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Reasons for Hope: The Cultural Shift on Rape and Sexual Abuse

2017 November 10

The election of Trump depressed a lot of people–in many cases literally causing depression. One of the worst parts of Trump’s success was that he was a known sex-abuser, with many accusers and who was caught on tape talking about grabbing pussies.

It was clear what he was, and it wasn’t enough to stop him being elected.

Now, Presidents make decisions that affect billions of people, and if George W. never sexually abused anyone himself, who cares? His war led to a pile of rapes that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. The same is true of Clinton and Obama in Libya.

Still, Trump’s a sexual abuser and it didn’t matter.

So it’s nice to see that in Hollywood, at least, the culture has shifted. Weinstein appears to have been as big an abuser as one can imagine: straight up rape accusations, and they’re quite believable.

This was an open secret, as with Kevin Spacey’s predilection for young men and teenagers.

It didn’t matter in the past, and now it does. All the money and power these men have (especially Weinstein) isn’t enough to keep the lid on.

It needs to be said clearly that sex is one of the reasons that men pursue money and power. And having sex with people who don’t want it is clearly a buzz for many people.

Guys like Weinstein pursued power as much so they could abuse and rape as they did for the money.

Rape, in particular, ranks up with torture in the ranks of evil actions: It causes depression and PTSD like almost no other experience. People are truly traumatized by it for the rest of their life.

But sexual pressure to commit sexual acts to get a job or “otherwise you’ll never work in this industry again” is also pernicious. Not only is this sickeningly unjust, it impoverishes everyone, by making it so that capable people don’t get the chance to do the work they are best able to do.

Whenever we choose people for positions of influence and power based on anything but the candidate’s ability to do the job (a criteria which should consider character and what they intend to do as well as technical ability) all of us lose. The more important those positions are, the more of a tragedy it becomes for everyone when they are filled by people who do not deserve them–and positions in film and television are important, because they tell stories which lay down behavioral tracks for billions of people,

“Deserve” is a tricky word, we tend to to use it as if it means, “If you manage to get it, you deserve it.” But good societies know that it means “the person who will do the job best,” not “the person who can get the job by out-competing.”

There’s some overlap between the two, of course, top jobs often require assertiveness, but nowhere near the level at which we pretend it is.

Sexual abuse, casting couches, and rape all damage people terribly and, in so doing, do harm far beyond the damage to those individuals directly involved (though that is enough alone to condemn them).

We can expect this cultural change to redound for the good. Having more, less damaged people given a chance to contribute benefits most of us.

It doesn’t benefit all, of course. There is only so much room, and if you’re someone who isn’t sure if they’d make it in a space, well, more competitors may not be a good thing.

But we don’t need to make this into an entirely zero-sum game. One of the interesting things about female-centric films is that they do very well, AND they bring people to the theater who don’t necessarily go to films made for young males (this shouldn’t be a surprise, but apparently is.)

In a positive sum game, more people win. The only people who don’t are those who wanted power so they could rape and abuse, and those are the people we want to lose.

So, lots of bad stuff in the world, but the culture continues to shift, and some of those shifts are good.

This is one.


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30 Responses leave one →
  1. Emma permalink
    November 10, 2017

    THREE COMMENTS IN THREE DAYS

    I almost don’t know what to do with myself! All my favorite cognitive biases are being reified by Ian Welsh!!!

    What you said about Libya — that warmongering and invasion makes abuse more possible because they move social structures away from equality and toward physical/material strength as the arbiter of all interaction — is actually my favorite part. Propping up any form of predation because it’s easy, or historical, or because we imagine that we see predatory behaviors modeled by animals in the natural world and we have an absurd bias toward ‘nature’ as a form of paradise (I find this reason weird, but it gets a lot of play among evo-psych proponents online), makes everything worse for everyone. Every part of our culture is tainted by the sanctification of strength and power. The more we fight against it, as these brave sex assault victims have done, and the more we refuse to practice it, ignore it, and export it, the better the world will be. I think a lot of people have trouble with that; they can see how awful tyranny is on a grand scale, but they’re unable to understand how similar dynamics tessellate into gender/sex/race relationships.

    The next post is going to be about something awful, isn’t it?
    I don’t even care. Nobody’s perfect.

  2. highrpm permalink
    November 10, 2017

    a real perniciousness of the larger-than-live big technicolor silver screen products is they short-circuit balanced brain activity, by-passing the cognitive reflective brain and imprinting the very powerful imagining reflexive brain. the expected effect? walking out of the theater in zombie mode, requiring hours/days/weeks to recover, depending on ones intellectual and social IQs. read/ watch some of bruce lipton for starters.

  3. Dan Lynch permalink
    November 10, 2017

    I give credit to the internet. Before the internet, victims had no way to tell their side of the story. Who would listen to them? The police? Ha! The media knew, but covered it up.
    .
    Today abuse victims can go online with their story. They can connect with other victims and realize that they are not alone.
    .
    The same is true of other minority groups like atheists in red states, who thanks to the internet now realize they are not alone and that it is safe to come out of the closet.
    .
    Technology is forcing our culture to change, but make no mistake that on the whole, American culture is still awful in many ways.

  4. Willy permalink
    November 10, 2017

    When a Hollywood actor abuses, it’s completely different from when Trump does. The reasons are (convoluted rationalizations) and you’re a (something something snowflake alarmist).

  5. Citadel permalink
    November 10, 2017

    Every day (almost every hour) brings more shocking news of abuses. It’s an agonizing but necessary reckoning. I hope this means years from now life does get better for those vulnerable to abuse of power because there’s heavier demand more accountability.

  6. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    November 10, 2017

    Trump’s success was that he was a known sex-abuser

    Pathetic, Ian – beneath you.

  7. Willy permalink
    November 10, 2017

    One of the worst parts of Trump’s success was that he was a known sex-abuser, with many accusers and who was caught on tape talking about grabbing pussies.

    Selective reasoning, much?

  8. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 10, 2017

    People who pretend that Trump isn’t a known sex predator are as doing the same sort of selective reasoning as those who pretend Obama, Bush and H. Clinton aren’t war criminals.

  9. November 10, 2017

    Out of all the recent accusations, I find Louis CK’s the least worse. Not defending that sort of behavior, but from what I read it didn’t appear that he used any power he might have as leverage to get women to agree to watch him. It also looks like he didn’t grope any women.

    Not great behavior obviously, but I’m not sure that it falls under the heading of sexual abuse and is nothing near what Weinstein did. I hope Weinstein goes to jail. You would think that his way of making or breaking careers based on what they did for him even qualifies as discrimination against those that didn’t respond to his aggressions the way he wanted.

    Z

  10. November 10, 2017

    The sickness of power: getting enjoyment out of doing things to people because they don’t want you to.

    Z

  11. November 10, 2017

    Sorry to disagree but this means nothing until something is done about it. So until Weinstein and the Afflecks et al pay some form of a physical price this means nothing. With these types of predators the price must be physical as that is all they understand. (Note physical does not mean cruel. It can mean loss of money.)

    If you want to know why people don’t trust the media they can’t even report on sports and entertainment accurately. Fake news indeed.

  12. Stanley permalink
    November 10, 2017

    Once they pay the price, is reconciliation possible, at least the ones who didn’t go as far as Weinstein?

  13. Willy permalink
    November 10, 2017

    To be clearer, Bliz took Ian’s quote out of context.

  14. Herman permalink
    November 10, 2017

    I have mixed feelings about the rise of accusation culture, especially its online manifestations. On the one hand it is good that we no longer tolerate sexual abuse as “boys will be boys” or make jokes about the casting couch. On the other hand, it is easy to stir up an online lynch mob based on false accusations and ruin the lives of innocent people. I have seen this happen to people.

    One man I know was falsely accused of sexual misconduct and even though he was acquitted in a court of law after his accuser confessed that he had made up the story it was too late to salvage his life and reputation. The man who was accused lost his job, his marriage collapsed and he became such a pariah in his hometown that he moved to another state. More famously we have examples like the Duke lacrosse case and the Tawana Brawley case where false accusations were made.

    Today social media enhances the ability of people to ruin the lives of others. I can see how the current accusation culture can easily became a witch hunt and moral panic much like the Satanic sex abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s where innocent people had their lives ruined over false accusations of sexual misconduct. I hope people use social media and the Internet wisely but I doubt it and it will only be a matter of time before the Internet lynch mobs ruin the lives of some innocent people.

  15. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 11, 2017

    Weinstein and Spacey are already losing a great deal. I suspect Weinstein at least will wind up in jail.

    I agree that CK’s is the least. It’s disgusting and wrong, but it isn’t rape. It isn’t pressing yourself against a young teenager. Weinstein is clearly the worst by far: rape. Spacey is bad, but there’s no suggestion he didn’t take no for an answer, and (so far) I am aware of no stories of retribution.

    I tend to withhold judgment on these things if it’s just 1/1 or even a 2/1. It’s only when there’s a vast long pattern, or the accused has admitted it that I don’t. Weinstein: there’s too much, Spacey too. As for CK, he’s admitted it (and good for him for not weaseling.)

    But yes, the idea that women never lie is bullshit (any more than men never do.) However, when there are so many accusers: no, I don’t believe they’re all lying.

  16. Hvd permalink
    November 11, 2017

    Part of the problem with particularly the Louis C.K. incidents is that they are portrayed as being somehow the moral equivalent of the truly harrowing tale told by Diana Nyad in the same issue of the Times. As traumatic as seeing an actual live penis may be and as strange and crude as Louis C.K.s behavior may be it seems at best trivial compared to Nyads situation. All perspective is lost in this new wave of antifeminist Puritanism.

  17. V. Arnold permalink
    November 11, 2017

    I think the Yahwe cult’s emergence, about 5 or 6,000 years ago began the diminishing of the Matriarchy and the dominance of the Patriarchy.
    The few cultures isolated from the ME, maintained the matriarchy, some in the SW US native nations, and some other South American tribes.
    The present trend, on going for generations in the US, is just another example of a bankrupt culture.

  18. bruce wilder permalink
    November 11, 2017

    Just as hierarchy in the organization of the state and political economy poses unsolved political problems, human sexuality poses unsolved problems for political and ethical culture.

    What we are witnessing and enacting in this wave of revelation and accusation is a effect of the Sexual Revolution that took place between roughly 1955 and 1980. An elaborate regime of sexual control that, in theory, restricted all sexual intercourse to marriage licensed by church and state, made criminal adultery, fornication, sodomy, prostitution and even I believe in some states, masturbation, and imposed a system of censorship on newspapers, books, movies, and the stage. Some of these restrictions had ancient roots but many were products of the early eras of industrialization, formed in reaction to emerging modernity, part of the impulse that sought Prohibition or promoted religious piety.

    Culturally, that regime of authoritarian sexual control depended upon and made elaborate use of cultural taboo, reinforced by censorship and occasional scandals and moral panics.

    We now know that in the shadows of that regime, taboo and authority were used to subvert the regime itself, and enable rather than prevent sexual abuse of children and vulnerable young adults.

    The sexual abuse scandals globally in the Catholic Church emerged as the taboos lost their force. And, now we are seeing further waves of revelation as schemes of true predators like Cosby and Weinstein come to light.

    I mention this history because I think we lose track of the context of cultural, social control without it. We forget that sexual ethics forms part of a system of social control of human sexuality. Our societies and cultures can make us better human beings, both by enabling people to realise a life, but also by limiting and controlling and even sublimating our impulses.

    When an existing system is breaking down, it is easy to be progressive in reaction to its shortcomings. Critics of its entropy, failures and dissipation have an easy task. Now, we are creating a new culture and it is not as obvious that some deliberation and design might be in order.

    “Accusation culture” as one commenter called it has some inherent problems. As Ian notes, our current moral panic does seem to elide necessary distinctions as the witch hunt continues.

    On the whole, I think a culture that enshrined individual autonomy and equality of manners is much better for humans to thrive than the authoritarian regime lubricated by hypocrisy and secrecy that prevailed at the midpoint of the 20th century. But, I do know that if some people do not think about it critically and deliberately, human cultural evolution in its chaotic randomness is just as likely to produce grotesque human sacrifice.

  19. bob mcmanus permalink
    November 11, 2017

    is just as likely to produce grotesque human sacrifice.

    Sacked Labour minister Carl Sargeant found dead November 7

    Apparently this was at least on policy and politics, a very good guy.

    But also, as I understand this, in order to protect the complainants, their names and even the nature of the complaints were not released. I don’t know, and neither did Sargeant, if he was accused of violent rape or putting his hand on soneone’s arm.

  20. November 11, 2017

    If I may, V: at some point perhaps ten thousand years ago the Judean “Christian” Muslim Mormon Cult of Male Domination usurped the woman’s role in the proper ordering the world and all else – government, religion, War, pornography – serve naught but to reinforce that domination.

  21. Mel permalink
    November 11, 2017

    “An elaborate regime of sexual control that, in theory, restricted all sexual intercourse to marriage licensed by church and state”

    With loopholes written in … The Wikipedia article on the noted writer and critic William Hazlitt (ca. 1800) has

    “Recourse to prostitutes was unexceptional among literary—and other—men of that period,[50] and if Hazlitt was to differ from his contemporaries, the difference lay in his unabashed candour about such arrangements.[51] Personally, he was rarely comfortable in middle- and upper-class female society, and, tormented by desires he later branded as “a perpetual clog and dead-weight upon the reason,”[52] he made an overture to a local woman while visiting the Lake District with Coleridge. He had however grossly misread her intentions and an altercation broke out which led to his precipitous retreat from the town under cover of darkness. ”

    Funny, I think, and that shows how much cruelty is built into comedy. As it says, Hazlitt had trouble socializing with women of his own class for fear of breaking out like this more often.

  22. someofparts permalink
    November 12, 2017

    V Arnold and Ten Bears – what a relief it is to find myself in the company of people who have actually bothered to understand the point and long history of faux-theologically-enabled subjugation of the ladies and the very biosphere itself. These days I just think of them as death gods based on, you know, the evidence.

  23. bruce wilder permalink
    November 12, 2017

    I should probably know better, but I am going to venture a challenging, critical comment on the “Yahweh cult” “Judean “Christian” Muslim Mormon Cult of Male Domination” narrative offered in comments above.

    I am all for seeing a bigger picture, but I am not sure what the point of projecting current and contested norms onto the distant mirror of a 10,000 year history the opinionator probably knows authentically little about. It seems like nothing but a pseudo-scientific frame for an “argument” that functions as nothing more than a hypnotic trance induction followed by suggestions to the unconscious. Nothing wrong with that in principle: people need such sermons, pep talks, salesmanship, patriotic rally cries and so on. And, people seem to need rather a large volume, though that might be a need or demand created by the large supply: the huge volume of communication and narrative propaganda may be wearing us out. But, I digress. My immediate question is: what good is this narrative? What are the suggestions to the unconscious that follow in this absurd story and how are those memes supposed to improve the morale of the recipient?

    I just do not see the good in this story. What are we expected to do? Reject 10,000 years of imagined history (actual history extending back a mere 2500 to 3500 years at most) and, voila! consciousness is free!!??

    I am not saying I want to take a brief for the Catholic Christianity into which I was born, with its celibate priesthood taking a vow of poverty, cult of the Virgin, fondness for feudal hierarchy and the rank hypocrisy of the Church’s approach to institutionalized wealth and poverty. I am saying that I do not recognize that institution’s complicated and even baroque approach to sexual morality and political domination by a warrior caste and its heirs in your handwaving over “male domination”.

    I am also wondering where a door is to be opened to admit biology. I am not a conservative reactionary, and consequently I am not silly enough to think cultural norms and ethical imperatives in any time or place are natural or nature’s diktat. It seems to me that cultural rules and sanctions are “intended” (in some social-evolution sense with diffuse agency) to corral and sublimate and counter the socially destructive impulses of raw, untamed human nature. I am asking whether we can admit to our selves that human sexuality is problematic, quite apart from evangelicalism for sky gods.

    Those problems are not going away with a transformation of consciousness. At best, we might find ways in political culture to contain them and to better tame the human beast. It is all to the good, it seems to me, if the many band together in solidarity to contain amoral domination by the few. with regard to sexual behavior as well as economics. Yeah! Hope for improvement!

    But, let’s recognize that sexuality is problematic for the individual (and idiosyncratically so) as well as the society (aka everyone else affected by the individual’s struggles). I would like to see some measure of kindness for Spacey, an obnoxious drunk, or the sad (and disgusting) compulsions of Louis C.K. Tales of male domination thru the ages has some relevance to Weinstein for sure, but seems to me to take us far afield from dealing with the full spectrum of appropriate and inappropriate sexual behaviors.

  24. November 12, 2017

    Given that perhaps ten thousand years of male domination has resulted in the very real possibility we have irreparably poisoned the only part of the universe we know of we can live in and may well not survive the Gregorian century my guess is we’re closing the barn door after the horse is gone.

    Unless of course the world is flat, six thousand years old and it’s ok to have sex with little girls.

  25. Peter permalink
    November 12, 2017

    I can’t feel any kindness for a man/boy predator such as Spacey and I can’t understand why anyone else could even if he is a drunk. Louis CK is an exhibitionist perv but not a predator and I doubt many people will show him any kindness.

  26. someofparts permalink
    November 13, 2017

    Good faith disagreements are a sign of healthy dialogue.

    My thinking on all of this did not begin with an in-depth study of the official major theologies of my day. Women were forbidden such study, as it happens, until I was around twenty or so. My thinking about all of this did begin when women were finally allowed to undertake such study. When female eyes began checking those ancient sources for ourselves – that’s when the conversation I’m carrying forward here began in our community.

    If you want to argue that something cannot be opposed or reconsidered because it is massive and ancient, then all of us should just throw in the towel and go home. There is certainly an important strategic point to be made for only fighting skirmishes we can win, but there is also such a thing as a struggle that must be waged even if we are vastly outmatched because the stakes are so crucial. Survival of the biosphere counts as crucial. Also, personally, my latitude to live as a citizen instead of livestock is exceedingly crucial to me.

    Our thinking about venerated cultural institutions should be circumspect for a host of legitimate conservative reasons. That said, it does happen that those institutions can become so corrupt the public is obliged to resist. The resulting social changes are never as good as they would have been if the old system had been willing to make good faith efforts to reform itself in dialogue with those who called for change. When that doesn’t happen, you can’t blame the loyal opposition if the results are less judicious than they would have been with such input. Protestants are living proof of that.

    Also, by way of a pro-tip, taking the argument into the arena of biology is a rookie mistake. Did you know that humans are the only primates to have grandmothers? What should we make of that data point? Or what about the way that the fertility cycles of females mammals of a variety of species sync up when in proximity to one another? What are the implications of that? If you think honest biology reinforces patriarchal family structure, think again.

  27. V. Arnold permalink
    November 13, 2017

    someofparts

    Yahweh was a war god. One has to dig a bit to find reliable historical evidence of the pre-Yahweh cultures. The Mediteranean was rich in the Godess Culture pre-Kurgan invasion; about 6,000 BC., maybe a bit earlier.
    A good place to start is;
    Riane Eisler’s; The Chalise and the Blade is a must read.
    Eisler references a Hungarian (IIRC) anthropologist who has done parallel research and her findings are fascinating as well.

  28. DMC permalink
    November 13, 2017

    I’d recommend Wilhelm Reich’s “Early Sexological Works”, followed by his “Mass Psychology of Fascism” for some insight into this whole question. He is at some pains to define what he terms the “sex economy” as one where societal norms cause an artificial scarcity, viz. there are plentiful potential sex partners for virtually everyone that wants them, yet society puts all sorts of artificial roadblocks in the way of most people achieving them. Further, he asserts that without a large mass of sexually unsatisfied young males, raising mass armies would be difficult to impossible. “Go kill some strangers who never did me wrong? Screw you, Jack! I’m getting laid here!”

  29. Carolina permalink
    November 13, 2017

    Someofparts! What an awesome comment.

  30. escher permalink
    November 13, 2017

    I’m agnostic on heightening the contradictions as a political strategy, but as a mental exercise, would Harvey Weinstein be facing prison right now if Hillary had won the election and Blue America had settled in to another four years of Clintonism?

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