In the course of the oh so drawn out coverage of General Petraeus’ affair with his biographer various commentators recently have used the phrase “men will be men” and spoke of the difficulty men have when they don’t have access to “adequate” sexual release. Even the female reporters seem all too comfortable with this conventional argument.
Reference was made on NPR’s ‘Forum’ show today to “comfort women” who were in fact forced sexual slaves conscripted to service Japanese soldiers (we don’t even speak of how our military achieved this). This is patently offensive. Conflating a sexual affair with sexual slavery is problematic to say the least. And reviving the 1950s norm of laughing off men’s sexual exploits as endemic to their gender is regressive and equally offensive to both men and women.
In the 1950s take on this issue the implicit assumption was that men need regular sexual release and that without it they cannot be expected to function fully as men. Of course sexual release in our prudish society cannot include masturbation, pornography, etc. due to the ‘immoral’ content of these methods. And using these immoral methods somehow make them less than men. So the only option is to have women available (our current liberal attitude would require that men be made available as well) to provide the sexual services “required” (I think the word should be “requested”) by our hard-working men (no pun intended).
If we are aware of this “need” why have we not provided for it? With the best funded and most advanced military in the world how could we have missed this apparently essential factor? Where are the medical and security cleared prostitutes providing this maintenance? How can we put our military might and national security be put at risk by our failure to provide this needed service?
Well I think that there are various factors at play here. One is the celebrity factor, one that still successfully protects sexual perpetrators such as the high-profile Jimmy Savile in Britain and our own Coach Sandusky. Another factor is economic and procedural utility. When perpetrators are needed as generals, soldiers, coaches, DJs, CEOs, etc. they get a pass by having their behavior overlooked or covered up. And last is inertia. Behavior that has gone on and continues to go on is automatically attributed to be necessary and unchangeable so no effort is made to do so.
What of the men and women who despite their lack of access to adequate sexual contact do not have affairs or victimize children or co-workers but still do their jobs well? Are we to believe that everyone behaves the same way? I don’t think so. But clearly people who maintain appropriate boundaries and adhere to vows and moral codes are apparently of little interest to society as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to demonize everyone who has had an affair or a failure of their moral ideal. It’s not nice but it’s also not necessarily the kiss of death to one’s moral worth unless, of course you have committed a crime in the process. Human beings have weaknesses but it is important that we don’t so readily reinforce them. And I know many people (men and women) who are able to manage their sexuality and do their jobs without compromising their values or promises. I just think it’s time we revisit this little truism and reinforce behavior which meets our moral ideals.