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Sexual harassment isn't a partisan problem, it's a gender problem

When news broke last month about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct, I got a bunch of emails from people demanding to know why I hadn’t included Bill Clinton in a list of prominent men either outed or punished in the past year for similar behavior.

It’s a ridiculous, and revealing, question. Ridiculous because Bill Clinton’s transgressions don’t fit the year timeline, and revealing because it shows how many people still don’t get the scope of the problem, even as the claims mount against more and more men. “You mentioned Donald Trump, why not Bill Clinton!?!” — as if perversion is somehow partisan.

So let me clear things up: Yes, my political party is is filled with sexual harassers. My industry is also filled with sexual harassers, as is my childhood religion and my city, state and country.

But so are yours. That’s how big and how bad this is.

You know what’s not filled with sexual harassers? My gender.

Sure there are some weaselly women; I was harassed by a female line cook at a Baltimore restaurant years ago, and you may remember socialite Molly Shattuck’s assault on a teen boy. But they’re the exceptions to the rule. Men are the main perpetrators: Democrat, Republican, entertainer, priest, neighbor, journalist. Even when the targets are other men.

They’re the ones who most need to get it, yet some don’t even when they’re admitting it.

Kevin Spacey’s pathetic I don’t remember trying to assault a 14-year-old boy 30 years ago, but I’m sorry if I did, and by the way I’m a gay man Twitter post in response to allegations by actor Anthony Rapp is classic. “What?” He seems to ask with a shrug. “I was horny and drunk. This is totally normal behavior in that circumstance.”

Forcing a kiss on a colleague at an office party? Totally normal.

Unzipping your fly during a closed door meeting? Absolutely fine.

Brushing an arm across a breast “by accident”? A-OK.

No. No. No.

If you’re a straight man, imagine Kevin Spacey doing any of those things to you. Seem OK now? And if you’re a gay man, well, imagine me. Same point.

Appropriate behavior seems a hard lesson for many men to learn, for reasons my female brain cannot fathom. As I’m in a helpful mood, let me break it down in very simple terms. Just like you shouldn’t say every little thing that pops into your head, you shouldn’t act on every little sexual urge that pops into your pants.

Does that help?

Don’t misunderstand: I don’t want to get in the way of the rare case of true love blossoming at the office, I just want to slow it down so the logical next step isn’t pinning them into a passionate embrace, but maybe inviting the person out socially to get to know them better.

Seems reasonable.

Of course that will require some men to disabuse themselves of the fantasy that every smile is a come on and the possibility for passion lurks around every corner.

A few weeks ago, L.A. Times columnist David Horsey wrote a piece about how women need to know that not all men are alike, and certainly no one in his close circle of dozens of “accomplished” men “would harass a woman at work or sexually exploit a woman under his supervision.”

How naïve — first in thinking women needed this bit of wisdom from him (Gee, thanks! I had no idea most men were decent guys because, obviously, I’m female and therefore unable to judge the world based on my particular range of experiences!) and secondly in thinking his group is somehow wholly above it.

It’s funny how you can ask most any woman about sexual impropriety, and she’s experienced it; but ask many men, and they’ve never even seen it. It’s a selective blindness.

Mr. Horsey, incidentally, was forced to apologize last week for a column claiming White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders is not good looking enough for Donald Trump, describing her as a “slightly chunky soccer mom.”

But he gets it, right?

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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