Can equality exist while women are junk food for men?

Jacalyn Carfagno
Jacalyn Carfagno

It’s not funny but I had to laugh at a teaser for a story about the unfolding sexual exploitation allegations against the now-deposed Roger Ailes at Fox News.

I’m paraphrasing but it went something like this: When there were so many accusations over so many years, apparently known to so many, why didn’t anyone stop Ailes earlier?

Well, duh.

For me the answer can be found in another scandal involving powerful men, misdeeds and sex.

It’s the Navy bribery case that revolves around a Singapore-based contractor named Leonard Francis, commonly called Fat Leonard.

Fat Leonard showered men with gifts and money in exchange for classified information and looking the other way when he submitted outrageous bills for refueling and resupplying Navy vessels.

The gifts included lavish meals, luxury hotels, resort golf vacations and women.

“Can u set up some clean, disease free wome[n]when I am there?” an American civilian, who was a Navy contract supervisor, emailed Fat Leonard, anticipating a holiday in Singapore.

And how about a couple of fresh shirts? Just another commodity. A limo today, a clean girl tomorrow.

That’s why no one with the power to do so blew the whistle on Ailes: he was powerful and mattered, the women weren’t and didn’t. (At least until they sued Fox and went public.)

To Ailes, the women weren’t professionals, they were hardly human, they were simply more perks for a powerful man. Aged scotch, private jets, girls.

As tempting as it is, it’s not fair to demonize Fox.

Of course, the on-air women there have a stunningly consistent, sexy-beauty-queen, blondish, short-and-tight-skirt look to them. But that hardly makes the network an outlier in the entertainment industry.

Aggravating as it is, none of this is new.

What I wonder about is how did Ailes and all his enablers look at all women in the workplace.

And I wonder how women trying to rise in the ranks of the Navy were regarded by the officers (about 30 admirals are under investigation and at least one Rear Admiral has already pleaded guilty) Fat Leonard was setting up with his carefully chosen, clean prostitutes.

Do these men divide women into commodity and non-commodity camps? To make it into the latter group do you need to be dowdy, unattractive, old?

Or, is there some special sweet spot where a woman is appropriately attractive without inspiring the reflexive lust of her male bosses?

Which comes first, the assessment of where a woman falls in the attractiveness hierarchy or things like competence, qualifications, experience and intelligence? If you pass on looks, can you be considered on ability?

Can a man accustomed to the inherently unequal relationship between prostitute and customer fairly assess women he works for or with, or — God forbid — supervises? I don’t like thinking about this stuff. Like many journalists, I’ve always been a little wary of adopting ideologies very enthusiastically, even feminism.

It is hard to contemplate the implications for all women when some are routinely used as “rewards” for men.

Experts warn parents and teachers against using calorie-rich, nutrient-poor junk food as rewards for kids. That, they say, can mess with their brain chemistry and set up an unhealthy relationship to food for life.

But I’m wondering if anyone is sounding a warning about the societal implications of serving up women as junk food for men.

Editorial writer Jacalyn Carfagno can also be reached at 231-1652.