OPINION: Finally some progress on sexual harassment 

OPINION: Finally some progress on sexual harassment 

The 1960s was a decade of great change. You could see it in the changing fashions, from suits, ties and fedoras at the beginning of the decade to bellbottoms, tie-dye and, gasp, hair that fell below the ear. There were also great advances in civil rights, including those for women.

Changes were reflected in popular culture. As in, “you’ve come a long way, baby,” which is from a 1968 ad for cigarettes (Virginia Slims). A major cigarette manufacturer saluted women in the workplace and the women’s liberation movement by marketing a cigarette just for them.

Maybe they’d come a long way, but there remained a long way to go. The nation was in the height of the Cold War, and spy shows were replacing westerns as the celebrated genre. So along with “Gunsmoke” there was  “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (there was also “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” – notice that it was “girl” and not “woman”).

And then there was the James Bond franchise, with a hero whose drinking and sexual habits defied the laws of nature in his pursuit of the ultimate ideal of booze and broads — he also managed to find time to defeat villains who were various incarnations, or avatars as we would put it today, of Soviet communism.

Not all that long ago I watched — I guess it was on Netflix — part of a film from the Matt Helm series. Starring Dean Martin, it was a kind of spoofy riff on James Bond and other what you might call more serious spy stuff. There’s a scene in which Matt Helm is driving a  sports car on a winding road, and while he’s navigating the difficult turns he opens up a mini-bar strategically situated on the dashboard and mixes himself a drink. 

While the film may have been farce, it’s worth pointing out that this driving while drinking scenario was supposed to be cool. So was the less-than-respectful treatment of women in these films. A cavalier attitude was ever-present. All you need do is consider the names given to female characters in the James Bond franchise to get the point.

These trips down memory lane help provide context to deep-seeded cultural attitudes and to the significant changes that are now underway. I was reminded of them reading a comment that state Rep. Liz Linehan, of Cheshire, made to the Record-Journal recently: “We need to stand up together and, not just believe people who are accusing others, but also to say that this is a culture that we’re not going to stand for anymore.”

Of course she was talking not about a movie but real life. Linehan was relating a personal story about an early career in radio derailed by an incident of sexual assault. Hers joined an increasing chorus of similar stories.

And while celebrities and politicians grab the spotlight, these stories are not limited to them. Five female workers at a downtown Boston restaurant filed a lawsuit earlier this week, saying they endured continual groping and lewd comments from male supervisors and coworkers, and that their complaints to the company were ignored.

That there is growing awareness in general of the unfairness of gender-related mistreatment is reflected in a just-released National Public Radio poll, which found that almost nine in 10 Americans believe “a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment is essential to bringing about change in our society” (it can be found at NPR.com). This also does not seem in general to be a partisan issue, somewhat remarkable in today’s polarized political climate.

It’s nice to think that maybe we are, at long last, coming a long way.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.



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