Adam and Eve

There was a problem between man and woman right from the start. Even with no other humans around, life wasn’t so hunky-dory for Adam and Eve. There clearly was trouble in Paradise. After all, how was it that a serpent wielded more powers of persuasion over Eve than either God or Adam, her partner?

But there’s more. Both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (though he blamed her!). And “their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). I’ve never understood this line. They were alone in the Garden of Eden. They were husband and wife. They were naked. So what? Why were they embarrassed to be naked? Why did they hide from God and rush around to create loincloths from fig leaves? What changed? As we know, the Bible isn’t only literal. Figuratively speaking, the couple’s newfound knowledge exposed them to an awareness of their own guilt, shame, vulnerability, and imperfection…they lost their trusting naiveté. And so, thanks to the lack of trust and insecurities, the battle of the sexes began.

*     *     *

Danielle Berrin – a Jewish journalist, published the article, My sexual assault, and yours: Every woman’s story, in the Jewish Journal last week. She shared a detailed account of how she was sexually violated by an “accomplished journalist from Israel” during his national book tour two years ago.

Today, in The Times of Israel, the headline read, Journalist Ari Shavit admits he’s accused of assault, apologizes for ‘misunderstanding.’ The married husband and father, who has an “arrangement” with his wife, chalks up the situation to a “misinterpreted interaction.”

And there you have it. The classic she-said-he-said.

Only Berrin knows why she didn’t report the assault when it happened. Was she afraid? Ashamed? Naïve? Was she really worried about her career? Regardless, she did not deserve the treatment she received.

Only time will tell if Shavit will pay the price for his misconduct. Even if he and his wife have an agreement, and even if other women willingly or eagerly hooked up with him over the years, he has no right to abuse his fame or potential influence. If he thinks his apology will put an end to it all, he’s greatly mistaken.

*     *     *

Men have treated me with respect by and large. However, I have my own share of stories to the contrary. During my days at IBM, I worked with male colleagues who were “politically incorrect” frequently. When I had my own consulting firm, some clients were far from subtle on what it would take for me to win their business. Even more upsetting was the time I was propositioned and hassled by an elderly member of my own synagogue when I was president of the board of trustees. Sometimes I simply shrugged off an offense, but when necessary I called in reinforcements.

While I can rationalize and feel fortunate that my negative encounters “only” fell into the category of “mild” sexual harassment, I certainly wouldn’t want my daughter, friends, or female colleagues to go through anything similar. And, even though it’s been said that times were different when I entered the job market over thirty years ago, I know it’s not true. Power plays and inappropriate behavior still find their way into all spheres of life.

So where’s the line? What’s the distinction between annoying, unwanted advances and downright assault? The truth is, we know the difference. We know what a mutual, consensual interaction is versus a one-sided one. We know that “no” means “no.” We know that many in positions of power abuse trust, so we must be vigilant. The unwilling victim must stop chiding herself for finding herself in the uncompromising position to begin with, and must come forward and report it.

We may be the more vulnerable sex, but we don’t have to be weak and defenseless. If we want these situations to end, we must end them.

 

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