Another giant has fallen. In a highly publicized expose in the New York Times Harvey Weinstein has been outed as a serial womanizer that has been accused of sexually harassing many women (in some instances – even rape!) during his illustrious decades long career as an award winning film producer. He probably has accumulated 81 Academy Awards and over 300 nominations for movies he has produced. Many of them high quality films like ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The English Patient’, and ‘My Left Foot’. To say that he is a powerhouse in Hollywood would be a major understatement.
No more. He has been ousted from the company he founded. And shamed beyond repair. Deservedly so. As is often the case when an abuser is outed by one or more victims, many more have emerged since then to tell their stories. Whether he will be prosecuted for any of this remains to be seen. He claims it was all consensual.
The conventional wisdom about sexual harassment (…or more specifically rape) is that it isn’t about sex. It’s about power. I am not an expert on these matters and am not really qualified to dispute that. But you cannot get away from the fact that a sexual act is the ‘medium’ whereby this power is exercised. I don’t think anyone can - nor should – discount the fact that sexual gratification is a part of it - as is ego (i.e. a sense of sexual prowess). Maybe that it is what it is really about - sexual power. Because until a few days ago there was certainly no one more powerful in Hollywood than Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstien is not the first man to be accused of this kind of behavior. Certainly not in Hollywood. The casting couch has been around for a long time. But Hollywood is not the only place where women are so freely sexually harassed and exploited. It pervades our culture. Presidents and paupers live in a world dominated by a Hollywood ethic that portrays women as sex objects. Ian Fleming’s fictional British spy, James Bond, is the quintessential role model for this. He is a notorious womanizer who has been a role model for countless numbers of young men throughout the many decades of James Bond film genre. He always gets the girl! Doesn’t that very concept objectify women?
I wonder if there has ever been any serious study about the impact of movie genres like this in how our culture treats women. Clearly this is the cultural norm in much of western civilization. Promiscuous sex is glorified. Illicit sex is sometimes even seen as heroic - even when is between a man and woman married to other people! The protagonists are praised for finally finding ‘true love’ with each other instead of with their spouses. The implication is that finding true love is the epitome of life.
This is Hollywood’s message. It is pervasive in almost all of its films either directly or indirectly. Only I wouldn’t call it true love. I’d call it true lust.
I am not saying that Hollywood invented sexual exploitation of women. It’s been around since the beginning of time. But they have surely capitalized on it – and have influenced the sexual mores of this country to where sexual prowess is a high goal for men to achieve.
It isn’t only movies and TV. It’s a culture of pornography that an evil genius by the name of Hugh Hefner invented and promoted in his magazine ‘Playboy’. That was the first magazine to feature a centerfold picture of a naked woman in suggestive poses - and advising young men on how to get women to go to bed with them. Hefner was the first. But he was certainly not the only. Today’s pornography and the ease with which one can access it makes Playboy look tame by comparison.
It is in this culture that Weinstein found himself. He probably thought he was just reflecting the sexual mores of the time - proving his sexual prowess to himself with each ‘conquest’.
Although there are some stable marriages in Hollywood where husbands and wives are faithful to each other – it is probably also true that there is more sexual promiscuity in this community than in any other segment of civilized society. But as noted above, it doesn’t begin and end in Hollywood. Not is every case as high profile as Weinstein, Cosby, or Polanski. But the culture is there.To paraphrase a popular phrase - life does not only imitate Hollywood. Hollywood imitates life.
Presidents like Kennedy, Clinton and Trump have either sexually exploited women or made derogatory comments about exploiting them. It is not a coincidence for example that President Kennedy was an avid reader of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. How many prominent senators, governors, mayors and congressmen with pretenses of moral authority have been exposed as far less moral than they pretended to be - ruining their careers in the porcess! Just to name a few at the top of my head, Jim McGreevey, Eliot Spitzer, Gary Hart, John Edwards…
Many professional athletes are notorious womanizers that have had many sexual ‘conquests’.
And need I mention the number of religious figures that have been caught with their proverbial pants down?
None of this excuses Weinstein. He deserves what he’s getting. And more. But to say that he is all that different from so many other prominent and not so prominent people is an insult to my intelligence.
If there was any single factor we should be looking at – it is the culture that makes it ‘cool’ to be a womanizer. James Bond ought not be looked at as a hero. The values generated by Hollywood are not Torah values.
The Torah is very clear about unsanctioned sexual activity. Rashi interprets the words of the Posuk ‘Kedoshim Tihiyu’ exegetically in the following way. The presence of illicit sexual activity is inversely proportional to holiness. Holiness is what God demands of us in those very words.
Our sexually permissive culture is the exact opposite of that. It contributes mightily to the likes of Weinstein. It would behoove our nation to take a few steps back in time where sex was not as exploited in the media as much as it is today. Instead of ridiculing the morality standards of Hollywood past, where sexual activity was never explicit - it might not be a bad idea to take another look at that. I’m not saying that Hollywood is the only cause of this problem. Far from it. The Weinsteins of the world may still exist. And have existed well before Hollywood. But I can’t help but believe that pulling back from the ‘anything goes’ policy of our day will not help reduce their number.