This post replaces the post, “Girls”
There is no question that advantaged, White, Boomer boys grew up immersed in the stereotypes perpetuated by male Hollywood moguls. What we saw in movies may have contributed to inexcusable gender violence by Boomer male teens, and later, Boomer men, behaviors that inspired and required the #MeToo Movement.
What follows are personal insights and recollections associated with two events that occurred during the 1960s within the boundaries of the school district in which I then lived. They are not directly related to fraternity escapades at places like Duke University, videos and tales of a future President partying with Jeffrey Epstein, the abusive and sexist behaviors of Supreme Court nominees, the gender violence perpetrated by famous athletes against their wives and girlfriends, or the reprehensible behaviors of latter-day moguls.
To my knowledge, the following incidents have never been reported to authorities nor reported on by journalists: the statutory gang rape of an eighth grade girl by older boys on a 1963 summer afternoon in a suburban home; and an assault upon an intelligent and beautiful young woman of 18 on a cool August evening in 1967 that was committed by a handful of young men who used alcohol to stupefy the woman with the full intent of gang raping her.
The former violence was confirmed to me by boys I knew well–most of whose names are obscured in the fog of an aging memory–who had participated in, and/or had witnessed what had happened; the latter was confirmed by a good friend who had greeted me at the door of the house where the assault had begun in an upstairs bedroom, the house where I had been told there was to have been a party. My friend was on his way out because he was upset with what he had just witnessed. He warned me not to enter, and I left with him.
Having returned to college not long after that 1967 evening, I never learned whether the intended gang rape had been consummated, but on that evening, my friend and I discussed whether we should tell the young woman’s brother, who had been a classmate of ours, about what we knew had already occurred. We decided we would not tell him because we were afraid of what the brother might do to the perpetrators, nor did we notify the police. In other words, we were apparently more concerned about the well-being of the perpetrators than we were about the victim.
Gender violence, it seems to me, occurs not only because of the toxic, psychological pathology of male perpetrators; blame also lies at the feet of complicit cowards—like my friend and me—who might have done something on that 1967 evening.
These two instances of gender violence against girls who were classmates of mine at Cedar Cliff High School—I graduated in 1965—were likely the tip of a very large iceberg, the bulk of which was comprised of gender violence perpetrated by boyfriends and dates.
During the Sixties, “no means no” was not yet a mantra supporting empathetic, moral behavior; on the contrary, I can attest that growing up Boomer for some of us involved hearing more “experienced” boys extolling the importance of specific mixed drinks that made their girlfriends or “dates” more compliant. There had been a tone of toxic cynicism in the telling that had cast the girls’ (the victims’) protests of “no” and “stop” as something akin to hypocritical attempts to portray themselves as “good girls” in case those girls had decided to go “all the way.”
As near as I have been able to determine, there may have been at least 11,000 high schools in the US in the 1960s, and if my non-scientific sample of two victims in one high school is representative of what was happening across the country, that suggests the tip of the iceberg may have been in the neighborhood of 22,000 cases of gang rape across the country from 1963 to 1967.
However, the actual iceberg of gender violence is suggested by the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey: in 2019, the rolling five year average number of instances of gender violence of all types stood at 463,634 per year, with the vast majority of victims being young women and girls.
Given that the population of the US in 1965 was 59% of the population in 2019, and assuming the same rate of gender violence in 1965—and for the sake of argument, assuming the likelihood that boys in rut plowed through genuine protests of “no” and “stop” in 1965 at a rate at least equal to what is happening today—an extrapolation suggests the possibility that over 273,000 instances of gender violence may have occurred in the US during each year that I attended high school.
And yet, despite these possible numbers, during the decades since I graduated from high school, I have never overheard or been a part of a discussion among Boomer men (or women, for that matter) who shared their awareness of assaults similar to the gang rapes of which I was unequivocally made aware, things that had been discussed among boys my age shortly after those assaults occurred.
Have men of my generation selectively forgotten those kinds of events despite their being able to remember specific things that occurred (for example) before, during, and after the Cedar Cliff vs. Central Dauphin football game on Friday night, September 11, 1964? Or do we feel some sort of complicit shame at knowing we did nothing to stop the violence and/or had listened in rapt attention as perpetrators bragged about what they had done?
My original post, “Girls,” had been inspired one morning over coffee as I recalled the girls and women I had admired as a boy and young man, an admiration and appreciation which still endures. The prompt to revisit and rewrite the post was a recent 2021 interview between Terry Gross and Anita Hill on Fresh Air.
Minutes after the interview, I sat at my desk in my cellar Mantuary in Kennett Square and mused about my own experiences of having been victimized by the toxic masculinity associated with American Male Dominance, which led me to recall a few instances when, during my high school years—in what poets aptly call the heat of passion—I had come dangerously close to not accepting that “no meant no.”
At such moments, which were not rare growing up Boomer, there was something in addition to toxic male aggression that was problematic about what was happening on backseats, old couches in basements, and blankets in the woods: the responsibility for saying “no” was virtually always the province of the girl. She had to make a decision at the very moment when her biology—the product of natural selection that has only one biological goal: the survival of the species—floods her body with hormones that create a powerful and primal want, while at the very same moment she is in the arms of someone she does not want to “lose” who is pressuring her to submit.
A dozen years ago I encountered Carl Jung’s views on the mother complex and had other insights, which allowed me to understand that perhaps the behaviors of men—myself included, of course—reflect our frequent inability to see a woman as she really is instead of as a projection of what our subconscious minds suggest to us that she is. Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp has noted…
At the core of any mother complex is…a collective image of nourishment and security on the one hand, and devouring possessiveness on the other.
I assume that intimate encounters between boys-to-men and girls-to-women are driven by deep-seated emotional needs, but I also assume our biology does play a very important role. For example (and based upon my non-scientific sample of one), girls-to-women have a “look” that can pierce the barriers we boys-to-men construct to protect our fragile egos. It is a look that is both disarming and entreating, and therefore, so confusing that it has, on occasion, left me speechless.
Perhaps it is a look that touches our mother complex, a look that is suggestive of “nourishment and security on the one hand, and devouring possessiveness on the other.” Whatever the origin of the power, when that “look of love”’has been directed at me by a woman who I have come to admire and treasure as a friend, I am left, as already noted, almost speechless in that person’s presence, sometimes for years.
I know this observation is not original with me. In the Sixties, Hal David penned the following lyrics to a melody written by Burt Bacharach, which was entitled “The Look of Love,” and was first made popular by Dusty Springfield:
The look of love is in your eyes, the look your smile can’t disguise. The look of love is saying so much more than words could ever say, and what my heart has heard, well, it takes my breath away … You’ve got the look of love. It’s on your face, a look that time can’t erase …
Even Scientific American weighed in on the topic via a guest blog entitled, Learning the Look of Love: That Sly ‘Come Hither’ Stare, which brings me to cowardly male rationalizations. Isn’t the “look of love” something an accused, predatory male might use to justify assault?
“But your Honor, even though she said ‘no,’ she had this look of love that was ‘saying so much more than words could ever say.'”
Shall we all call “bullshit” on that rationale? After all, despite the very real pushes and pulls of human biology–unless one is psychotic and out of touch with reality–the vast majority of us know and understand what is right and what is wrong when it comes to human intimacy. Don’t decisions governing our individual behavior all come down to our personal understanding of, and willingness to practice, moral responsibility?
I do not pretend to know the degree to which the empowerment of women has impacted the dynamics of human intimacy among Millennials and younger folks. I suspect that “the existence of sexuality to which we are intentionally exposed every day in the media” may have some bearing on that. And then there is the matter of romantic love and the emotional and biological power that comes with it.
Looking back at the “memmries” of the way I was—the way I have been all of my life for whatever deep-rooted, emotional reasons there might be to explain it—it seems as though the pursuit of and the experience of being in love seem to have been more important than anything else in my life. No matter the challenges and pitfalls I have encountered during that search, what I have experienced being with my BFF for the past two+ decades allows me to confirm that, for me, searching for love has been well worth the effort.
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(The featured photos accompanying this post are copyright-free pictures published by Pixabay under Creative Commons Public Domain deed CCO.)