Some years ago, a married woman of my acquaintance confided that a locally famous physician kept squeezing her thigh under the table at a dinner party. Actually, the fellow was famous for that, too. Removing his hand hadn't worked. She'd thought about stabbing him with a fork, but hadn't wanted to make a scene.
However, my friend also didn't appear to feel diminished, ashamed or "objectified," as people say. Apart from taking her assigned seat at the table, she'd done nothing to encourage him. He'd made his move; she'd ignored it. Her tone was one of bemused contempt verging upon pity.
If the survival of the human race depended upon her sleeping with Dr. Feelgood, she made clear, it would go extinct.
"What a total dork," she said. "I just feel terrible for his wife."
We wondered if such awkward passes ever got him anywhere -- doubtful -- and whether his wife was as oblivious as she appeared. Also whether he acted that way at the hospital -- pestering nurses, lab techs, interns, etc. If so, how long could he get away with it?
Apparently, not forever. Not long afterward, Dr. Feelgood's career took an unexpected U-turn, and then ended somewhat prematurely. People speculated, but there was nothing in the newspaper. Anyway, he wasn't seen as a villain so much as a fool. Good riddance.
If the foregoing sounds as dated as a Jane Austen novel, blame my advanced age. Sexual mores have mutated so much during my lifetime that it wouldn't shock me to see a return to the pre-birth control attitudes of the 1950s -- with pornography, of course.
Also with role reversal: Shaming wanton men instead of slutty women appears to be the newest participation sport among the literati.
(Historical note: In olden times, porn was considered degrading and shameful. A politician credibly reported to have paid hush money to a porn "star" would have had to emigrate to some Third World sh**hole.)
Like everything else, this is all Bill Clinton's fault, although ever the sentimentalist, he preferred amateur talent.
Anyway, for a while there -- basically post-birth control, pre-AIDS -- things got rather out of hand. Going on the road with a professional sports team was like joining the circus. I once got mistaken for a member of the Montreal Expos in a hotel elevator by a very polite woman who apologized and put her breasts back inside her blouse when I explained that I was a writer, not a relief pitcher. The same kinds of women's magazines that now publish angry manifestos by rival feminist cliques then published memoirs by famous rock groupies.
But I digress. In the wake of the Weinstein-O'Reilly-Halperin-Lauer-Rose unmaskings -- utterly indefensible, every one -- the going thing in New York journalistic circles appears to be bitter disputes about whether it's even possible to go too far in denouncing the male of the species. Also in Paris, I'm glad to say, if only because it lets me quote the French version of #MeToo. It's #BalanceTonPorc, which translates roughly to "expose your pig."
Led by the legendary actress Catherine Deneuve, French thinkers have formed warring camps alternately denouncing and declaring solidarity with each other in the traditional way.
Deneuve signed a manifesto opposing "the new puritanism," declaring that "the liberty to seduce ... (is) essential." She has since added that she "fraternally salute(s) all women victims of odious acts" who mistakenly thought her a rape apologist. What would the world do without French intellectuals?
Here in America, it appears that many of the daffier campus sex crusaders of recent years have since graduated and taken the fight to another level.
Item: The anonymous creator of an online spreadsheet titled "Sh**ty Media Men," purportedly exposing the sins of male journalists who'd allegedly mistreated women, freaked flat out when she (erroneously) feared that her identity was about to be revealed in Harper's Magazine. A great hullaballoo broke out, during which 20-something New Republic editor Moira Donegan outed herself. As near as I could tell, hardly anybody thought that unsourced, intimate denunciations of men by name -- essentially a middle school "slam book" updated to the Internet age -- were a problem.
Item: An online feminist journal called Babe published a pseudonymous, first-person account of a drunken one-night stand gone bad with comedian Aziz Ansari. The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan correctly characterized the thing as "3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari." Again, anonymously.
In this instance, a synonym for cowardly.
How long, do you suppose, before some aggrieved young Ivy League graduate is lugging a mattress around at the New York Times?
Then came Oprah Winfrey's star turn at the Golden Globes, cheered on by scores of Hollywood actresses expressing their vast moral indignation in black gowns cut dramatically to the navel.
Some of the time sex makes everybody silly.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org