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The passage of time and the influence of beer and cannabis have cast a fog over my recollections of most of the parties I attended during college. The night I made out with Amy, though, remains lodged in my memory. I was a year-old University of Houston student, brimming with unearned confidence, primed for an evening of revelry.
I arrived early and availed myself of the kegs. A couple of hours later, my friends were drinking and smoking and talking and laughing and dancing.
I was in the kitchen, smooching with Amy, a young woman I had fancied for some time. She was smart and funny and cute and friendly, and in this transcendent moment she was enthusiastically returning my kisses. I was aware that she had a boyfriend, a guy she lived with. I had met him once. I was uncharacteristically persistent, no doubt freed from my usual inhibitions by the beer and marijuana.
Eventually, she agreed to sleep with me, but the act was never consummated because we were unable to find a place with sufficient privacy. The party broke up, life went on, and Amy and I continued a friendly, if chaste, relationship. In the fullness of time we graduated and went our separate ways. Her words struck me like the jab of an accusing finger stretching back across more than four decades toward a Montrose kitchen.
Like a lot of men, I engaged in some reflection a few years ago when the MeToo movement prompted a reexamination of sexual consent and related issues. I was staggered by the sheer of men who seemed to be behaving badly. I had admired some of the well-known men accused of inappropriate conduct, including former U.
Al Franken and the actor Dustin Hoffman. I had always considered myself a feminist and, generally, one of the good guys.
Inevitably, though, I began to look at my own behavior and attitudes. I recalled a party I had hosted eight years earlier; when a young reporter I supervised arrived at my door, I impulsively gave her a hug. Now, I wondered: Had I crossed a line?
After considerable reflection, I was unable to muster any guilt over this hug, and I never got the impression that it made my colleague uncomfortable. But the fact that this casual interaction led, years later, to such self-scrutiny shows how deeply questions raised by the MeToo movement had affected me.
They continue to nag at me as new cases arise, including the latest involving former aides who have accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate comments and behavior.
Of course, all this introspection on the part of well-intentioned men could have some unintended consequences, such as awkward workplace relationships caused by fear that an innocent gesture — an invitation to a group for happy hour, say — might be misinterpreted. Consider the power dynamic reflected in the Cuomo case.
If you want the job, you put up with it. The accusations against Cuomo reflect one piece of a complicated array of behaviors encompassed in the MeToo movement. Yet these distinctions are not absolute; the lines blur. Where, then, does my encounter with Amy fit on this spectrum? When she pushed my hands away, when she reminded me about her boyfriend, she was saying no. At the time, I saw her words as part of a negotiation, almost a game. Of course I would never force myself on a woman, but being persistent was just part of the process, right?
The rationalizations for my behavior come easily. I was young and inexperienced. Both of us had been drinking and smoking pot. Times and cultural norms were different. Today, sexual consent education would have been part of our freshman orientation, and other students at the party might have been alert to any potential problems.
I remember one film that depicted a teenage boy who lusted after a girl in his class. The message was implicit, but still powerful: Sex was adversarial. Gladiatorial, even. The influence of my peers was no better. High school friends who had actually had sex — or claimed that they had — spoke proudly about getting girls drunk or breaking down their resistance with sweet words, empty promises or sheer determination. Any tactic short of physical force was considered appropriate. The forces that prompted MeToo have hardly been eliminated.
Lots of men, prominent and otherwise, continue to treat women badly. My hope is that more of my fellow male humans, on campus and elsewhere, will embrace a healthier vision of what it means to be a man — and behave better than I did on that long ago night in Montrose, when I neglected to heed a message that should have been perfectly clear.
Snyder is a Houston writer who retired from the Chronicle in after 40 years as a reporter, editor and columnist. The long-held 10 percent standard — with defendants or their loved ones paying a tenth of the bail amount to a private company — is not gospel anymore in Harris County and likely never was. By Nicole Hensley, Samantha Ketterer. Most Popular. Editorial: Vote yes on Prop 2.
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