Back in October, Rose McGowen spoke out against the sexual predatory behavior of Harvey Weinstein, and soon after that, numerous women stepped forward to accuse Weinstein of similar things. Throughout the course of the month, many other directors, producers, and executives were accused of sexual harassment as well. October was topped off with actor Kevin Spacey being accused of sexual assault by a number of men, as well as a minor. Throughout November, the dominos kept falling. In addition to more executives that most people don’t really know, there has been Dustin Hoffman, Jeffery Tambor, Louis C.K., then Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore…then Senator Al Franken…then Charlie Rose…and then Congressmen John Conyers.
Needless to say, this story has been front and center in the news. As I have watched these events unfold and have reflected on the current state of our society, I’ve found myself coming to three different, though related reactions. My first two reactions are the subject of this post. My third reaction will be in the following post.
Reaction #1: Really? Are People Actually Surprised by This?
My first reaction might come across as cynical. As I’ve watched the coverage of allegations of such predatory behavior, it has struck me as extremely bizarre how people seem so surprised at all of this. Although it is refreshing to see that our society is finally addressing such behavior, the “shock” that many people have shown seems (to me, at least) to display an even more shocking obtuseness at best, and complete disingenuousness at worst.
People in the entertainment industry are saying, “Yes, Louis CK has done these sorts of things for years; everyone knew that Weinstein raped women; everyone knew that Spacey was that way”—but obviously no one had the courage to confront these men or speak out against them. Yet only now, when the victims themselves have finally found the courage to speak out on their own because no one was there to help them when they were suffering…only now people in Hollywood are feigning horror and repulsion over these acts? I’m sorry—I’m not buying it. Just wait until the light is shown on rumored pedophile rings in Hollywood circles that have been whispered about for years.
And while we’re at it, what are we to make of the numerous statements that are now being made by these men who have gotten caught? Yes, they are issuing apologies; yes, they are saying they are embarrassed; yes, they are saying they never had any real idea how much hurt they’ve caused these women. Really? What kind of man doesn’t realize that exposing himself to women, or asking women if they’d like to see him masturbate, or feeling up under-aged girls, or actually sexually assaulting women might cause women to feel denigrated and hurt?
None of this really should be surprising—call it the “pornification” of our society. Be it in movies, music, or television, our society has objectified and over-sexualized, not just women, but children as well—such trash is bound to affect how people treat each other. Now, it doesn’t happen all at once, but this is the effect that mass media and social media has proven to have: the constant barrage of images, lyrics, and sleazy storylines wear down moral sensibilities and boundaries over time, and we are now seeing what a society with no moral sensibilities looks like, and it is not pretty.
That being said, no one should think that Hollywood is “the cause” of all this. Throughout human history, powerful men have often taken advantage of women. For its part, Hollywood simply reflects culture back to itself, and reinforces tendencies and views that are already there. The sleaze out there is out there because we are aroused by it, and choose to watch it and buy it. We choose to watch movies and listen to music that objectify women as nothing more than sex objects, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that, over time, women are further objectified on a daily basis. To the point: our society has conditioned men to view women and girls solely in terms of sex and physical appearance; and it has conditioned women to believe their worth is bound up in how hot and sexy they are.
Reaction #2: And then there is Political Opportunism
And then there’s predatory behavior in our politics: Roy Moore…and Al Franken, and while we’re at it, let’s throw in Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Now, I live in Alabama, and let me say up front that, even before the recent allegations against him surfaced there was absolutely no way I was going to vote for Roy Moore—I’ve always “leaned right,” but he is just far too right-wing fringe for my tastes.
Do I believe the accusations are true? Yeah, it certainly seems they are. Are Moore’s political opponents making political hay of them? Absolutely—that’s what political opponents do. Is it surprising that Moore’s supporters denying or playing down the accusations? Absolutely not—that’s what political supporters do. The same dynamic happened in the 1990s with Bill Clinton, as well as this past election cycle with Donald Trump. So when I see one political side getting on their moral high horse, decrying the utter moral anarchy of the other side, I roll my eyes and think, “Look in the mirror.” And when I see moral outrage leveled against Evangelicals these days for continuing to support Trump and Moore, I understand it—after all, Evangelical Christians should be morally consistent; but at the same time, it’s been obvious for years that many have surrendered moral authority and credibility for political expediency.
To the point, none of this really is surprising.
And what about Al Franken? I’m sorry, but, as with Trump and Clinton, anyone who is surprised at the revelations about him has been living under a rock for the past 30 years. Franken a belligerent man who has made a career of, among other things, joking about rape and sexual harassment—and voters elected him anyway. Numerous women accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and even rape, and Democrat voters didn’t care and elected him anyway. And when it was found out that he continued his sex-capades in the White House, the GOP was accused of being prudish and obsessed with sex, and Clinton got a pass and continued to be revered in the Democratic party.
As for Trump, everyone knew what kind of depraved womanizer he is—he bragged about it on Howard Stern for years. And yet, Republican voters elected him anyway. In an odd way, his election might end up being a good thing on this issue. I have to think that the revulsion so many people have toward him has been the impetus for many women to finally speak up about men in power who have engaged in serial harassment and predatory behavior. Any man who gives off any stench resembling Trump is getting called out.
Let’s admit it, Trump has held up a mirror to American society, and people are beginning to see that in far too many ways, Trump really does reflect American values…and again, it’s not a pretty picture. And people are finally beginning to see that things must change. It is time we as a people step up and acknowledge that within our society—as seen most clearly in the entertainment industry and in politics—women have for too long been seen as dispensable, nothing more than sex-dolls that can be disregarded as soon as they’ve served their purpose and men have lost interest.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Of course, in light of all these sordid revelations, the question will be, “Where will our society go from here? How are we going to deal with all the dirty laundry that is now being aired?” I hope some good comes out of all this, but we’ll see. The wounds are deep, and they are symptoms of a deeper disease within humanity that has been there all along. I’m afraid that instead of doing the tough work of real reflection that might pave the way for true healing to occur, that we will settle for band-aids that consist of a token law, a hashtag campaign, or perhaps a new public service campaign that will crank out an advertisement or two.
If we want things to really change in our society, we can’t settle for quick fixes. We can’t deceive ourselves into thinking that if that politician resigns, or that Hollywood executive goes to jail, then everything will be okay. Rather, we need to first realize that the very way our society views men, women, sexuality, and humanity itself, is deeply flawed, and actually contributes to the moral depravity we see all around us. A lot of it is perhaps an over-reaction to the strict, legalistic “purity culture” that many of us had grown up in, and the result has been that we as a society have rushed headlong to the other edge of the spectrum, only to find that the objectification and subjugation of women has just taken a different form.
So…where will we go from here? In my next post, I’ll offer some personal thoughts.