I expect there are many grown-up men who behaved badly as boys and teens who now regret that behavior and would not dream of repeating it. I suppose there are many grown-up men who behaved badly as teens but don’t actually remember what-all they did, because part of the bad behavior was over-consumption of alcohol. This latter group can recognize bad behavior for what it is and avoid it and condemn it as adults. But memories of their own delinquency may be vague — clouded by booze, or deliberately suppressed. These men do not connect what happened then to who they are now, and so their first impulse is to deny or absolve themselves of anything they might have done. Boys will be boys, right? And under the influence of alcohol, combined with peer pressure and raging hormones, young men can do a lot of damage, and they do. Later, they may repent and turn over a new leaf. Their victims have a harder time getting over it and moving on. I think we can all agree on that.
We all make mistakes in our youth; hopefully we mature and change for the better over time. Society also changes over time. Maybe it’s not fair to judge actions of thirty or forty years ago against today’s mores. But some actions are bad, plain and simple, no matter the circumstance, like sexually assaulting and terrorizing someone. I think we can all agree on that. Men should know better, and boys should be taught better. Still, “back in the day” a certain class of men could do almost anything with impunity, and they did. And so did their sons, who learned that the repercussions of their bad choices or impulsive or drunken actions could be denied, rationalized, covered-up and otherwise minimized — at least for themselves.
Now we have a situation in which men of privilege who are seeking yet higher positions in business or government have been accused of molesting women in the past, in some cases very far in the past. A variety of debates ensue: Who is telling the truth? Why wasn’t the incident reported sooner? How do we get to the facts? Even if there is evidence to support the accusations of misdeeds long past, what are we supposed to do about them now? If the victim receives reparations of some kind, is that enough? Should the perpetrator be punished now for those bad deeds, even if he’s been a good boy for all these intervening decades? What if he can’t remember or refuses to admit the bad actions? What if we agree to overlook a singular error deep in the past, but more complaints surface?
I don’t have easy answers for any of those questions. But I do have this answer to the overall predicament: There are tons of good guys out there who never once assaulted or threatened a woman, no matter their youth, level of inebriation, or exposure to peer pressure. These gentlemen can be found in every walk of life, in every profession, and in every community. Now, if you were to assign all males to one of two categories, those who bully women and those who don’t, the non-bulliers would comprise the more desirable pool of potential employees and bosses. (I sure hope we can agree on that.) So, how about if we hire one of them; promote one of them; nominate one of them; elect one of them? Or, how about a woman?