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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Cock Goes Up the Brain Goes Down—Stupidity in the Workplace

One of my favorite comedy routines is Bill Cosby’s “Chickenheart.”  It is magically funny and when I first heard it in my 20s I laughed as hard as I ever laugh.  Even after repeated hearings over decades (I introduced my son to it in 1976 and he loved it) it remained a comedy favorite.  Listen for yourself: .  But once Cosby was accused by 58 women (to date) of sexually abusing them (typically by drugging their drinks and then making love to their limpid bodies) I dropped my attachment to “Chickenheart.” Its humorous bubble had burst and this once funny routine had no appeal shorn of the innocence that made it so endearing.  

I’m a liberal Democrat and I’ve admired Al Franken first as a very funny member of Saturday Night Live and then as an enlightened politician working hard to do the right thing in a suddenly ugly world.  But when multiple women described his childish sexual handling of them (eight at last count), I reluctantly realized he thought sexual assault when done in a clowning manner is less offensive than the cruder slam/bam/got-you/ma’m.  Recently I’d been listening to him read aloud his “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate” as an audio book, but deleted the unheard part when it lost its luster, vanishing like “Chickenheart” from my life.

The list of famous men with sexual IQ’s near zero goes on: Harvey Weinstein (king of Hollywood producers), Keven Spacey (one of the finest actors), our President (spectacular asshole), etc. but the story has only uninteresting variations.  Every day the national and local news report more culprits whose libidinous misdeeds, years old or only yesterday, are suddenly ruining their careers (political, corporate, cultural, athletic), and destroying the projects and businesses associated with them. Why now?  In late 2017?  This odious behavior, after all, has been going on since the caves and we all more or less knew it.  “Boys will be boys,” and “Men are pigs” are popular sayings, and here are other quips making the same point: 

Men are those creatures with two legs and eight hands.” ~ Jayne Mansfield; “Boobs are the proof that men can focus on two things at once”; “Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.”  ~ Mae West; “If women had any idea, even for a second, how we really looked at them, they would never stop slapping us.” ~ Dr. Katz.

As the aforementioned Keven Spacey proves, it’s not just straight men who have major trouble controlling their sexual urges.  Men, straight or gay, can be real jerks when it comes to sexual matters.  There is a widely circulated rumor that men think about sex every seven seconds, but actual studies show that is a major exaggeration. Results vary but the ultimate conclusion seeming correct is that men think about sex at least twice as often as women do; see  Men, as a whole, also tend to like pornography, while women, as a whole, do not (a fact that I’ve blogged about before; see “Men, Women, and Pornography,” December 10, 2010;  None of this is to say that there are not women who are every bit as much focused on sex as the men listed above.  We all have known sexually charged women capable of the same idiotic conduct currently causing headlines, and some of them are the focus of their own recent news stories.  But such out-of-control women are rare compared to the prevailing avalanche of idiotic men.  One reason, of course, is that more men are in positions of power, but I think there’s a scientific explanation why men would still be the primary culprits even if the power balance were equal.

As I said in that blog post I believe evolution explains much of what is really going on here.  Men find spreading their seed easy, and multiple partners, willing or not, enhance the survival of their genes.  Here are a few paragraphs from that post:

Men are pretty liberal when it comes to sexual encounters because evolution encouraged them to spread their seed widely. . . .

Genetically women are hard-wired to be much more selective when it comes to sexual matters. Women, after all, must worry about pregnancy, and evolution punished promiscuity in women harshly. Since human females can become pregnant at any season of the year, evolution produced women who are cautious about sexual activity, who choose their mates based on a lot more than beauty or mere availability. A woman's sexual partner had better be a steady and responsible type who will be around in nine months and who can provide and care for any family that might be coming. As civilization has developed protections against pregnancy, modern women have become more sexually adventurous, of course, but that doesn't change the hard-wiring, nor the fact that most women want romance to play some part in sexual encounters.

One of the most illuminating letters I've ever seen about this was written by a lesbian to a gay news magazine. She scolded the editors this way: "Let's stop talking about sex in public places as a 'homosexual' problem—it's not. It's a MALE problem. Straight men would have sex in parks if straight women would meet them there."  She's absolutely right; and note that no news story has ever complained about lesbians in the bushes.
Common experience tells us what I've said above is so. Prostitutes are almost always women in the straight world, men in the gay male world, and a lesbian hooker would starve to death. Nuns handle vows of chastity much better than priests do. Men love orgies; women, as a group, do not. Many gay men have hundreds, sometimes thousands of sexual experiences; lesbians bond frequently but as a group do not casually fall into bed with the next woman who comes walking by. The old jokes go like this: (1) “What does a lesbian bring on a second date?” Answer: “A U-Haul.” (2) “What does a gay man bring on a second date?” Answer: “What second date?” A study, published in a book entitled “American Couples” concluded that long-term gay male couples often allowed some sort of extra-marital sex, and rarely broke up because of violations of rules as to sexual encounters. Straight couples could also frequently weather a man cheating, but had more frequent breakups if the woman was the non-faithful partner. Lesbians, amazingly, broke up more often than the others because their relationships demanded fidelity, and even slight deviations tended to destroy their unions. Phrased another way, put a man in the picture and it's predictable he'll treat sex casually in a way women do not.

But why would any man (or the occasional woman) take sexual advantage of another in a professional situation which could ruin him/her if discovered?  The obvious answer is that sexual desire is so strong that it can overwhelm common sense.  For most people a sudden encounter with someone very sexually desirable throws the brain/body into major confusion.  Say you are walking down a street and suddenly coming toward you is someone who is your perfect “type”: a stunning figure whose appearance causes a sexual rush to infuse your entire body.  You may have trouble not staring, and if you’re walking with someone else and talking, lose completely the ability to make intelligent conversation.  I one time walked into a parking meter.  Sexual desire can make fools of us all.  

Were you to encounter this exciting person at work, this same desire will cloud your every encounter with him/her.  I have a good friend, happily married and much respected in his chosen profession, who had this problem for years with one of the women who he had to deal with professionally on a daily basis.  “I would sit in meetings around a large table, and if she was present, I was glad that the table would conceal my more-or-less constant hardon,” he confessed with a rueful smile.  Happily nothing came of this sexual infatuation, but it did complicate his professional life.  I’ve been a law professor for almost fifty years, and I’ve certainly had students in my class from time to time who were (in my opinion) sexually stunning.  I also have both a healthy sexual drive and high professional standards.  I won’t pretend it was easy to treat a student who produced this reaction in me as if he were identical to all the other students.  It was sometimes very difficult and took concentration on, say, the details of the Uniform Commercial Code or today’s assignment, rather than how his appearance made me momentarily weak in the knees.  Fortunately I am also a trained actor, and I dare to say that none of my students ever detected any unusual interest in them.  I believe I controlled my facial expressions and certainly never did anything untoward.  If I’m wrong about this, and some former student reading this thinks he in fact detected what I was thinking, I’d rather not know that.  None of us want to know that we made fools of ourselves.  I did my best.

In my novel, Corbin Milk (available on Amazon), one of the characters struggles with this very problem and succumbs to his desires, making inappropriate advances to Corbin, a CIA agent working under him.  This is a major element of the plot and leads to a big blowup.  In the book, one character explains what happened by saying that “When the cock goes up, the brain goes down.”   

 Unfortunately this is frequently true, and when it occurs in the workplace where it’s combined with the power to intimidate an underling, the cock too often goes into overdrive and the brain is reduced to organic jelly.  The aggressor may subsequently feel remorse and then swear to be a better person in the future, but in many cases, I suspect, he merely justifies his action in some creative way (“She encouraged it,” “She shouldn’t dress like that if she doesn’t want attention,” “She secretly liked it, I can tell,” etc.).  I’ve also written before about the brain trick called “confabulation,” which is the amazing ability we all have to rewrite whatever really happened in a way that’s complete fantasy but which, in our minds, will in the future be enshrined as absolute fact; see “We Are All Brian Williams: Confabulation Muddles Our Stories,” April 20, 2015;  Confabulation helps the sexual aggressor, in time, rewrite the story as an internal memory so that he can live with the incident and even feel happy about the new and improved version.  Over the years confabulation might work its magic so that Roy Moore actually believes he didn’t touch those young girls, or that they were much older than they currently claim they were.

The answer to sexual attraction in the workplace is simple to reveal, but difficult to execute: cut it out, damn it!  It has no place there.  Yes, he/she is the sexiest thing you ever saw!  Get over it!  Control yourself!  I know this is hard—see above where I describe it happening to me—but we all need rules in our lives and this is an important one.  If you mess this up it can ruin you—RUIN YOU!  Just ask Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and the thundering herd of jobless ex-titans now in the news.  Forcing your sexual attention on someone under you is not just professionally stupid, it is morally wrong, and I like to think most of us care a lot about our moral responsibilities.  Certainly the world around us will make that moral judgment and deem you contemptible.  

What should you do if one of your superiors is making sexual advances or behaving badly to other employees?  It’s certainly possible in some situations to complain to the appropriate office or officer within the company (if there is one), but many times there is a fear, a justifiable fear, of retribution even if that would violate in theory company policy.  One time a woman friend of mine mentioned that all the women in her office were offended because one of the bosses only looked at a woman’s breasts when supposedly talking to her.  What to do?  I suggested sending him an anonymous letter along these lines: “Did you know that the women you work with all respect you but behind your back they make fun of the fact that you can’t seem to raise your eyes from their breasts when talking to them?  If you could change that you’d be the most popular man in the office.”  Of, if upper management might hesitate to take action against a serious offender, perhaps an anonymous letter to that management might say that if nothing is done about this person’s behavior there’s a reporter who has been calling around seeing if there is something going on that might make an interesting story.  No company wants that kind of publicity and may decide it’s time to enforce the zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. 

Let me close with another quote.  My father, Robert Whaley, ever a font of wisdom, had this advice for me when I was moving to Chicago to begin my professional career.  “Douglas,” he said with a smile, “try not to get your cock caught in the cash register.”

Good advice, that.

Related posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013:

“Men, Women, and Pornography,” December 10, 2010;  

“We Are All Brian Williams: Confabulation Muddles Our Stories,” April 20, 2015;

“Advice on Starting a New Job,” September 25, 2012;

“Just Published: My Novel ‘Corbin Milk,’ a Thriller Detailing the Adventures of a Gay CIA Agent,” April 18, 2014;

Fifty Shades of Leather: Corbin Milk in the BDSM World,” December 26, 2012;

"Rape, Biology, and Tricks of the Mind," January 8, 2015,

“The Deathbed Test,” July 27, 2010;