Sexual predation is real but the potential for another day care scandal – ask the Duke lacrosse team or the frat at Virginia – lies in he said/she said incidents with a political or sexual factor. Accusations encourage prurience and self-righteousness. But often neither the he nor the she lies; if children are vulnerable to suggestion, no less are adults whose perspective from forty years is hazy. We all like plots and prefer to see our selves more positively than others might. Deviations from a truth unknowable today are less rhetorical tricks than a natural desire to create favorable narratives.
Hannity is excitable; perhaps he meant to corner Moore. But both question and answer assumed certainty could be achieved. And Hannity conflated the story from the girl whose memory was of her fourteen-year-old self in her underwear with older girls who said he had shown undue interest in them, coming later to categorize it as inappropriate. That Moore may not remember his encounter with the 14-year-old says something about a memory dismissive of other’s feelings, of the intensity of such a moment to a 14-year-old and not to a 32-year-old. It may not be attractive but it is not surprising. But Moore was forceful: No he said firmly. Forty years later does he remember a relatively pyrrhic episode?
But implicitly, both seemed to accept that a 32-year-old dating girls in their late teens was also perverted. Those assumptions seemed, at least to me, silly. Also, with such denials comes another question – that he knew and remembered the ages of the girls he, apparently unsuccessfully, pursued? Do men categorize their pursuits by ages (a thought more perverse than the acts described).
My husband and I looked at each other as later news gave that sound bite. Our youngest daughter phoned and as we muted the television, we told her what had just been said. She laughed out loud. The man she has selected as her partner is 14 years older than she.
Moore is not my kind of senator – or guy; he always seemed at best a loose cannon and at worst, well, Lonesome Rhodes. I suspect I wouldn’t have wanted him near my daughters. And my mother’s first child was at 28, mine at 32, my oldest daughter’s at 30. But I recognize other cultures, other life patterns, and other times. J.D. Vance describes his Mamaw’s early life in Hillbilly Elegy: at 13 she had slept with her best friend’s boyfriend, at 14 and pregnant she had married him and set off for Ohio from Appalachia. That was 1947; Moore’s inappropriate attentions were in 1979; it is now 2017. If you don’t think those dates are important than you know little of post war Appalachia and the sexual revolution of the 70’s and sexual politics in 2017 – nor of geographic distinctions. Man doesn’t change that much, but society does.
In the last couple of decades, our daughters have chosen life partners as has the girl who lived with us when she was 18, on her way to being an Austrian lawyer but finding happiness and fulfillment with an American academic. Of those 4 relationships, three are to men 14 years their senior; all relationships began in their teens or at 20. I’m not saying that is what I’d advise. But these are certainly better choices than I would have made at their ages – perhaps because they were looking at adults and could see more fully formed mates; more probably, they were not the idiots I was. There is an equality and independence in these relationships that belies that difference in age. They appear no less fulfilled or more dominated than the daughter who chose a partner of her age (though that choice – not surprisingly – produced children easily). All four are respected by their mates.
So, at this point, I am not all that much impressed by the charges in the Washington Post, though they don’t seem absurd. They do seem opportunistic. And little about the Post’s charges about any Republican should be accepted at face value. An incident almost forty years old may be ugly but a lot happens in forty years. The media’s definition of sexism, of sexual deviance, even of rape is drawn subjectively – harshly one day, loosely the next. I wish Ray Moore hadn’t entered the race; I would rather he hadn’t won. But I share with others a suspicion about the motives of these charges. And I’m hoping that though I felt similar misgivings about Trump, a cabinet that devolves power, judges that read the Constitution and a belief that kicking the can down the road isn’t an option have more than reconciled me.
Maybe Moore has a potential I don’t see. (I’m beginning to learn how blind I can be.) But in a Senate that sorely needs to pass tax reform, I’d hate to lose a vote – which is, I suspect, the motive of this belated “research”. (Besides how many neighbors will attack Republican senators mowing their yards or crazies will decide to herd Republican representatives into a dugout? There don’t seem too many to spare.)
It seems to me that the shock here is at Moore’s general unseemliness – both sides of the aisle would just as soon he didn’t join their club, even though members in good standing certainly did more (with both boys and girls) than Moore. But the charge comes at an appropriate time for outrage, for Weinstein has whipped up a good deal of self-righteousness.
He did not appear attractive, either, but did seem more the kind of person you’d expect at a board meeting. We blame him for abusing the access to fame and the real power he had. It seems we should – he sounds like a terrible man. He was manipulative and self-centered, he saw others as means to his own rather vulgar ends – whether in celluloid dollars or in bed. But if we see him as an evil man, corrupted by lust and greed, pride and taking joy in his power over others, then the devil was also the tempter. Few are greedier for money and power than those longing to be stars. Streep’s vaunted “empathy” wasn’t evidenced when it might have protected others. Are those speaking out brave? Some were, those that had skin in the game and faced his revenge. Their charges appropriately shame and punish a man against whom authorities may be impotent given the nature of the offenses.
We should sympathize with his accusers, but we want to instill in our daughters a strong sense of private space, of integrity, but as important, a practical sense of caution and common sense. Valorizing victimization works against those goals – the best antidote is the best preventative: to feel and act as agents, as grownups with private selves and personal values.
And we need to consider habits that help. Restraint is something we lost a taste for in the sixties and seventies, but it gives us armor. We wanted to throw ourselves into experience. Those with a romantic, irrational experiential vision often value the loss of inhibitions, the effects of drugs and liquor. But those who have nurtured a self under difficult conditions, respect rationality and value integrity; they are considerably less enamored of lost consciousness. Constructing and armoring the self is a difficult business; two men who understood that and triumphed were Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. They were also for prohibition, seeing alcohol as robbing both them and others of identity, control, manhood.
Respect for ourselves and others, for a separation of the private life from the public but an integrity that moves from the one world to the other can lead to a more peaceful life. But these will only come through a culture that reinforces values, assimilated by the self through example, practice and quiet. Litigation and the media are not mediums where these work out well. And when The Washington Post and Weinstein productions define that culture, we won’t find our bearings easily.