By the time you complete the reading of this column, there will have been another story detailing the sexually-related misconduct of men in high positions –from Charlie Rose to Kevin Spacey to Bill Cosby to Donald Trump to Roy Moore to……you fill in the blanks, it is the season for men to be called to account for egregious behavior. And many would say that it is past time for this accounting, and that is true. And it is also true that these accounts tell us much about the interrelationship between power and sex.
Much like Captain Louis Renault in “Casablanca”, commentators, pundits and everyday observers of the day, have proclaimed themselves to be “shocked…..shocked” by the revelations of pervasive sexual misconduct. At first, the Harvey Weinstein stories provoked a firestorm of denunciation of Mr. Weinstein, with an implicit denunciation of the “casting couch” culture of Hollywood. Indeed, Weinstein and his enablers temporarily played the role of scapegoat for all of the sex-related sins of society.
And then….all Hell has broken loose. Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, John Conyers and the ever present Donald Trump have slithered through the news cycles alternatively denying, apologizing and counterattacking. And all the while there lay the underlying thought that these misdeeds are not exceptions to the rule – they are the rule. What is clear that regardless of the profession or industry, there is an underlying culture of power presuming sexual privilege.
And unless and until there is a recognition of the linkage between power and sexual privilege, two things are certain. First, there will continue to be the pretense of “shock” as the inevitable revelations continue. Second, there will be no real change in these narratives until there is a commitment to changing behavior and concepts of what is “acceptable behavior” and an understanding that every profession – from construction to law to plumbing to investment banking to carpentry to politics – is a potential venue for sexual terrorism.
In too many instances it is clear that the bad actors have had enablers. The enablers play that role because the bad actor generates revenue, clients, voters, viewers, etc. And until the enablers, and the ones that cast a “blind eye”, are willing to change their behavior, there is no way that the bad actors will change theirs.
Most importantly, there will need to be a cultural shift that treats sexual predation as the assault on the humanity of the victim that it truly is. There is a way out of this place – but it will require the acknowledgement of the truth that as a society, we must change.