Blurred Lines and Sexual Groping: A Jewish Perspective

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Around this time of year, the High Holy Days, we are instructed to take even more time then usual to reflect and consider what it takes to heal ourselves, our community, and the world at large. Many shared issues are food for thought and ripe for our efforts at self-improvement. Others tend to remain hidden, undisclosed and generally not considered to be big “Jewish problems” like alcoholism, drug abuse, or sex addiction. As a psychotherapist and sex therapist for over 30 years I can confirm that that kind of thinking is somewhere between dead wrong and ostrich head in-the-sand-in-complete-denial. Jews suffer from the same mental, behavioral, and sexual problems everybody else does. It’s possible we just feel somewhat worse and more guilty about it….

Groping is the main topic today. That’s right…unwanted sexual advances using the hands (or anything else) by people who are often falsely assumed to be “those grotesque creepy guys”. Why falsely? Because it happens alot, and often by people who may be “creeps” but dont always appear creepy, ie. Mayor Filner of San Diego, the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and possibly the entire male population of Japan on their bullet trains, buses, and subway cars. Groping occurs in private offices, Hollywood movie studio “casting” couches and surprisingly public places like commercial airplanes in flight and to young women who choose to crowd surf at noisy rock concerts, etc. Some of these grabby guys slobber while they grope which I admit makes it twice as gross (see Mayor Filner article link below). Others, like Anthony Weiner-Carlos Danger use social media to electronically cross personal boundaries and then “self-grope” to achieve some kind of twisted egotistical as well as sexual satisfaction.

As a reform Jewish man and minus my professional credentials, I’ve often wondered the same thing that many other relatively law-abiding citizens do such as, “What the heck is up with these crazy shmucks!!? Dont they know its socially weird, troll-like, and just plain creepy-wrong?” Even certified sex therapists, psychologists and pill-dispensing psychiatrists dont know all that much about groping as a distinct clinical problem or social issue and offer few definitive insights. For example, why do gropers grope? The obvious answer is “because they can”, but that tells us nothing, really. Sure it’s a sex crime in the United States and until recently a fairly common form of male patterned sign language in certain parts of Italy and India, but even such obvious cultural differences sheds no light on groping’s origins or fundamental purpose. With or without a therapist, a police officer, a Bible, a Torah, or a Koran to consult, most of us know its wrong to physically grope or take advantage of another human being in that way and yet it still happens at an alarming rate at school, at college, in the workplace, and even in Jewish households and neighborhoods.

Even scarier, from the Jewish perspective, is the fact that all of the individuals singled out in the opening paragraph are Jewish… with the obvious exception of the Terminator. Didn’t our parents and our Jewish upbringing teach us to respect women and to not violate their personal space and physical bodies in such blatant and demeaning ways? To even speak of it as a sex “crime” and unseemly behavior engaged in by someone who is Jewish is to invoke the unwritten Philip Roth rule that whispers, “Oy, it’s a shanda, dont talk about it. It will give all of us Jews a bad name, like Portnoy’s Complaint did…”. Unfortunately it does happen and NOT talking about it or confronting it’s existence in our lives (or childhoods) only serves to keep “it” hidden in the shadows of our Yiddishe psyche, with or without the presence of the Kinnehora (evil eye) and the ritualistic spitting, ie., “Tut,tut,tut!” to make it all “go away”.

Let’s start with the old 60’s or 70’s slang phrase, “to cop a feel”. What does that suggest? It almost sounds like a masculine accomplishment of sorts, like hitting a single in baseball or making it safely to second base by stealing. In fact when I was a teenager, baseball terms were interchangeable for sexual achievement, like “going all the way, balling, getting to third base”, etc. To be honest the implication was somewhat of a sportsman’s challenge and question, as in how far or how much can you “get” off of a woman, could you get her in the “sack”, or bag the “chick” or “fox”, etc. If you were sexually turned down by a girl on a date you had been “shot down” or failed to “score”, as if it was a board game or aerial combat. It wasn’t a question of religion, ethics, proper etiquette or Torah instruction at Sunday school. It was the existing cultural norm and I’m not so sure it’s really changed that much since then.

I dont feel, for the purpose of this essay, that I need to research or look up contemporary slang terms for groping in the New Urban Dictionary. I’m sure there are at least one or two phrases for that kind of disrespectful, sexist and uncalled for behavior when engaged in by adults in skinny jeans, saggy pants or Mad Men wannabe suits. Historically I know there are probably equally suitable Medieval terms for sexual groping, most likely in Olde English to mean “using ones plague-infected man-hands to touch another person in and around their private Medieval parts without permission”. In high school and later in college I remember reading about alot of uninvited grabbing and groping in the dark in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” that ended up with the Baker sleeping with the Miller’s wife…. or maybe it was the other way around. Apparently, the lack of electricity or ambient light at night in those truly Dark Ages was a convenient excuse for many men to be sloppy drunks as well as nocturnal creepers. More important, I remember that when I grew up it was considered fairly normal to “see what you could get” as far as sex and groping ones high school girlfriends and college dinner dates were concerned. Of course if they (women) said “no” back then, that probably meant no, much to our chagrin and low adolescent frustration tolerance. Some guys, however, were known to “not take no for an answer” and seemed oddly comfortable sharing their techniques for overcoming “resistence”. It usually involved drugs, alcohol, or guile in a thousand different forms.

The point is there is a long and well documented history (including classical literature) to suggest that some men both now and then don’t/didnt ever perceive it to be wrong or bad to assert themselves physically or touch women inappropriately. I admit to lacking knowledge of older manuscripts or ancient texts (like carved stone tablets or papyrus scrolls) that may have given men license or biblical authority to be gropey pervs.  However, we all KNOW there is alot of well, hard to swallow,  on-the-edge of being creepy stuff in the Old Testament, and it doesn’t feel any better to know that Lot’s daughters returned the favor after the whole Sodom and Gomorrah angry God beatdown incident. It even makes you wonder if God, his angels (or his early publishers-writers) weren’t abit confused, conflicted or sexist from the very “beginning”, so to speak. Mind you, I am NOT saying that God himself is a groper or that he/she/it ever condoned such rude and crude behavior. I am merely saying if Yahweh thought it was clearly wrong to touch and drool all over another person, male or female, just for kicks, he could have maybe added it to the “Do Not” list, like an 11th commandment or even a minor addendum to one of the other related ones, like….

” In addition, Thou shalt NOT reach out and grab the busom of Abraham, Abraham’s wife, daughter, niece, slave OR ANYONE ELSE without prior consent”, or even,  P.S. ”Btw, while staying busy NOT worshipping the Golden Calf, lying, stealing, killing, or committing adultery, please also keep your nomadic-semitic hands to yourself…. or else there will be a “pillar of salt” and/or lightning bolt waiting for you.”  Love, Your God (The One Who Smotes)  P.S. In retrospect, I realize that “not laying” with someone this way or that was rather vague.

When I think about the whole thing, sexual groping remains a confusing cultural conundrum, regardless of its religious prescriptions or relative lack of. Ok, I really just wanted to use that word conundrum, but it does in fact apply. We live in a society now where supposedly egalitarian standards for men and women have been established. At the same time, narcissism, physical attributes like big synthetic boobs, wardrobe malfunctions, dressing up like unicorns at Furry conventions (or whatever Miley Cyrus did at the VMAs)and sexual aggressiveness by both genders is reinforced by social media and commonly depicted. Casual sexual behavior and “hooking up” is widely accepted among teenagers as normative rather than non-sexual relationship-building (like talking or chatting for a few minutes before jumping in bed and engaging in 50 Shades of the Kama Sutra). It’s “fast food” sex that rules the Western world right now rather than Bubbe’s slow-cooking in the kitchen as well as in the bedroom. Gropers by nature and by predilection are fast food sexual predators. They bump and run, or they grope and leave, depending on the setting and their available mode of transportation.

It would be easy to either minimize the whole groping thing as a less serious or inconsequential kind of crime compared to being hung upside down in some sexual psychopath-serial killer’s basement in Ohio for ten years, or conversely overanalyzing its necessary connection to the patriarchial power structures in developing nations. Still, there does appear to be a correlation between personal narcissism and the kind of power-fueled CEO psychopathy that leads certain people (and politicians) to reach for their penises, cell phones or other peoples private parts rather than just shake hands and hug like the rest of us. I’m just saying we’ve got to “own” the fact that there are alot of mixed sexual messages and unclear signals existing nowadays. Maybe the gropers, troll-like as they are, are also in a certain way the “cultural canaries in the sex related coal mine”. They might just be the more impulsive, compulsive, self-centered expressions of our own confused sexual psyches. Or perhaps they are just the more emotionally disturbed, ignorant or clueless among us who watch some kind of  porn video (out of the 47829274927 varieties easily obtained online) and stupidly assume, “Hey, I could do that in the real world”!

As controversial as that notion might be,  it’s not completely different from the Aspergers kid with dozens of violent videogames and a family gun collection (that his mom bought) who decided to go out and shoot innocent kids at their elementary school ….as well as his well-meaning mother. Certainly that kid had a number of serious social problems and developmental issues. But, what was the Orthodox Rabbi’s excuse on the Delta flight? (see link below) Obviously one crime does not equal the other but, hey, how about we first clean up the contradictory societal messages about sex, our “blurred lines” regarding personal boundaries and especially people who think for whatever reason that it’s ok to touch the non-consensual male or female merchandise? In addition, we might want to decide what needs to be said to grabby former Governors and current mayors who fondle and kiss constituents like a drunken camel on a World ORT/ Federation mission to Israel. Whatever we decide, the same clear  and consistent message needs to be sent to all the other gropers and boob-bandits we may know (but tend to silently put up with) whether they may be at work, at synagogue, or even at family gatherings and lovely candle-lit shabbat dinners. How could we ever hope to truly repair ourselves or the world without finding the psychological, spiritual, and moral strength to do so?

Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist  in Atlanta, Georgia. Contact: 404-932-7193
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About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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