If you grew up in Wellsville, Ohio, in the mid- to late 1970s and were looking for a kickball game, chances are you ended up in my yard at some point.
I lived there until age 9 and the game attracted boys, girls, kids, tweens, teens and even the occasional parent. I think I was 7 or 8 years old when I had a huge crush on a 12- or 13-year-old girl who lived down the street. The only thing I’d learned about courtship at that time was what I saw on the TV shows and movies of the time.
So, one hot summer afternoon, this girl was playing second base and I’d just kicked a solid double. I whistled at her and she smiled and said something in a jokey way about me being a pig. I smiled, and when she turned around, I grabbed her butt. As I started to laugh, she spun around and cracked me hard across the face. I began wailing and my mother came over to ask the girl why she had hit me.
She told my mother and I saw the anger on my mom’s face turn from the girl to me. She snatched me up by my neck and dragged me into the house. She sat me down and went to great lengths to explain to me why what I had done was “wrong, repugnant and disrespectful.” I told her I was sorry through tears and went out to apologize to the girl who was, of course, gracious.
I was sure I had learned my lesson. But my mother wanted to make really certain that I understood. She called me back into the house and told me to get her paddle. Spankings were commonplace in my house as a form of punishment. Not overused, by any means, but when we really screwed up, we were whipped. A normal punishment was three cracks. On that day, she told me it was important that I realized the seriousness of what I’d done. She laid that paddle on my behind five times. We both cried, I sat on the couch with her, and she told me more about how a man should act toward a woman. She made sure I understood why my punishment had to be so severe. I didn’t understand everything that she told me back then, but as I got older, it all started to make sense.
Sure, telling the story today, I wonder what people will think of my mother. She wasn’t a barbarian; things were different 35 years ago. A lot of kids were spanked and, most importantly, I never did anything like that again. I learned an important lesson that day and it is one that I have carried with me my entire life. Quite frankly, I’ve always been surprised by the number of men who, apparently, never learned this lesson. Even more surprising? That they’ve been able to get away with it for so long.
Our society is every bit the unfair, discriminatory, inequitable, cock-controlled patriarchy that women have said it was for decades. But their complaints have been dismissed, pushed aside and demeaned by these men and their system. When accused, many men have simply denied it and doubled down on their sense of entitlement: Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, John Conyers, Al Franken, and on, and on. And adult women aren’t the only victims.
The number of accusations against men by children is heart-wrenching and stomach-churning. Roy Moore, the U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama, is accused of sexually assaulting girls, in episodes dating back decades, yet despite the accusations he’s still running and is enjoying support from the White House. Actor Kevin Spacey is accused of sexually harassing minors, including Broadway actor and sometime-City Theatre performer Anthony Rapp. But these accusations aren’t new. Actor Corey Feldman has been sounding alarm bells about child molestation in Hollywood for some time now, and his complaints have been met with dismissive skepticism. And that type of victim-blaming by people in power is why these things haven’t been taken more seriously until now.
Make no mistake, a lot of people knew what was going on and did nothing. And that’s not just in Hollywood or Washington; it’s happening everywhere. The post-9/11 rallying cry of “if you see something, say something” shouldn’t just apply to the public’s obsession with trying to prove their neighbor is a terrorist. Take Weinstein. His behavior wasn’t a secret to anyone, including film directors and actors who worked for him. Yet they did nothing, and he victimized woman after woman.
But imagine if someone would have called him out early on. Imagine if he received a punishment that was swift, severe and memorable. It wouldn’t have just stopped Weinstein; it would have sent a message to others acting the same way. At least, I know that worked on me.