The problem is bigger than one man’s inappropriate comment

Published 8:24 pm Friday, September 13, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Boyle County Magistrate Phil Sammons’ objectifying and sexist comments during a public meeting this week were the last straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

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While Sammons’ comments brought attention to a problem, the focus should not and cannot be only on what one man said to one woman one time.

All on its own, Sammons’ comment can seem tiny — an off-hand joke spit out with little intent and no thought. It’s just a single piece of straw.

“Come on, it was just a joke,” we can hear men saying each time another piece of straw lands.

“Lighten up.”

“I was just paying you a compliment.”

“Get over it.”

“Aren’t there bigger things to worry about?”

“Sorry you took what I said the wrong way.”

Every little comment can be dismissed in this way and set aside as insignificant on its own, even though when added together, they represent a horrible weight on the back of equality.

“This stuff happens every single day in one form or another,” a female Advocate-Messenger staffer said. “I’ve had many conversations with well-respected women in this community, and in other communities, about what they put up with. And it’s not all based on body parts — there are a multitude of bad habits that belittle a woman, whether men are aware they have those bad habits or not.”

Many men may feel like we’re painting them into a corner. But it’s a corner they’ve painted themselves into.

They frame their world like this: “Thirty years ago, I could compliment a woman and she would accept the compliment; today, she might get angry and then somehow I’m the bad guy.”

When you see the world like that, you wind up apologizing like this: “I’m sorry what I said offended you. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Sammons’ own apology is also a good example: “I understand my actions have caused embarrassment and for this I offer my apology,” his public apology reads in part.

It’s a pretty poor apology from someone who seems to have missed the point, and it ultimately dodges responsibility rather than accepting it — it suggests the issue is the offense taken, rather than what was said.

Men who view the world this way can believe they are misunderstood and others should try to see things from their perspective.

Many men need to reframe their world in a way that gets a little closer to reality: “Thirty years ago, I objectified and belittled women without thinking about it, and societal norms dictated that women should smile and take it. Today, women are more willing to speak up, which is bringing my bad habit uncomfortably into the light.”

If you see the world that way, you can grasp that you are the one who needs to see things from others’ perspectives. And you wind up with a better apology — something like: “I’m sorry for not treating you as an equal. I’m working to get better and change the way I think about women.”

Sammons’ comments should absolutely be condemned, but we should also pivot from this one instance of a man saying something inappropriate to address the larger culture that tells men it’s OK to talk to and treat women differently.