Orlando Sentinel

Gender: A blame-all for the ills of society

By By Kathleen Parker
Commentary
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 28, 2000

When it comes to relations between the sexes, Ipso Facto and Ergo never had it so good. In the wake of the Central Park attacks, in which at least 20 drunken men mauled at least 50 strangers of the female persuasion, we've created a new irrational discipline wherein chasmic socio-gender conclusions are drawn from random deviant events.

Consider this recent male-authored contribution to the Forum section of The New York Times: "Most of the women I spoke with saw the attacks in the park as a logical extension of the public sexual harassment that has shadowed them throughout their lives, from grade-school playgrounds into middle age, up and down nearly every street in the city."

Maybe I grew up in the wrong city, but sexual harassment is not the story of my life. Nor is the recent horror in Central Park a logical extension of any theory, except perhaps that abusive behavior often accompanies excessive alcohol consumption.

But this isn't about alcohol abuse or despicable behavior among certain groups of people. This story is about gender, and we're sticking to it.

Anything harassing that involves the opposite sex is, ipso facto, a gender issue. Ergo, we should clearly see -- as the Times writer does -- the association between little boys pulling ponytails on playgrounds and the assaults on women in Central Park.

The Central Park rampage, in which roving gangs of young men assaulted women, dousing them with water and pulling off their clothes, is a despicable event. Hard to understand even. But does it represent the "extent to which harassment and violence against women have been normalized?" as the Times writer claims?

Throughout all society? Among all men? Or among this particular group, whatever it was. Black, white, Hispanic (the men reportedly were partying at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade), men from two-parent homes, recent immigrants who haven't learn to spell the word gender yet? Quien sabe? More important, who cares? This is about gender, didn't you hear?

Before my Hispanic friends launch a missile, I'm not pointing a finger at Puerto Ricans. People get tanked at the St. Patrick's Day Parade too. The point is, we don't know who these particular men were -- at least we're pretending not to -- only that most didn't have criminal records, which in some minds further girds the theory that men uniformly behave badly toward women.

Even more ridiculous than the broad assumption that this single event concisely characterizes the male-female dynamic in post-Cleaver America is the implication that we'd (ipso facto?) best nip male-to-female attentions at the earliest stages lest our little boys grow up to be rapists.

We've already glimpsed where such visionary thinking leads: A 3-year-old preschooler punished for hugging a girl; a 9-year-old arrested, handcuffed and fingerprinted for sexual harassement after brushing against a girl in the lunch line; a 6-year-old boy sent home for kissing a little girl on the cheek.

The Central Park melee was a nightmare for 50 women and a shame upon all who watched, especially the police. Ergo, the convicted deserve severe punishment, and maybe the bystanders do too.

However, though I understand the temptation to convert single events into cataclysmic social summaries -- newspaper lifestyle sections couldn't exist otherwise -- this episode probably tells us more about the relationship between alcohol and abusive behavior than it does about the sexes. Ipso facto, we should probably calm down on the gender thing.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Sunday in the Sentinel's Insight section. Also check out her Web site: www.KParker.com. She welcomes your views. Mail: The Orlando Sentinel, MP-136, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833. E-mail: kparker@orlandosentinel.com

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