Sex has always been a staple of US politics. In recent times, however, this subject has gripped that country in an interestingly new way.
After American voters ignored allegations of sexual misconduct against candidate Donald Trump by over one dozen women to elect him president, a rash of similar allegations continues to test the sensitivity of America’s prudish soul.
Just before Christmas, Roy Moore, a conservative two-time judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, lost the Republican ticket for the US Senate, partly because of allegations of sexual misconduct, which he continued to deny.
He’s opposed to gays and homosexuals and is also said not be fond of minorities and people of other faith, especially Muslims.
Of all his transgressions, however, the one that haunted him most was the allegation of sexual misconduct by nearly one dozen women.
A number of the women, who said they were then between the ages of 14 and 16, said Moore molested them when he was 32 and district attorney.
Painting pictures that made Moore look more like the district randy goat than an attorney, it appeared that neither those whom he gave a lift in his car nor those who came to his office for counsel were safe from his predatory reach.
While America was still digesting the Moore story, a radio presenter accused Democratic senator, Al Franken, of groping her while she was asleep in a military aircraft on a trip to Afghanistan. The picture of Franken lounging at the breasts of the presenter and grinning at the camera at the same time was truly Frankenstein; yet the senator said it was meant to be a joke.
Before Moore and Franken, there was Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood super stud and multi-millionaire who built a sprawling business empire as proof of his ingenuity but failed to keep his zip up or manage his testosterone.
And there was also Ben Afleck, the Oscar-winning actor and director who was caught pants down as he was mocking the fallen Weinstein.
Perhaps there was a time when America would have been nearly unanimous in condemning the sexual predators, swamping them in wave after wave of public outrage, as it happened in previous episodes involving Elliot Spitzer in 2008 or Gary Hart nearly a decade earlier.
In his own case, Bill Clinton rebounded, but only by the skin of his teeth.
Today’s America is different, very different. Trump will get away with a Lewinsky, unscathed and tweet about the act the next day.
With a sexual-predator-in-chief as president, there appears to be a shift toward a benign, even benevolent, attitude to sexual misconduct. While the Moore-Franken case lasted, for example, Trump was quick to mock Franken for lecturing about morality when his hands were not clean, insisting that it was up to Alabama voters to decide Moore’s fate.
And believe it or not, there were many who insisted that Moore lost not because of the sex scandals but because voters didn’t like the fact that he had been removed from office twice and was fiddling with funds from his religious charity.
While the liberal media are scratching their heads over the morality of the Trumpian age, the motives of the victims or the “Me-too-ers” – women who come out after the first allegation of sexual misconduct has been made – have come under severe scrutiny.
If they were too weak, afraid and vulnerable at the time of the incident, why did they wait until decades later – often until the alleged perpetrators are on the verge of a watershed moment in their careers – before coming out? What real risk did a radio presenter, for example, face in coming out to speak up against a predator at the time of the incident?
A number of the victims have said they’re not coming out from a vindictive motive or for the money. They just want to bring closure to a very difficult period in their lives and hope that by coming out other victims may also find the strength in numbers to come out and be truly healed.
A country that elected Trump as president – warts and all – and which in fact believes that the warts are largely a creation of the spiteful liberal media, can hardly be expected to take latter-day confessions of sexual harassment seriously.
That does not mean that the younger generation of Americans, especially blacks and other minority males, are not learning any lessons.
As attitudes that used to be regarded as “normal” display of masculinity in social relationships are being called to question, men would have to reset amorous boundaries or risk crossing a dangerous line.
The Bukar Ibrahims in Nigeria’s Senate do not have to worry about this trend. When the Deputy British Prime Minister, Damian Green, was forced to resign just before Christmas on allegations that the parliamentarian had been very busy watching pornography on his official computer in 2008, I’m told that a Nigerian lawmaker laughed it off as evidence of “joblessness” in Whitehall.
But if our senators ask their cousins in the House of Representatives, who had an unforgettable experience on a trip to the US, they would know that in a globalised world, trouble is only one flight away.
The rich and powerful could be at risk not only in cases of non-consensual sex, but even in consensual sex.
Take the recent case of a student doctor on the other side of the pond, for example. According to a story in the Daily Mail, Philip Queree, a student doctor, was convicted of indecent assault for grabbing the breasts of his consenting lover too hard in bed.
Even though it was the second time the pair was having consensual sexual intercourse after meeting on a dating site – and the second time specifically at the instance of the lady – she later went to court, complaining that Philip had grabbed her breasts too hard and “left her in tears.”
Poor Philip! Who, in his state of mind, would remember to mind, much less measure the intensity of a grip?
Yet, the judge, a woman, ruled that apart from enrolling the student doctor on a sex offenders’ list, he also had to do 180 hours of community service and pay a fine of £2,000. On top of this misery, he might yet be struck off the practitioners’ roll.
It’s not unlikely that in the not-too-distant-future, women would be wearing a chip, as part of their normal fashion accessory; the same way police officers now wear body cameras in some countries. That would make any case of sexual predation tighter and the evidence even more formidable.
Until then, however, the rich and powerful might be well served to remember what their mother told them: take a woman’s no as no, even if that woman is your wife.
– Azu Ishiekwene is the managing director/editor-in-chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network