The Harasser And The Harassed

“We insult her every day on TV
And wonder why she has no guts or confidence
When she’s young we kill her will to be free
While telling her not to be so smart we put her down for being so dumb
Woman is the nigger of the world.” John Lennon

I. Sexual Harassment

On Tuesday a video titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” was posted to YouTube. Within 24 hours it had been viewed more than 6 million times but it didn’t take 24 hours before the woman in the video,Shoshana Roberts, became the target of rape- and death-threats. It’s worth watching.

The carefree harassment from such a wide array of men is so despicable that I can’t help but feel sorry for the harassers as well as for the harassed. I also can’t help but wonder: How did they come to think such behavior is OK?

One in five American women are victims of rape or attempted rape. One in four have been sexually assaulted. And all women – your mother and grandmother, your girlfriend and wife, your sister, daughter, and friend – have been objectified, intimidated, and harassed by many men. Maybe even by you or me.

II. The Objectification of Women

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about my song Broken Angel, I touched on the age-old theme of the damsel in distress. This week I came across a series of videos by Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency including a few about the trope of damsels in distress in video games. This one, about the objectification of and violence against women, is one of the cornerstones of #gamergate:

On October 14, Ms. Sarkeesian was to speak at Utah State University but had to cancel after the university received threats that they would be the scene of “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if she was allowed to speak. Violence against men is celebrated gleefully enough in both the video gaming and our wider culture, but when the violence is directed towards women it becomes sexualized. The lines between violence and sex get blurry.

The numbing effect of exposure to the objectification of women is an insidious and inescapable part of our society just as in other societies the burqa is the embodiment of the idea that men are uncontrollable animals who can’t be held responsible for their behavior. On college campuses women are advised not to get drunk. But drunken women aren’t the problem. Drunken men are. Sober ones too.

This got me thinking about the effect of these pervasive images and attitudes on my own behavior.

III. Being a Gentleman

Sometimes when I’m watching the news and I hear the police or a reporter call a murderer or other criminal “the gentleman” I think something has gone horribly wrong with their vocabulary. A gentleman avoids that type of behavior. He also avoids “gentlemen’s” clubs.

Not a gentleman

My father was a gentleman and I like to think of myself as one too. But I wonder if anything I’ve said or done, thinking it was innocuous or complimentary or charming, may have come across otherwise. You don’t have to stand on a corner saying “Hey, beautiful” to be a creep.

It’s easy for men to overlook the simple fact that they are usually larger and more physically intimidating than women. It’s also easy to believe an appreciation of a woman’s beauty should be taken as a compliment, especially if that’s how it’s intended. And it’s easy to forget that what one person says, verbally or otherwise, and what another person hears or perceives, is not always the same thing. In situations where a woman is “captive” – rooted to a spot by school, work, family or other obligations – the threshold for harassment drops precipitously, and the responsibility of men to be aware of that rises just as steeply.

A gentleman gives careful consideration to his words and actions. He treats all people with respect. Anyone with a Y chromosome can be a man. The true test of a gentleman is the part about being gentle.

Too Much On My Mind – Mike’s Musical Monday

After John Lennon, my favorite songwriter is Ray Davies of the Kinks. This song was recorded for the album Face to Face, released in 1966. It’s a real gem of an album with classics like Sunny Afternoon and Dandy but it’s this one that’s become my theme song over the past few weeks. I love Nicky Hopkins’ harpsichord on the original so I tried to throw in a little of that. But it’s mostly about the words and the mood.

There’s too much on my mind
There’s too much on my mind
And I can’t sleep at night thinking about it
I’m thinking all the time
There’s too much on my mind
It seems there’s more to life than just to live it

There’s too much on my mind
And there is nothing I can say
There’s too much on my mind
And there is nothing I can do
About it
About it

My thoughts just weigh me down
And drag me to the ground
I shake my head ’til there’s no more life in me
It’s ruining my brain
I’ll never be the same
My poor demented mind is slowly going

There’s too much on my mind
And there is nothing I can say
There’s too much on my mind
And there is nothing I can do
About it
About it

The Immeasurable Treasure

If I spent every moment of the rest of my life with you
It wouldn’t be enough
If I knew everything there was to know about you
It wouldn’t be enough
If I tasted the flavor of you alone on my tongue
I would always be starving for more
If I could read every thought that flickered across your mind
I’d want to know so much more
If the sound of your laughter echoed always in my ears
I’d need to hear more and more and more
If you touched me just once, with your fingers or your lips
I’d carry that sensation to my grave
If I looked one time into your eyes and saw love for me there
I would never want anything else
And if I died right now
I’d die happy
Because you have lived in my heart.


“It gets worse the older that you get

There’s no escape from the state of confusion I’m in.” – Ray Davies

It must be hard for even an egotist to look too closely at his face in the mirror, and I’m no egotist. Some people find it helpful to ask another to take a hard look at them and offer advice. I’ve been told more than once that I might benefit from therapy but it always makes me think of the old joke:

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

As painful and confusing as my life sometimes gets, I don’t want to change. Also, what if I take a hard look at myself and find out I’m a dick? I don’t need that kind of aggravation. Or what if I find out I hate my mother? That would suck because I love my mother.

Great visual artists from Vincent Van Gogh to Norman Rockwell have dabbled with self-portraiture. Most, but by no means all of them, keep their ears attached to the head.

It’s a form of therapy that’s almost the opposite of meditation. Instead of clearing your mind you fill it up, with yourself.

Here are some of my experiments with the form: 

The sketch on the left is from the fall of 1982. I was taking a painting class in SUNY Oneonta. The mirror that hung over the toilet in our off-campus house was in rough shape. Seven years bad luck and so forth. The painting on the right is from 1983.

The 80s were a good decade for self-portraits. The one on the left below is from 1984 and the one on the right, from 1985, is titled “Gettin’ Drunk,” for obvious reasons.

The one on the left below is from 1987, titled “Trouble in Paradise” and in the other, from 1989, I’m wearing the requisite Ramones T-Shirt. It’s written backwards, of course, because of the whole mirror thing.

I don’t know what happened in the 90s. Even in the 00s I didn’t do any sketches of myself. I guess I got it out of my system in the 80s. In 2004, on a trip to Costa Rica, I snapped the picture of my shadow on the left.

And last night I did the one on the right. What can I say: it was a rough day.

Broken Angel

“Either I’m too sensitive or else I’m getting soft.” – Bob Dylan

One of the great themes of classical poetry is the damsel in distress. Any kind of suffering is bad enough but contemplating the suffering of someone dear to your heart is almost unbearable. Even more so when you’re unable to do anything to alleviate it.  

A meditation on that particularly bitter form of disappointment was the inspiration for this song. That, and playing around with the rinky-dink riff.

Broken angel on the floor
What did you come here for?
Have I seen your face before?
Will I see it anymore?

Broken angel where’s your wings?
Where’s your pretty diamond ring?
First you showed me how to sing
Then you showed me everything

But there was always something about you
I couldn’t figure out
There’s always something about you

Broken angel I know why
Why you fell out of the sky
I can see it in your eyes
And I know they never lie

There was always something about you
I couldn’t figure out
There’s still something about you