This week’s news cycle has focused (at least to some considerable degree) on producer Harvey Weinstein and his deplorable behavior…which now apparently extends to his brother and threatens to close down one of the most powerful entertainment production companies in Hollywood. It didn’t seem to matter that several actresses (Rose MacGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow) named this behavior some years ago (but no one paid much attention); it doesn’t seem to matter that Weinstein’s patterns were well known in the industry for many years preceding it.
And it didn’t seem to matter that similar behavior concerns were raised about other well-known individuals: Bill Cosby and the current person occupying the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to cite but two obvious examples. Perhaps more to the point: it didn’t seem to matter that countless women have suffered this same kind of treatment for decades (but no one paid much attention to them either). Now, the cry is rising up, and the hashtag “MeToo” has been appearing everywhere.
The epidemic is pervasive: this morning I heard a report on NPR that more than half of all American women have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Thirty percent have endured such behavior from male colleagues; twenty-five percent said the abuse came from men with influence over the women’s careers. And ninety-five percent of these women report that the abusers usually go unpunished. (See Forbes’s “A New Poll on Sexual Harassment Suggests Why ‘Me Too’ Went So Insanely Viral”).
My sense of why this continues to happen relates to power structures in our society (which is also at the root of white supremacy behavior, although it plays out differently). When influential and powerful people (high position, wealth, influence, you name it) believe that they can use their power to sway people to get what they want, they are sometimes going to try. Why not, after all, if one believes that in doing so, one can get ahead, make more money, rise up the influence ladder? Somehow the question of moral and ethical behavior goes out the window, and those who don’t have the influence – or perhaps the maturity or money or job description – are preyed on.
Further, when those around influential people fall into the web and become subject to satisfying the needs (and sometimes, whims) of said influential people – they become enablers and are compensated or rewarded for making those with the power, happy. It’s a nasty paradigm, and it’s deeply embedded in our culture. When I was younger and working in professional theater, I was attacked in the back of a limousine by a theater critic for America’s newspaper of record. I was grabbed while driving a van in an unfamiliar city by a man who I asked for directions. It was suggested to me, on various occasions, that things would go better for me if I would agree to have cocktails with an influential man in that lovely low-cut dress I had for special occasions. And on and on.
My friends, this is why we teach human sexuality education to our children. This is why we have behavioral covenants. This is why we share, with our beautiful and precious children, the ways in which we hope they will decide to relate to one another in our world. This is why religious institutions like this one are important – to share values and beliefs that we hold dear, and talk with our children and friends about them…and then live them.
The news is depressing these days. It is full of stories about what someone once called a “basket of deplorables” and the reports don’t seem to be getting better. But we can affect a rewrite on this story. Together, by deciding that we are part of a covenanted community that believe that Black Lives Matter, that believe that we really DO care about the worth and dignity of all people, that talk about these values with each other and our children and youth…we can rewrite this story.
Let’s do that: let’s focus on some new screenplay, a different way of doing business. So that the narrative can be changed once and for all. If you would like to talk more about these issues and behaviors – on a personal level or a larger one – please do feel free to be in touch with Rev. Claire, Rev. Susanne, or me. We welcome you.
Interim Director of Religious Education