with Children" and "The Love Connection." It is because we have long since abandoned modesty, respect and chastity as relics of an irrelevant past. It is poignant that the new freedom has left the children so unhappy.

What is called "sexual harassment" is really just vulgar behavior, and it can be added to the list of accomplishments of the sexual revolution -- right under "epidemic of teen-age pregnancy" and just above "AIDS."

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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