Sometimes it’s useful to remember a song wrong.
I was certain that the first line of “As Time Goes By”—the anchoring song many remember from the movie Casablanca—begins with the line, “A kiss is just a kiss.”
Actually, the line is “a kiss is still a kiss,” which is not the meaning I needed.
I’ve been reflecting on the avalanche of abuse we have learned about in the past year, thanks to the bravery of women and the support of the #MeToo movement.
The full extent of men’s abuse of women who are often younger, less powerful, and emotionally or financially dependent is not yet known.
Abuse is screwed into the frame of the patriarchy. Top males so often exert their power over people they perceive to be weaker. Once, it was slaves.
But in the midst of all this, my mind keeps turning to “A kiss is just a kiss.”
This is not hypothetical.
The other night I went out to dinner with a man I’ve known for years. He’s never been a close friend or a lover, and I felt skeptical when he told me eight months ago that he was selling his house and his business and taking off in a thirty-five foot RV with a woman he’d met dancing and known for short while.
It didn’t work. She was bored and lonely—visiting this man’s friends and family all over the country is not a recipe for happiness, nor is being closed up at close quarters (even in a thirty-five foot gas guzzling monster) likely to be endurable in the long run.
The man was very calm about it all, and insisted that they had come to a reasonable agreement to separate with no hurt feelings on either side. That’s not the reality of a break-up, in my point of view, but anyway…
Which brings me to the incident in question.
When he dropped me off at my house after dinner (we split the bill), this man, without asking permission or even sensing whether the attention was wanted, kissed me fully on the mouth. No tongue, thank God.
I said nothing but I have thought a good deal about it ever since.
Why did he kiss me? I have no idea. It was an unearned, meaningless intimacy—but it was not the first time, and he will be sure to repeat it if I see him again, which I probably will. After all, he is a human being although completely unaware of his own emotions or of his impact on other people, especially women.
But—and here’s my main point: I did not feel violated.
I was bored and turned off, that’s all.
That’s the reason I didn’t protest. It would have been like protesting a mosquito bite. In a way, it would have meant according more meaning to his foolishness than it deserved.
Perhaps this is because I was a girl at a time when men felt completely free to grab, snatch, pull up my dress, or slap me—including one of my brothers. I was frightened, then, and felt helpless and exposed—although still not violated. My only experience of actual assault roused righteous anger in me—this was at college—my immediate complaint to a dean and appropriate punishment for the student who had knocked me into the shrubbery.
Girls may escape some of this, now, but something like one woman in three will still experience assault during her life.
So I’m beginning to feel that we can’t afford to be so easily violated. After all, a kiss is just a kiss. Of course I’m not talking about rape or the steps leading up to rape.
But is it worth ending the career of a long time Democratic senator who has espoused issues vital to women because he did something foolish and unasked-for years ago? Getting rid of individual abusers will not fix the problem.
We are up against the stone face of the patriarchy: as long as white men possess most of the power, they will take advantage of women who they think have less. It has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It’s just the modern version of the old Law of the Jungle. Only the dismantling of male power, or the already happening dramatic increase in the power of women—financial, emotional, physical, legal—will end it.
In the meantime, wouldn’t we be better served by laughing in their faces?