Nothing in the world, nothing like a dame

April 01, 1994|By Mona Charen

HAVE you seen the TV commercial featuring an attractive male construction worker stripping to the waist and enjoying a Coke while being ogled from above by a gaggle of appreciative women?

I have no idea whether the commercial is successfully peddling its product, but I do detect in it an over-eager political correctness. While it is becoming almost impossible to depict women as sex objects -- after a prolonged hullabaloo and a threatened lawsuit, Miller beer pulled its ad featuring the "Swedish bikini team" -- it is somehow daring and a little exciting to depict men as such.

I note this not to raise moral objections to the Coke commercial but merely as evidence of the unreality that surrounds sexual topics in this politicized age. What you have in the women-ogling-man commercial is not a portrayal of anything found in real life, but someone's idea about how things ought to be.

While women are not indifferent to the physical attractiveness of men, they tend not to ogle (Playgirl, originally aimed at women to duplicate the appeal of Playboy, was purchased almost exclusively by homosexual men). In fact, men often complain that women are more interested in a man's money, status and power than in his beautiful wavy hair.

Men are different. They are highly visually oriented, and while most men value qualities in women beyond looks, it is a rare male who does not enjoy the simple pleasure of gazing at a pretty lady.

The feminists would have you believe that being ogled is one of the great afflictions of the female sex, which is preposterous. Being leered at is offensive, but being noticed and appreciated is downright pleasurable for most women. It is what keeps the multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry going, to say nothing of the apparel business and the weight-loss, hair-styling and fitness salons of America.

On a long car trip recently, we were listening to a tape of "South Pacific."

One of the classic songs of that musical would not be written today out of deference to the sensibilities of feminists, and that is a great loss. "There is Nothing Like a Dame" is a funny, saucy tribute to men's desire for women. Nothing else, the sailors lament, has "the soft and wavy frame like the silhouette of a dame." The singers are appreciative of every aspect of femininity while acknowledging their own less-than-gentlemanly appetites ("We feel hungry as the wolf felt when he met Red Riding Hood/What don't we feel? We don't feel good.").

Today, that song would amount to sexual harassment.

The doctrine of sexual harassment is the feminist response to the loss of sexual mores the feminists themselves helped abandon. They cheerfully joined the sexual revolutionaries of the '60s, throwing overboard the so-called double standard in matters sexual. But as the National Association of Scholars notes in its full-page advertisement in Commentary magazine, sexual harassment is a pernicious concept.

It is pernicious because it fails of definition, relying on subjective feelings rather than describable behavior. Careers have been damaged or even derailed because the alleged "victim" of sexual harassment said she "felt uncomfortable." At one major public university, official documents state that "sexual harassment can be as blatant as a rape or as subtle as a look. Harassment . . . often consists of a callous insensitivity to the experience of women."

Is rape -- a crime recognized as heinous by all societies throughout history -- now just a subset of sexual harassment? And what is this nonsense about the "experience of women"? How is the "experience" of Tonya Harding like that of Princess Di? How is the "experience" of Jeane Kirkpatrick like that of Barbra Streisand?

As the NAS contends, defining sexual harassment so broadly as to include mental attitudes amounts to an assault on academic freedom and an exercise not in civility but in brainwashing.

The joyless feminists of the academy are engaged in a losing struggle against human nature. Men like to appreciate women, and women like to be appreciated. After all, "there is nothing you can name that is anything like a dame."

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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