As usual men are behaving badly. The latest celebrity to get into the news for sexual violence is the comedian Louis C.K., who has admitted to masturbating in front of women without their consent. C.K. admitted to these stories after five women were on record for the New York Times detailing their encounters with the entertainer. In response to these now substantiated accusations, HBO has removed his content from their streaming service and his latest movie is no longer being released. Also in the news is the senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, who is alleged by the Washington Post to have molested a 14 year-old girl some three decades ago. What these two men have in common is a use of sexual violence as a way of enforcing cultural and political power.
A whole host of pathologies have gone into allowing Louis C.K. and Roy Moore to flourish. To speak to all these pathologies, as a man, is presumptuous. Men need to listen to women, both victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment, to understand how this problem is perpetrated. What can be said, at the very least, is that these men are the beneficiaries of a culture that fetishizes their perceived excellence to the exclusion of all other virtues. Our society values men who are seen as extra and uniquely special, talismans of excellence and genius. These men are imbued with perceived charisma and intelligence that seems to allow them to make groundbreaking art or pursue rarified political power on behalf of their political party. We value these men, in part, because they are stand-ins for our own ambitions, ambitions to be outstanding that is the bedrock of our hierarchical culture. Such projections explain, in part, why the entertainment and political industries look away from these bad men’s behavior. In a recent interview with David Axelrod, John Stewart was asked about the allegations against his friend Louis C.K. Stewart’s knee jerk response was smug dismissal of the question. David Aexlrod was visibly annoyed by the temerity of someone questioning his vaunted and rich guest about his vaunted and rich friend. Cultural conservatives in Alabama have responded similarly to the allegations against Moore. Everything from outright denial to rationalizations using biblical allusions have been used to defend Moore’s alleged actions. Circle the wagons, knee jerk smug dismissal, hostile criticism, character assassination, these are the tools used to defend the political and cultural elites when one of their own is under attack. And while Louis C.K. has come out and admitted to his misdeeds and is facing serious career repercussions, Moore is still the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from the yellowhammer state. Because to admit the truth is to admit that the elite’s hold on power and charisma is a mirage, a castle built on sand. When we turn broken and small men into infallible idols these men will always abuse their power and betray our trust. Sexual violence is an expression of power against women. Only by deconstructing these sacred idols and creating a society imbued with gender equity can we begin to erase our culture of never ending sexual predation.
The comedian Louis C.K. and Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore