A matter of perspective

America’s best-selling book genre is romance and, with only minor variations, all romance novels have the exact same plot:

  • Spunky Nicegirl’s life undergoes some kind of change that puts her at a disadvantage. Celt warriors kill her family and take her away to be a scullery maid; a wicked aunt sells her into frontier bondage to a lout; an office scandal unfairly ends her career and she is forced to move to a small waterfront town in New England to start over, where she meets haughty and insufferable Strongand Inscrutable.

  • Strongand Inscrutable roughly takes his pleasure with Spunky Nicegirl, then swaggers off to visit mayhem upon some bad guys.

  • Spunky Nicegirl hates Strongand Inscrutable.

  • It happens again. Spunky Nicegirl is furious. DAMN!! the fates that she needs Strongand Inscrutable’s help!!

  • Strongand Inscrutable again takes summary pleasure with Spunky Nicegirl, grudgingly allows that she may not be the most insufferable woman who has ever lived — he can’t decide, a rare moment of human uncertainty — then swaggers away and, at long and tedious last, vanquishes the bad guys.

  • Strongand Inscrutable and Spunky Nicegirl live happily ever after.

I’m thinking about these things as we enter the umpteenth day of the rolling chaos that is the #MeToo movement. I’ve lost track of all the men who have been accused, and all the victim accounts I’ve watched on television. Some are shocking, some are merely crass and juvenile and some, honestly, sound mostly like peevishness at not being treated like a little princess.

I’d put 32-year old Roy Moore’s behavior with a 14-year old girl in the shocking category; I’d put Al Franken’s behavior with a peer in the crass and juvenile category.

As the popularity of romance novels tells us, the indignant news ladies at CNN are not representative of all contemporary American women, and I suspect not even a majority. The problem is that we aren’t talking here about air pollution, about matters susceptible of objective measurement and determination; we’re talking about the vagaries of individual boundaries, the cultural background of both the men and women involved, and their private reads of the chemistry between them. Which is not to deny that some men are simply predators who ought to be shunned, or to deny that many women have legitimate grievances; I want merely to point out that relations between men and women are more complicated than a simple good/evil checklist.

And I’m glad I’m married and not dating nowadays.

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