Sexual Harassment — an age-old problem by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Sexual Harassment — an age-old problem
George Wolfe

If you have ever been to a show at the new Charles W. Brown Planetarium at Ball State University, you may have heard the person leading the program point out a constellation in the night sky known as the Pleiades. It is a fairly easy constellation to identify as it is directly overhead, and its visibility is relatively unaffected by city lights. Little do people realize that the Pleiades has a connection to Devils Tower in Wyoming and to the pervasive problem of sexual harassment.

Three years ago while visiting Boulder, Colorado, I drove northward to Devils Tower to see this famous landmark. There I learned of one of the myths that Native Americans used to explain this natural wonder. Here is my paraphrased version of the myth that comes from the Kiowa Tribe.

Seven maidens were walking in the forest when suddenly they were spotted and pursued by several bears. The maidens began running away, but the bears were catching up with them. The Great Spirit came to their rescue and caused the earth to rise up, placing the girls on top of Mateo Tepe (meaning “bear lodge”) which is the original Native American name for Devils Tower. The bears however, continued their pursuit by trying to climb the cliffs on each side of the rock formation. The vertical striations found on Devils Tower are said to be the result of claw marks left by the bears as they tried to climb the tower. As the bears closed in on their prey, the Great Spirit again intervened, placing the maidens in the sky where the bears could not reach them. The seven maidens then became the Pleiades star cluster, more popularly known in astronomy lore as the Seven Sisters.

In her book, Beast and Man (Routledge Classics, 2003), British moral philosopher Mary Midgley asserts that humans are more like animals than we may want to admit. Our inherited, primitive predatory instincts continue to shape our social and anti-social behavior, as revealed by the many recent high-profile revelations of sexual harassment.

As I pondered the meaning of this myth, I wondered how many male predators have left their claw marks on women’s lives. These are the scars that will never heal, inflicted by men who have not made peace with their own sexuality, who haven’t learned to restrain their sexual urges, respect women, and be guided by a higher moral consciousness.

So, next time you hear of powerful men harassing women in the workplace, pursuing teenage girls, or engaging in nonconsensual, sexually inappropriate behavior, remember the bears and the young girls in the Native American myth. Those seven maidens are among the lucky ones who got away.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He is also chair of the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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