In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, discussion of sexual assault, and the ways powerful men abuse their privilege, has dominated our cultural discourse. The insidious ways Weinstein leveraged his power to abuse and destroy countless women was disturbing, and the way he hid behind his wealth and dedication to good social causes was a particularly sickening facet to the scandal. The pathology to Weinstein hit such a strong cultural cord because he doesn’t represent an isolated case; he’s just one of many men in Hollywood, in the corporate world, in politics, in every arena men have power and influence over women, who behaves this way. This scandal resonated because men like Weinstein are universal, and the dawning acknowledgement of that in our society has led to… interesting reactions from people. Men in particular have taken this scandal as an excuse to express some of the classic stupid replies to sexual assault scandals, and today I’m going to call out the three that have littered social media that I hate the most. Note that the usual “Why didn’t they come forward sooner?!” response won’t be included here, because I think that question comes less from a place of misguidedness (as the subjects of this list do) and more from a place of malice.
1. The “I Can’t Even Comprehend This” Response
You know that phrase “virtue signalling” that conservatives use all the time? It’s that cynical assumption they have that no one truly feels passionate about any issue and that they’re only being outspoken about it to show off how virtuous they are. I usually write it off as insecure, cynical trash whenever the phrase “virtue signalling” comes up, but in this special case it fits to a T. Men, especially men in Hollywood, who respond to Harvey Weinstein’s abuse with “I don’t understand why any man would even do this! It’s so evil, like, what do they even get out of it?”, or any variation of that kind of response, are 100% full of shit. They don’t have anything meaningful to add to the conversation, but they definitely want to let you know how pure and adorably naive they are of the evil natures of men. You’re not comforting victims, you’re not saying anything meaningful about the kind of environment that could birth such behaviour, you’re just chiming in to make sure everyone knows you would never do this sort of thing. It’s a nothing statement that insults our intelligence, and it needs to stop.
2. The “On Behalf of All Men” Declaration
There are just so many layers to why this response to a sexual assault scandal is awful. First off, and perhaps most importantly, literally no one who’s been through sexual assault will feel even a little bit better if some random dude apologizes on behalf of all men. Secondly, acknowledging a problem and doing absolutely nothing to change things (as most people who make this sort of apology are wont to do), is a pointless exercise that does nothing but bring attention to the fact that you want people to know that you’ve sort of been thinking about the issue. Finally, no one has made anyone ever the ambassador to all men, so trying to wring a collective apology is a weird and super pretentious exercise.
3. The “Forgive Me Women, For I Have Sinned” Post
Sometimes it’s best to keep things private. I’m not saying people who have committed sexual assault or harassment shouldn’t turn themselves in to authorities, but I am saying men who have done awful things to women shouldn’t bother bringing it up on social media. No one needs to know about that time 10 years ago when you said something super sexist to a waitress, or when you were mean to your girlfriend, or when you groped a stranger’s ass on the dance floor. If you want to apologize to someone, apologize to the person you hurt, not “all women”. When you aim your apology at the world, it comes off less as genuine contrition, and more like performative redemption. It also feels like you’re taking a serious societal issue, and making it about yourself, and for what? So people on the internet can tell you how brave your honesty is? So you can feel better about yourself about how shitty you’ve been? Nobody cares pal.
The issue of power and sexual assault are difficult enough realities in society as it is. It isn’t just a Hollywood problem, but a problem in institutions in general. Men accumulate power, and then express that power in ugly, destructive ways. Spewing out self-congratulatory platitudes is literally the least you can do in response to this horror. Talking about how you can connect with victims because you have a sister/daughter/mother, or insulting the physical appearance of these abusers helps no one either. The only way to make a difference is to try and be a better person for yourself and the people around you, and to do what you can to generate a more healthy environment within society for women. The great thing about being a good person is that you can make a positive difference in the world or simply try to make a change in yourself, and nobody needs to know about it. Actions speak louder than words.
Quote of the Day:
“Oh please, I’m not afraid of anyone in show business. I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than 3 occasions… out of 5.”
– Jenna Maroney, 30 Rock.