#MeToo, In the Time of 50 Shades and GoT?

Image: Samuel Zeller

Last week, Alyssa Milano reignited a decade-old campaign to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Her tweet resonated with millions.

But while the problem is global and pervasive, and our hearts are broken for our sisters, our daughters, and our friends — and let’s not forget that men have been victims too — we still only know the people that we know. Just as not every man is an abuser, not every woman is a truth teller. We cannot issue a blanket #IBelieveYou because doing so implies that men are also collectively guilty — and making that assumption doesn’t help any of us long-term. We need to go beyond empathy, and the #MeToo campaign itself and its origins need to be examined under a microscope.

Harvey Weinstein is just one in a long line of male offenders in Hollywood who use their power to take advantage of women. But here’s the rub: Hollywood is also where feminism is most emphatically embodied. So how did Weinstein et al + feminism manage to co-exist for decades? As the primary purveyors of the culture of lust, Hollywood and feminism are each other’s yin and yang. This particular bandwagon reeks of hypocrisy.

Milano does recognize that “It is a cultural issue that I think we have to face.” [emphasis mine] Whether that sentiment is shared by everyone else and whether all this will translate into concrete action remains to be seen.

Feminism has always been about declaring freedom from “the patriarchy”. But while it has given us a voice in the public square, opened doors for us to engage in meaningful work outside the home, somehow, somewhere, it took the wrong turn, following the path of sexual license. That choice has proven to be devastating not only for those who demanded it, but for every woman. Did feminism perhaps throw the baby out with the bath water?

What have we learned from Hollywood and feminism?

  • Contraception and abortion are musts. Sex is a casual sport, and doesn’t have to be reserved for marriage. It’s a basic need, elevated to the level of food and drink and air — it clamors for satisfaction no matter what. We should demand and expect it of each other. We should be able to sleep around without anyone holding it against us.
  • Because sex is a need, it is pointless to teach young people to control themselves — abstinence is just one more oppressive, archaic, patriarchal ideal. Young people are incapable, they don’t have the backbone to learn and practice self-mastery. No one can internalize morality. It is the untamed man, the irrational one, who is attractive.
  • We need to legislate morality instead, being as detailed as possible so we cover all bases, including behaviors like staring. Let’s reduce all behavior to consent, to a series of yeses and nos. We don’t want or need fathers, we trust in government to parent and protect us instead.
  • Modesty is passé. Women should be able to dress however they want. My Body My Choice. No one is ever “asking for it”, but it’s perfectly okay to fan the flames of unbridled lust. Only religious fundamentalists need be concerned about abstractions like temptation and scandal and prudence.
  • Chivalry is medieval and has no place in modern society. Don’t open doors for us, don’t offer us seats on crowded buses, don’t give us your arm as we walk along darkened streets. We don’t need your protection. Calling women “the weaker sex” is an insult.
  • We can afford to steep ourselves in the latest films, TV and cable shows, and music, no matter how many misogynistic scenes, themes, and lyrics are in them. Scenes of gratuitous violence, including sexual violence, have no effect whatsoever on ourselves or on our children. We are modern people now. We should watch Fifty Shades to up the spice factor in our relationships. We should watch Game of Thrones so we can follow the examples of empowered women. We should listen to Robin Thicke so we know what it is that men really want.
  • Biology doesn’t matter.

These are the lies Hollywood and feminism have fed us through the years. Sadly, many of us have bought them and live them.

But here are some hard truths that Hollywood and feminism need to see:

  • Harassment and assault tell us that biology does matter.
  • No matter how much we want to deny that women are “the weaker sex”, most men do have the upper hand when it comes to physical strength and power. And many use that strength to overpower and take advantage of women.
  • Modern sensibilities deny what traditional morality teaches: that men have strength and power because they are tasked with protecting, defending, and providing for women. Take away this purpose, tell him that this purpose is worthless, and you leave greater room for evil. The narrative today is that strength + power = toxic masculinity. But strength and power are gifts. Misdirected, they will always exploit weakness. Channeled correctly and ordered to the good of the other — women, children, brothers — strength and power become virtue, honor, nobility, chivalry. Man’s real strength is not in becoming more like woman, but in self-mastery and self-sacrifice. When we tell a man that what makes him a man has no place in society, that what he has to offer isn’t worthy of our respect, we disempower him, and consequently, disempower women.
  • As far as relationships are concerned, man was born for pursuit. In our present state of confusion, we can no longer tell what is legitimate pursuit and what is harassment. That the definition of harassment is nebulous, dependent on individual perception, and on area of jurisdiction tells us that despite our best efforts, we cannot legislate morality.
  • Statistics tell us that 70% of abusers are usually people we know. Abuse then is mostly a betrayal of trust. Therefore the work that is in front of us isn’t so much to define even more narrowly which discrete behaviors, contexts and situations constitute harassment, but to rebuild an atmosphere of trust and respect. We can’t do that if we keep seeing each other as the enemy.
  • Our communication today is marked with deception. Whereas the dance between male and female used to be thrilling and exciting (and frustrating at the same time), today our relationships are fraught with misunderstanding. We used to be able to revel in our differences, in the fact that we don’t think alike, in discovering what makes the other sex tick. We can lament all that we have lost, or we can work towards getting back some semblance of mystery and innocence. Until we begin to see again what is true and good and beautiful in the other, we are stuck with the status quo.
  • What do women really want? Feminists: you keep saying all you want is consent, but your cries point to a different need you’ve long denied: You still want honest, legitimate, honorable pursuit. You want respect. You want a man who has internalized morality, who doesn’t take your needs for granted. You still want to be valued and cherished. You want to be seen as more than just a body. You want men’s consideration, their protection, their self-control. You don’t want men who take advantage of your being “the weaker sex”.
  • You want to have the final say in how men respond to you, but bottom line is you still want men to be chivalrous. These values used to be passed on, father to son, so that even folks without a whole lot of education knew how to respect women. Telling them about the man’s role in society inspired what was good and noble in them. Learning how to be a gentleman was worth it, and women expected it of men.
  • There will always be men who offend, but that doesn’t mean we stop calling everyone else to a higher standard. We know that even now there are men out there who continue to combat the crisis of masculinity. We know because we hear stories of recovery all the time, of the woman who survived abuse, and then found an honorable man who knew how to respect and take care of her.

Feminism, wake up. You are ensnared in a trap you helped build. It’s 2017, and women are still the most frequent victims of harassment and assault, are still the ones who put their bodies and their health on the line with contraception, are still the ones most burdened with the scars of abortion. No matter how much we sugarcoat it, women are the losers in this scenario. And while we can’t lay blame solely at feminism’s feet, this wound that women cry about has also been self-inflicted, and it’s been allowed to fester and infect all of us.

Hollywood, you have a responsibility here. Otherwise, #MeToo and all your Harvey Weinstein stories are a bunch of worthless posturing and empty virtue-signaling. Just as this problem wasn’t created by one sex alone, it cannot be undone without the sexes working together. In this respect, you have the power to turn the culture around. If #MeToo is a genuine call for change, then stop pointing fingers and get introspective. If you are going to speak truth to power then you need to be willing to sincerely seek the truth. Otherwise, tomorrow, it’s back to your regular programming. What about the women outside of Hollywood, who have to deal with the day to day impact of this sex-crazed culture? Let this not be just another skirmish in the battle between the sexes. We’ve had more than enough casualties.


References and Additional reading:

Articles on moral / morality from Orthodox Christian perspective. “Contraception and Chastity.” Elizabeth Anscombe — Contraception and Chastity, www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/AnscombeChastity.php.

Bianco, M., & Johns, M. (2016, August 22). Classic Hollywood’s Secret: Studios Wanted Their Stars to Have Abortions. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/07/classic-hollywood-abortion

Bonomi, A. E., Altenburger, L. E., & Walton, N. L. (2013). “Double Crap!” Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey. Journal of Women’s Health, 22(9), 733–744. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2013.4344

Brown, J. D., & L’Engle, K. L. (2009). X-Rated: Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors Associated With U.S. Early Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media. Communication Research, 36(1), 129–151. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650208326465

Gruber, E., & Grube, J. W. (2000). Adolescent sexuality and the media: a review of current knowledge and implications. Western Journal of Medicine, 172(3), 210–214.

Hagen, K. (2017, October 16). Sexual Violence in Spec Screenplays — The Black List Blog. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://blog.blcklst.com/sexual-violence-in-spec-screenplays-8f35268b689

Hansen, C. H. & Hansen, R. D. (1990). The Influence of Sex and Violence on the Appeal of Rock Music Videos. Communication Research, 17(2), 212–234. doi:10.1177/009365090017002004

Kistler, M. E. & Lee, M. J. (2009). Does Exposure to Sexual Hip-Hop Music Videos Influence the Sexual Attitudes of College Students? Mass Communication and Society, 13(1), 67–86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15205430902865336

O’Hara, R. E., Gibbons, F. X., Gerrard, M., Li, Z., & Sargent, J. D. (2012). Greater Exposure to Sexual Content in Popular Movies Predicts Earlier Sexual Debut and Increased Sexual Risk Taking. Psychological Science, 23(9), 984–993. http://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611435529

Orr, C. (2015, June 17). Why Does Game of Thrones Feature So Much Sexual Violence? Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.yahoo.com/news/em-game-thrones-em-sexual-violence-220240365.html

QueenCockatiel, L. B. (n.d.). Movies with sexual assault/rape in them. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://letterboxd.com/queencockatiel/list/movies-with-sexual-assault-rape-in-them/

Roe, K. (1995). Adolescents’ Use of Socially Disvalued Media: Towards a Theory of Media Delinquency. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24 (5), 617–31.

Shoemaker, S. (2017, October 24). Did A Harvard Survey On Sexual Misconduct Mislead The Public? ⋆ Epeak World News. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://epeak.in/2017/10/24/did-a-harvard-survey-on-sexual-misconduct-mislead-the-public/

Toner, J. (2017, October 20). 3 Cult-Classic Films That Reveal the Depth of Sexual Assault Culture in America. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.popsugar.com/news/Films-Show-Sexual-Assault-Culture-America-44164772

Ybarra, M. L., Strasburger, V. C., & Mitchell, K. J. (2014). Sexual Media Exposure, Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Violence Victimization in Adolescence. Clinical Pediatrics, 53(13), 1239–1247. https://doi.org/10.1177/0009922814538700

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