On a topic such as this, normally I would begin with a disclaimer filled with flowery words about how much I respect women, but I’m not going to. Undoubtedly someone will intentionally misinterpret what I say here regardless of any carefully worded disclaimer, but if you really need it I’ll put it at the end.
For anyone with a pulse, it would not come as a shock that this country is in the middle of some very serious soul-searching in regards to the topic of sexual impropriety. A parade of Entertainers, Celebrities, Congressional Representatives, Presidents, and Political Candidates have been accused of every possible yucky thing one could imagine and I prefer not to. As the snowball of accusations has become an avalanche over the last few months, the rhetoric has followed suit. It’s time that we have a frank discussion about how these cases should be handled in the court of public opinion. I suggest that we develop a standard we can all agree on and my vote is for “The Romcom Standard”.
The “Romcom Standard” is simple enough to understand for even the most crazed partisan. Keep in mind this standard only applies to how we approach accusations on social media and other public forums. I am fully aware that in business, there are different standards for behavior in the workplace, and rightly so.
THE ROMCOM STANDARD
If the accusation could be a scene in a romantic comedy, it is NOT a sex crime and cannot be labeled as such. The scene may be inappropriate, distasteful, unwise, awkward, or any other adjectives that we use to describe situations that make us feel uncomfortable, but it’s not a crime. However, if the scene would change the genre from Romcom to Lifetime Channel Drama, that’s probably a crime.
Let me remind you of some of the rules of a Romantic Comedy
- Characters are allowed to be awkward yet not be labeled as “Creepy”.
- Making clumsy advances
- Saying inappropriate things in social situations
- Kissing someone at “the wrong time” or without permission
- Accidentally touching someones butt, breast or crotch area while reaching for something
- Characters are allowed to be Jerks but not “Predators”
- Powerful Men think that everyone wants them sexually until told otherwise
- Powerful Women think that everyone wants them sexually until told otherwise
- When told that their affection is not returned, they react with surprise and even annoyance.
- Characters are allowed to “make the first move” without being accused of Assault
- If they imagine there is chemistry
- If they imagine the other party is interested
- If they imagine they have recieved all the right signals
- If they feel sexual tension
- If they feel that a bold move will be rewarded
- Characters are allowed to have a healthy fascination with nudity and wanting to see such nudity within the confines of their ability to do so legally.
- Hanging out with playmates
- Enjoying the company of scantily clad women
- Sneaking a peak when a woman is changing and says turn around
- Generally being a “Horndog”
- Characters are allowed pursue a woman or man with whom they have an attraction, even when the attraction is not mutual.(Clearly I don’t mean stalking, but instead the common theme of winning the affection of a mate playing “hard to get”)
- Characters are allowed to make inappropriate jokes and statements to relieve social and sexual tension.(Although in some cases it actually backfires and creates more.)
- Embellishment of sexual deeds
- Bragging to other men and women of their prowess
- Boasting or exaggerating their prowess to other men or women when they think no one else is listening
- Using sexual innuendo either intentionally or unintentionally because of nervousness.
- Telling inappropriate stories because of misreading the crowd listening.
- Doing something inappropriate for a laugh
Let’s unpack all that with a real world examples.
Al Franken took an ill advised photo where he posed apparently groping a passed out woman in uniform. DUMB IDEA. Apply the Romcom Standard, and you would see that it is clearly not assault as per rule 6.
John Conyers is accused of submitting his female staff to unwanted nudity and repeated aggressive sexual advances while working in the US Congress. This would not fit into any Romcom I am familiar with, and therefore fails the test.
Roy Moore is accused of groping teens(BAD), and other lesser misconduct. The lesser misconduct would pass the Romcom standard, the underage groping CLEARLY would not.
President Trump is accused of kissing women without consent, walking backstage in miss teen universe contest which he owned, asking women out on dates multiple times, and various other assorted versions of “making a move”. With the information that we currently have, there is nothing to suggest that anything went beyond “making a move” that was not reciprocated, liking to look at naked girls to which he had access, and pursuing an uninterested party. Trump would pass the Romcom Standard. Inappropriate yes, criminal no.
People enjoy Romantic Comedies because they are an accurate(although slightly parodied) portrayal of how complex social interactions become with introduction of sex and attraction. They present a window into a part of life with which we are all familiar, but not necessarily comfortable talking about. It is a safe and detached way to make uncomfortable realities more palatable.
Somewhere along the way, society(Specifically social media) has compartmentalized what we know to be true about the complexity of relationships and what we are call sex crimes in gossip circles. Much of this is due to the hyper-polarization of politics, and the constant need to damage the other tribe. In our fervor to score political points we have muddied the water. All too often in a world dominated by social media, an accusation is the same as guilt. Lives and reputations are ruined overnight, with little thought put into whether or the charges are really even scandalous. People on both sides have been playing pretty fast and loose with the term “Sexual Assault” lately, and it is not a term we should use lightly. Turn on the TV and you will hear news people discussing “Groping Senators”, “Child Molester” Candidates, and a “Sexual Assaulter President”. All of the definitions are running together into one indistinguishable blob. A blob that will devour us all if we are not careful. When everyday interactions and mistakes of judgement become sex crimes and assault charges, there won’t be anyone left to stand guard outside the jail cells.
I look forward to what I assume will be calm, reasonable, and rational responses. HAHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAAHAHAHA
NOTE: I have deliberately left out any judgement to the innocence or guilt of the accused. Every person has the right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, just as every alleged victim has the right to have their story heard and taken seriously.
I have the utmost respect for women, and condemn in the strongest possible terms anyone who abuses or hurts women in any way, emotionally or physically. Anyone guilty of crimes against women should face the harshest punishment allowed by law.