ILLUSTRATOR John Laurence Patulan

Sexual Misconduct: We Need to Talk About Talking

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is more relevant to us than we might realize.


 

(SPOT.ph) When fat, grasping, Harvey Weinstein was unmasked for the sexual predator that he was, it was a watershed moment for women, and everyone cheered as the allegations, each bolstered and emboldened by the previous, came thick and fast. The next big name to fall was Kevin Spacey, and while we all agreed that his conduct was reprehensible, we weren’t quite so happy about it. Among other things, it meant that there would be no more House of Cards.

 

Spacey was an actor that was well-liked among the crowd who wrote think-pieces in the liberal press, so as the reality that the oeuvre that included The Usual Suspects and Baby Driver sank in, we began to see a rehash of the kind of article that came in the wake of Woody Allen’s fall from grace: To what extent do we separate the artist from his work? Weinstein was a producer, and at least in the public’s mind, far removed from the movies he produced, the best of which was the much-beloved Shakespeare in Love. I can happily rewatch it and think only about how much prettier Gwyneth Paltrow was before she became a lifestyle personality, and what a brilliant job Tom Stoppard did with the script before he stopped being funny.

 

Then, rather uncomfortably, the list kept growing. From former president George H.W. Bush to the Internet’s favorite uncle, George Takei, it all started to become somewhat distressing. It reminded me, painfully, of the moment when I discovered that my favorite filmmaker, Charlie Chaplin, was not only emotionally and physically cruel to women, but had a voracious sexual appetite for teenage girls, bedding several a night; over his lifetime he slept with over 2,000 women. I’m bringing this up not to bring up the precedent in Hollywood, but one of the great sources of conflict in my admiration of a man and his work. I don’t think I ever came to terms with it psychologically so much as pushed it aside, just as I did what I found out about Woody Allen, so that I could continue enjoying so many of the films that I loved so much.

 

The irony has not been lost on most commentators that the same America that produced Donald Trump is the one that has been finally bringing sexual assault into the light of day. David Mamet wrote Oleanna, which premiered in 1992, as a kind of inscrutable response to the wave of political correctness that was sweeping America in those days. In 1992 Ross Perot was a kind of Trump who didn’t make it, and George H.W. Bush gave way to Bill Clinton. Oleanna was scathing and breathtaking and worth watching today, even if it feels a bit dated. But it is dated: This was the last time we dusted out these arguments about sexual assault.

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2017 doesn’t feel like just another blip in the cycle, though: The Internet has seen to that. But the discourse, which has the possibility of changing male behavior towards women in all fields—that is to say, in life—is all news bang and flash, and not enough commentary, essay, opinion, and even literature, which is how we sort these things out in our minds. Very early on men tried to join the conversation by saying “As a father...” or “As a husband...” and were shot down for their inability to empathize without the crutch of a female they were nurturing. There was a point when I badly needed a writer to address these questions, but no man would touch it: “It’s a woman’s issue.” “I’m steering well clear of that.” “I’d be accused of white-knighting.”

 

James Corden was famously forced to apologize when he tried to make jokes about the sexual allegations; Asia Argento responded on Twitter, a social media site, and said “shame on this pig.” No one apparently minded that Corden was being fat-shamed, and everyone agreed that it was “too soon.” Ben Affleck made a side comment about Supergirl joining Justice League (“You following the news at all?”) and the Internet exploded in rage. And here lies the problem. Chaplin’s misconduct toward his many wives and mistresses did not go unnoticed; there is plenty of evidence of public outrage from the time which he, even at the height of his fame, could not crush. But this side of him is all but forgotten. Bill Cosby is howling in the wilderness somewhere, but it’s beginning to be okay to make jokes about him. And eventually it will be okay to make Harvey Weinstein jokes, as well. The solution to sexual assault, it seems, is to give it time and let it pass.

 

This is everything that’s wrong with the conversation on sexual misconduct, both in the United States and in the Philippines. Institutions run from it, rather than address it: Netflix dropping Kevin Spacey was seen as a sign of courage and the company was lauded for its willingness to lose potential revenue from upcoming films, but it was also the easiest way of distancing themselves from the tainted actor. Most of the dismissals that came in the wake of Weinstein happened without investigation; they had the feel of a snap business decision more than a studied moral one. Accused public figures go on interviews, offer apologies on social media, release studied press statements about seeking treatment; everyone roars with outrage—and then it all fizzles away.

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That it’s such a red-hot topic that no one is willing to go near it is counter-productive; it prevents serious analytical discussion and debate that leads to solid, practical outcomes. That there is public perception that only women should point out certain truths makes for poor discourse: a truth should be true whether uttered by a man or a woman. Excluding men from the conversation when men are the problem is a way for the issue to lose traction and go away without ever being resolved—once again.

 

And men will join in the conversation for reasons that range from clueless to arrogant—and even perhaps even nefarious, in wanting to wrest control of what is being said. If they can understand it only through the lens of being a father or a brother, it might be perceived as condescending; but connections like these are where empathy begins. Whether women believe it or not, there are men out there who are decent and well-meaning, and who want to participate in the conversation, and need to be explained to, in words of one syllable, why what they perceive to be compliments or flirtatious asides might be inappropriate.

 

The culture of interaction between the sexes in the Philippines is so far off from being able to have this conversation across class and gender lines—and it has to be a conversation across class and gender, because these are where the great power imbalances of our society lie, and this conversation is ultimately about power. Perhaps, one day, when Tito Sotto doesn’t reflect a substantial viewpoint, we will be in a position to have it. But this is one of the instances in which the American model is not a good one to follow. The cycle of scandal, outrage, recrimination, throwing a few under the bus, and subsequent public amnesia, is not a productive one. When our time comes to have this discussion as a nation and as a society, it is to be hoped that we can do a better job of it.

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