Should We Blame Paris?

Seeing NBC’s Today Show on the breakfast room television at our JFK Airport hotel on Monday, I happened to notice how long time powerful host Matt Lauer is gone. I remember learning of it in England on Twitter. He was fired by NBC due to his being…uh, one of those men.

I casually mentioned Lauer’s absence to the Mrs. as she sat across from me with her back to the TV. She replied by bringing up actor Matt Damon having spoken up on “behalf” of women – and he having caught some blistering criticism from some women for doing so. She added softly as she took a sip of her tea: “Men should just shut up and stay out of it.”

And she’s right about that – women ought to be left to debate these matters without men sticking in their “two cents.” I noted to her more generally as well that I still hold to my theory that in these powerful sexual harassing male bosses revelations that most of the men appear to have been the types who likely couldn’t get a date in high school – and, years later, wealthy and powerful they took it out on vulnerable young women a generation, or two, younger than themselves. I stated: “No one has said anything about, say, [an extraordinarily handsome guy like] Brad Pitt abusing women.”

Speaking as a man, I added that often women don’t fully realize men are simply just self-conscious klutzes. We may be “accomplished” and “adult” now, but place before us a woman we are wowed by and desperately want to be wowed by us in return, and we men may well lose our grip on things. Suddenly we’re on the school playground once more and revert to being, well, age “14”.

She smiled and questioned, “Oh, are you speaking from experience?”

“Definitely,” I laughed in reply.

From there, we appear all now shifting increasingly to discussing the likes of this – which is not about a powerful male film producer assaulting an actress-hopeful…

That tweet refers to the iconic photograph of the US sailor seizing and kissing the nurse in New York’s Times Square during August 14, 1945 celebrations of V-J Day and the end of World War II. It is now increasingly also described by some as “sexual assault.” The tweeter is one who evidently believes it is:

Other women, though, seem decidedly underwhelmed by that, shall we say, “unanchored” interpretation:

And, indeed, what it constitutes is for women to debate. Interestingly, this photo below is a far less famous one, which was taken a year earlier in Paris. In it, the “sexual aggressor” roles are apparently reversed:

[A US soldier is kissed by a Parisian woman at Paris’s liberation from the Nazi German occupation, August 1944.]

Note the woman’s arm wrapped around the soldier’s neck, while he is not returning her embrace. Maybe he is a married man with a wife home in Brooklyn and this makes him very uncomfortable? Perhaps he let her kiss him only because he knew buddies are looking on and he knows if he turns her down they would ridicule him mercilessly?

After she got down from the vehicle and it drove on, chances are they never saw each other again. (We know that there was a lot of such momentary kissing and hugging – and plenty more – that day and night in the French capital.) Yet is there also a possibility that snapshot doesn’t accurately tell their fuller story? Maybe it is an inaccurate opener to a deeper consensual relationship and he is killed only weeks later at the front, leaving her distraught? Or perhaps postwar they end up happily married and with kids and living in, say, Illinois?

Certainly a man seizing hold of a random woman on a street and kissing her as in that Times Square photo is not something anyone condones. (Subsequently the nurse said it wasn’t actually much of a kiss and she wasn’t thrilled by it.) Neither, however, would most of us feel it acceptable for a woman similarly to kiss any man without his consent – not even in Paris on the Liberation Day. One suspects, however, that many of us are drawn to the caring and romance represented in the art of such photos and that’s why we hang them on our walls, even if for one (or even both) of their real-life participants those forever frozen moments weren’t quite what we admiring them wish they were.

[Excerpt from Distances. On Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]

And thus where matters begin to become even more socially complicated. I cite that passage from one of my novels because I based it on a moment I once lived that unfolded much like that. All other things being equal (especially meaning neither wields “authority” and “power” over the other), men do NOT appear to interpret sexual-romantic advances from a woman friend, or even from a random woman, as “aggressive” and “threatening” in quite the same way as women may when the tables are turned.

That men and women have always been different is no one’s fault. It is merely sexual reality and most of us are aware of that fact. We can discuss “gender stereotyping” all we want, but it seems unlikely that such a fundamental sexual distinction between women and men will disappear – or can be “untaught” in schools or via social media – anytime soon.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂