November 17, 2003

I had something disturbing happen to me the other day. A young woman in her mid-twenties who works near me stopped by to ask for some help. I helped her out and then suggested that in the future, if I wasn’t around, she might talk to a friend of mine — a man in his forties, married with kids — who works nearby. She told me that she was uncomfortable doing that because this fellow had recently invited her to work for him, and in the process had suggested that she could make a little more money by having sex with him.

The story stunned me at first, and then ticked me off — not only because I had always thought of this man as a good guy, but also because I had no doubt that this young woman was telling me the truth. She had no reason to make up a story like this. And the real reason that I believed her was because I know how guys are.

How do I know guys so well? Well I am one, obviously, and when it comes to the treatment of women I am not perfect, either. There are ways in which I have treated women over the years that make me feel ashamed.

But what my male friend did was not okay, or even close to okay. It’s called “predatory behavior,” and it left this particular young woman feeling uncomfortable in the workplace. No doubt, it also left her less comfortable with other men out in the world, too. And I believe I have a moral obligation to talk to my male friend about this, not just to tell him that he did something wrong, but to also remind him that this kind of behavior could get him into a whole lot of trouble.

When women ask me if all men really are dogs, I immediately change the subject. I do so because, to a degree all men are, in fact, dogs. I think that all men live on a scale of predatory instinct that ranges from well suppressed to outrageously expressed.

But that doesn’t excuse us guys from the human imperative that says that we have an obligation to be responsible for our actions, which should be ethical, moral and compassionate. That fact allows us to live together in civilized society.

The argument that there are certain instincts that are hard to modify is just another way for guys to say they just don’t want to bother. As we age, we learn to temper or flat-out suppress our spontaneous responses. It’s called “self control,” and we practice it all the time. We spend much of our lives living not by what we feel like doing, but by somebody else’s rules.

We are human, and we all have the gift of self-awareness and the capacity to make choices about how we act on what we want, need and feel. Being human, we blow it at times — myself included — but being responsible, we don’t make excuses for screwing up. We just accept that we screwed up and hopefully learn from it.

While I was thinking about this small incident, the outrageous story of the “Green River Killer” in Washington State entered my mind. Here’s a man, who, over the course of twenty years, murdered at least forty-eight women. He’s what they call a “serial killer.” “Serial killer” doesn’t say enough, because the fact is that many serial killings are about men brutalizing and slaughtering women.

No doubt, somewhere along the line, at least part of his plea bargain or sentencing plea will be insanity or diminished capacity — his defense team will float the notion that he was acting on an irresistible impulse.
I wouldn’t be surprised that if I spoke to my male friend about his hitting on this young woman, he might respond that he was terribly sorry that he had done it, that he wasn’t really thinking and it was, well, an irresistible impulse.
There’s still no excuse for it. In a civilized society, we simply have to be responsible for our own actions.