Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Harvey Weinstein: Hollywood, Ammnon, and Societal Complicity in Sexual Violence

 ”Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.’ So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.” 2 Samuel 13

Hollywood is king, and his firstborn son is untouchable. Until now.

The Harvey Weinstein secret is finally public and not merely a joke at a celebrity awards show. CNN, MSNBC and the others are fixated on the story; sex boosts ratings, and the fall of the powerful is an American fascination. However, this time the news is pointing to a significant call from society to change the rules and change the culture on our treatment of women. I can label Harvey Weinstein a scum, a bastard, an a$$, or any other defiling term. But this personalizes a much larger problem.

He is us; he is at least a manifestation of a world we fail to interrupt. 

Chris Cuomo said it well this morning, “the culture has to change; the law is not enough.” Police, friends, and his company know enough to know something was happening; this leaks out slowly but is nonetheless documented. The cultural forces, which we all inhabit, allow our false ignorance. Edgar Schein reminds us what culture is intended to do, “culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” The culture is designed to protect some for the sake of solving larger issues na perpetuating specific gains. Parker Palmer writes, "leaders do not want to suffer. So we create and maintain institutional arrangements that protect leaders from suffering by assuming the worst of followers and encouraging leaders to dominate them by means of power.”

We have audio record from 2015 of Weinstein saying he touched a woman’s breast against her will and that he was “used to it.” Two years later, the police agency that organized the sting and sent the woman back to Harvey as a target, say “we didn’t have enough evidence to convict under the law in NY.” We used the model for our evidence, but failed to secure her protection.

We have considered maleness valid, even supreme, for the flourishing of our US society. On one hand, we thought this was up for renegotiation in recent years, but now under the president who defeated Hilary Clinton, we see the opposite. This is proven over and again in our government, economics, and even theology/religion.

The women coming forward range over a span of decades. During this time we have elected not one but two men to the highest office in our nation who have paid to be exonerated from sexual harassment. The quest for power disallowed First Lady Clinton to condemn her husband as guilty but joined the shaming of a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. 

Money continues to flow in exchange for sex. Pornography is billions of dollars to show how exploitative behavior is appropriate for men to expect from women. Jean Kilbourne continues to expose the exploitative nature of advertising and media that sells violence against women. Harvey Weinstein has green lights all around him. This has to stop.

Religion doesn’t help ether. American evangelicals, as media defines them, teach generations young and old that “the correct way to perceive, think, and feel” is that men are the only teachers and leaders ordained by God. Women are for domesticity and baby-making, again a quick turn to an objectified and sexualized identity.

We have a kingdom stronger than David’s in the US of entertainment and dynasty. We protect these celebrities, and when they fall, we find reason to create distance from those who have benefited us. Their demise is one more dose of drama as oxycotin. We are complicit in the years of abuse and violence occurring all around us. The community knows more than we ever want to admit. The statistics evidence that misogyny and sexual harassment are overwhelming, and we witness hints of this in our leaders, peers, and friends each day. Yet, like King David and the community of Israel, we ask the women to “not take this to heart.” Vilence occurs and most of us simply move on with our routine. The rape of Tamar is not new. Sexual violence is not new. The story in Scripture sounds similar to the video tape, a mess of blaming and apologizing, cajoling and dismissing. In the end, loathing. 

The culture of our royal house in Hollywood knows of this story well but does not punish the perpetrators - the larger entities who refuse to interrupt. It isn’t until Absalom decides to interrupt his brother, organize an outing, and ultimately slay his brother that the cost of his sin is realized. 


Jackson Katz says it well in his TedTalk, “gender violence is a men’s issue.” Women will pour forth in the coming days and weeks. The shaming and blaming they will experience is significant. Other celebrities, including our President, will be anxious and threatened that they will be next. Ordinary men in ordinary positions will share equally in fear and anxiety. This emotional cocktail tied with cultural privilege and dominance will not fair well toward justice. The power of maleness in our society will protect them, for we have made this the fabric of our culture. Men must rise up and say, enough. We need the courage of Absalom, not to literally slay our brothers, but to disallow ongoing protection against the violence and crime too often committed against too many of our sisters.

Notes:
 Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey Bass).
 Parker Palmer, To Know as We Are Known (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1993).
 Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women
Jackson Katz, https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue