Men Are (Still) Pigs

What Ray Rice and the Harrisburg email scandal tell us — again.

sexism

Oh, that’s right: Men are pigs.

Forgive a little bit of gender-based self-loathing. (And please, denizens of the Men’s Rights Twittersphere, please spare me your inevitable cries of “misandry!” Your whining undermines your claims to machismo.) But the news has been replete with examples lately of why feminism exists — and is needed — and why we men still need a few lessons in how to treat all people with a little more respect.

Just to pluck two examples from our local headlines:

• Monday, of course, brought us the TMZ video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancée unconscious last winter at the Revel Casino.

• And last week we heard about the good ol’ boys in then-Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office trading dirty emails and creating enough of a frat house atmosphere that the office had to pay out a $15,000 settlement to a female agent who felt discriminated against because she wouldn’t play along. Corbett has said he found out about the emails only after he became governor.

But jeepers, what is this, 1960?

One of the great things about the first couple of seasons of Mad Men is how it displays the pervasiveness of rampant, ugly sexism in such utterly casual fashion: It was the way things are and few people had bothered to question it. One lesson I took away from the show: Whenever you hear a group of young men (and only young men) laughing, well, there probably resides some level of ugliness you’d probably best avoid.

Supposedly, we’d learned to do better than that. I’m old enough to remember the Clarence Thomas hearings for the Supreme Court in 1991, and though he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, what remains memorable about that event is the sudden dawning awareness in much of American culture that A) sexual harassment was a thing, and B) it was bad.

Since then, nearly every adult who has ever held a professional-level job — which includes, certainly, everybody who worked for Corbett in the attorney general’s office — has been through at least one lifetime round of human resources training in which everybody has been taught to treat the workplace like a workplace. That means save the dirty stuff for the bar after hours  — and even then, be careful — and for the love of Pete, don’t use work computers to send your stupid jokes around. Comport yourself like a professional; fake it if necessary.

Which means one of two things about the highly trained legal minds of Corbett’s staff:

• They forgot the rules. Which doesn’t speak well of their legal acumen.

Or …

• They simply didn’t care.

Me? I’m betting on Option B. It’s easier for me to imagine that a bunch of dudes figured it was no big deal to break these rules in the service of a joke, and hey, if it makes a female coworker upset or feel degraded or even like she simply can’t break through to compete on an equal basis with the bros in the inner circle, well, why’s she gotta be so uptight anyway?

Which brings us back to Ray Rice.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said, except perhaps this: To me, the most shocking thing on the video wasn’t simply that he punched the woman he loved (supposedly) so viciously, but that he did so so casually — like he was swatting a fly or something. It was just too easy.

Men, we have to do better.

Where we’re in charge, we need to make a deliberate effort to bring deserving women into inner circles and cultivate an atmosphere that’s heavy on respect and light on dick jokes. Where we’re not in charge, we need to not (as so often happens) treat the female boss like a usurper who connived her way into the job. And in our relationships, men, we simply have to refrain from violence. Period. End of story.

It’s not 1960 anymore. We men have learned a lot about how to be less piggish than we were back in my grandfather’s heyday. As the events of the last week have shown, though, we still have a way to go.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.