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Columns

River Town Chronicles: The scarlet letter H – unrequited proclivities

The family was driving through Geneva as it hoisted lamppost lights and wreathes when my daughter said: “I feel more in the holiday mood this year. I don’t know why.”

“Maybe,” I said, “because we need it more this year.”

I wasn’t only thinking about the debacle our President Child-in-Charge has wrought, but also about the courageous women accusing powerful politicians, actors and media moguls of unwanted sexual aggression.

Are we surprised at the numbers? I doubt women are, given how long they’ve suffered the emotional – and physical – scars of male harassment. Early artwork does not record cavemen clubbing cavewomen because, surely, men grunted that only they were allowed to draw on walls.

America’s patriarchal social structure began with Puritans putting sacred and secular power in male ministers’ hands. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” imagines Rev. Dimmesdale, whose august position anticipates an assumptive ego reflected later in TV’s lecherous “Mad Men,” spotlighting a nightmarish male archetype.

However, today it’s the Dimmesdales who wear the scarlet letter, labeling them pariahs, their sin made public. The scarlet letter H, for Harasser, is sewn into their names, their reputations.

Given the number of men exposed – no pun intended – for nonconsensual behavior has most guys running through their memory’s Rolodex of past relationships looking for potential past prurient conduct. And with the multiplicity of male offenders dropping, or being dropped, from prestigious positions, I’d say 2018 will be a good year for more women in politics, boardrooms and entertainment.

Not all sexual transgressions are equal. According to npr.org, Garrison Keillor, former “A Prairie Home Companion” host, admits putting “[my] hand on a woman’s bare back. ... I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness. ... She recoiled. I apologized. ... If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the beltline, I’d have at least a hundred dollars.”

Then there are the more egregious offenders who display a pattern of serial aggression and offer no remorse when outed. When in his 30s, Judge Roy Moore is alleged to have stalked teenagers in a mall before hitting on them. NBC’s Matt Lauer’s predilections allegedly became the subject of roasts. President Child-in-Charge is on record saying: “... when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” “They” being women, and what they let you “do” can’t be quoted in a family newspaper.

This time of year, my family constantly remarks on how early darkness sets in, night falling even before we can walk the dog after school.

“That’s what Christmas lights are for,” Molly said at dinner.

She’s right. May your neighborhood’s hand-strung strings of multicolored lights circling trees, shrubs, wreaths and gutters shine the world’s way to empathy, understanding and peace.

Contact Rick Holinger at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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