Unprovoked and awful charges - even so the she-bear fights – Rudyard Kipling
In 411 BC, the war between the Athenian Delian League and the Spartan Peloponnesian League, which had resumed three years previously after the Peace of Nicias finally fell apart, reached its twentieth year. Things were not going well for the Athenians. During the break in the fighting with Sparta, Alcibiades, the leader of the Athenian war party, talked the Assembly into sending a fleet to Sicily, ostensibly to support their allies, but with the goal of conquering the island. The same Nicias who had negotiated the peace with Sparta, in an attempt to dissuade them from doing this told the Assembly that a much larger force would be needed than what they originally intended, but with the only result being that they enlarged the armada and put him in charge, along with Alcibiades and Lamachus. Once there, the generals decided to begin their campaign by establishing a base and launching an attack on the strongest Sicilian city-state, Syracuse. Before the siege began, Alcibiades, who had thought up this strategy, received a summons ordering him to return to Athens to stand trial on charges of the desecration of sacred statues. He opted to flee instead and defected to Sparta. In his absence, the siege of Syracuse did not go well, Lamachus was slain, and Nicias sent away for reinforcements. Athens sent the reinforcements, led by Demosthenes, but this made things worse as the fighting with Sparta, now backed by Syracuse, resumed shortly thereafter and the Sicilian Expedition ended in total disaster for Athens with the loss of most of their ships and the enslavement of their men.
Ultimately, this would cost them the Peloponnesian War, but in 411 the decisive loss to Lysander of Sparta at Aegospotami was still six years away. It was at this point that Aristophanes, the master of Attic Old Comedy, introduced a new play. The play is called the Lysistrata, after its main character, an Athenian woman who with the help of her Spartan counterpart Lampito, persuades the extremely reluctant women of Greece to go on a sex-strike and withhold sex from the men until they agree to stop the war. It is not easy for her to convince the women to either agree to this or to stick to the plan once they have agreed to it. Contrary to a popular misconception, it is women rather than men who are by far the most obsessed with sex, a fact of which Aristophanes was well aware, and which he exploited to its full comic potential.
What makes the Lysistrata so hilarious is that the title character succeeds in her plan to end the war despite her use of a strategy that would almost universally be perceived – it certainly was so seen by her creator – as utterly undoable. There is an old quip, that has been variously attributed to Ann Landers, Henry Kissinger, and a host of others although it appears to be older than all of them, that the battle of the sexes can never be won because there is too much fraternizing with the enemy. It is, however, the current year, and perhaps it is time that the idea of a sex strike be seriously considered – not by women, but by men. Indeed, it is starting to seem necessary not for the purpose of attaining any political end but for survival. This is due to the “Me Too” movement that insists that we treat every Potiphar’s wife as if she were Lucretia. Just be clear, the Lucretia in the last sentence is she of ancient Rome, who committed suicide to protect her honour after her rape by Sextus Tarquinus and not her considerably less virtuous fifteenth century namesake, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who was as ruthless, conniving and bloodthirsty as her brother Cesare Borgia, of whom Machiavelli’s Prince was a verbal portrait.
Indeed, there is evidence that just such a sex-strike is in its beginning stages. The ever fabulous veteran actress and author Dame Joan Collins, in her latest Diary for The Spectator remarks that “if these accusations towards men continue much longer, I fear a major decline in population growth in the near future.” She demonstrates that this fear is not unwarranted by concluding her column with the following illustration:
A 30-year-old single man informs me that he wouldn’t consider dating because he was too scared of being accused of inappropriate behaviour or of being ‘named and shamed’ by social media or the Twitterati. ‘I go out with the guys, drink beer and watch box sets,’ he said ruefully, ‘and friends are doing the same. We’re scared of the #MeToo movement and of being accused of sexual harassment and worse if we even tell a girl she’s pretty.’ ‘In my day we called it flirting,’ I told him.
Today, the line between “flirting” and “sexual harassment” is extremely blurry, making it potentially hazardous for any man to approach or otherwise show interest in a woman. American Vice President Mike Pence was mocked about a year ago for his policy of refusing to dine alone with women other than his wife. The Atlantic published a piece that claimed that this policy “hurt women” using the same tortured excuse for logic that the courts have been using since the 1970s to admit female reporters to men’s locker rooms – the reverse has now been accomplished on entirely different but even more absurd grounds – and to force private clubs to abandon “men only” policies. Vox posted an article claiming that this was “probably illegal.” The New Yorker ran a piece entitled “Mike Pence’s Marriage and the Beliefs That Keep Women From Power.” Each of these, incidentally or not, was written by a woman. Half a year later, l’affaire Weinstein broke, the “Me Too” movement was launched, and all of a sudden it was a lot more difficult to laugh at Mike Pence.
Rape, of course, is a serious crime – and it has been treated as such from time immemorial. Undoubtedly it is immoral and sleazy for an employer, whether he be a Hollywood producer, a corporate executive, or a Cabinet Minister, to offer to advance a woman’s career in exchange for sexual favours. It is just as immoral and sleazy, however, for a woman to accept the offer – and it is by no means the case, far from it, that it is always the man who initiates this sort of exchange. “Sexual harassment” is the preferred charge of the “Me Too” movement precisely because it is so vague and hazy. Virtually any attention that a man shows to a woman qua woman can be interpreted as sexual harassment if the woman so chooses.
Apart from their preference for the comparatively hazy charge of sexual harassment over those of long recognized sexual crimes and misdeeds with more concrete definitions, the “Me Too” wave of feminism insists that accusations be believed on the say so of the accuser, even in a dearth of supporting evidence and if the accusations pertain to events that took place decades previously. Potiphar’s wife would undoubtedly approve. This is a total assault on justice, that is to say true justice, at least as the term has traditionally been understood in the English-speaking world, and not the spurious contemporary substitute that is called “social” despite being utterly corrosive of society, its institutions, and, as we are seeing in feminism, ordinary social interaction between the sexes.
Eventually, the totally irrational and irresponsible “Me Too” movement is sure to self-destruct. Before this happens, however, there is no telling how many lives and careers it will ruin, to say nothing of the damage it will inflict on the fabric of society and relations between the sexes.
In the meantime, in the interests of self-preservation, men need to consider, at the very least following the example of Mike Pence. A reverse Lysistrata strategy would, however, be more effective in securing the downfall of the enemy. It is true that a strategy that eliminates the procreative act has the potential of resulting in a Pyrrhic victory, but women are far more likely to cave against such a move then men. So perhaps the answer to the “Me Too” movement is for men to tell the fairer sex, “futuete vos ipsos”, not as a crude expletive but practical advice, because they are for the time being no longer willing to do it for them.
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