Oct 6 2017

Men, Sex, and Power

I had a long conversation with a friend last night that included a segment about men, sex, and power. I had just finished Ellen Pao’s book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change which I thought was phenomenal (more in a separate post soon) so there was a lot in my mind about this topic.

I woke up to several articles this morning that reinforced a simple concept that so many people miss. Sexual harassment – while it includes sex – is also about power.

Let’s start with Harvey Weinstein. For a preview, read the shorter article titled Another man behaving badly in Hollywood — this time, Harvey Weinstein. What a shocker. This line about narcissism is reflected in the behavior of many prominent men.

“I have always argued that power, particularly the Hollywood strain, infantilizes. Success in Hollywood frequently reduces fully grown adults to narcissistic babies. Babies have no self-control. They scream and cry when they get mad. Their needs are uninhibited. Gratification must be instant. Weinstein may be a talented moviemaker. But he is also just another overgrown Hollywood man-baby.”

The longer article in the New York Times that kicked this off, Decades of Sexual Harassment Accusations Against Harvey Weinstein, is worth a complete read. As you put the pieces together, Weinstein’s public response is similar to many self-reflective apologies that come out of this situation when things finally become public.

Back to the first article, here is another great section from Robin Abcarian.

“Weinstein’s behavior is also an excellent example of the hypocrisy that is so rampant in Hollywood — and politics, for that matter. He is a liberal Democrat who publicly champions women’s rights and professional advancement but demeans and exploits them in private. (And yes, I do include Bill Clinton on that list.) The conservative equivalent is the anti-abortion crusader who privately urges his mistress to abort an inconvenient pregnancy or the “devout” Christian who ditches his sick wife to marry his mistress.”

Power. And that led me to the second story I woke up to, which is the anti-abortion crusader, Tim Murphy, who privately urges his mistress to abort an inconvenient pregnancy. The article Inside Tim Murphy’s reign of terror shows very clearly how power is at the root of this. The statement from Congressman Tim Murphy is another typical one, which basically says “I’m resigning, I’ll spend my time remaining working on important things, I’ve accomplished a lot, and please leave me alone.”

At least Harvey Weinstein said, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” But, this was his fourth paragraph. As my mother taught me, the way to apologize is to start with the sentence “I’m sorry.” You can write anything you want after that, but start with the apology – that’s the lead – don’t bury it.

I’m really hopeful that we are at the tipping point of sexual harassment being completely unacceptable. I have a profound appreciation for the women coming forward with their experiences. I know there are many multiples of these stories being suppressed by non-disparagement clauses that were signed and sealed with money to keep people quiet. That’s just another form of power being used in this situation.


Also published on Medium.