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Bryan Singer, Harvey Weinstein, And The Double Standards Of Sexual Abuse

What does it say about the state of our culture, our society, and our sexuality when every week seems to bring a new sex scandal to light? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. That’s a question that many are trying to answer. I’ve certainly tried to answer parts of it, but with every new scandal, that effort gains a new complication.

By now, most people know the famous names, the ruined careers, and the sordid extent of the allegations. Names like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Bill Cosby are now etched into the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons. The outrage and anguish surrounding their egregious actions evokes all sorts of passions.

It eventually culminated with Time Magazine recognizing the women who brought these scandals to light as the collective person of the year. For the most part, these women have been hailed as brave and strong for coming forward and exposing these crimes. It’s because of them that these powerful men can no longer hide their misdeeds, which is a good thing.

I don’t deny the importance of what these women have done. They’ve helped kick-start a movement that has made people more aware of these egregious crimes. It’s because of those efforts that even powerful people who are inclined to use that power to exploit women can’t hide from the consequences of their actions. In the name of furthering a just society, I think that’s a good thing.

However, and this is where I know I may upset some people, there’s a part of that effort that’s still incomplete. There’s a missing piece of this ongoing battle against sexual misconduct, one that has the feel of a very subtle, but deeply distressing double standard. Having talked about the less obvious double standards in our society, I feel like the extent of this one is only growing.

Recently, a fresh sex scandal came to light involving another powerful name in Hollywood. Bryan Singer, the accomplished director behind “The Usual Suspects” and the architect of the X-men movie franchise, has been accused of raping a 17-year-old boy. We’re not talking about loose bath robes, groping, and shady casting couches. This story involves full-blown rape.

It’s not the first time Singer has been accused of sexual misconduct. To date, he hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law, which is an important detail to note. False accusations do happen and people in positions of power, like Hollywood, are easy targets.

I’m not going to speculate how true or exaggerated the accusations against Singer are. The details are still not clear and information is still coming out. However, there’s an important element to the news of this scandal that’s worth pointing out.

Unlike the scandals with Weinstein and Cosby, the victims in this case weren’t women. They were men. If you don’t think that matters, then take a second to recall the reactions to other scandals.

When the sordid stories about Weinstein came out, they generated all sorts of outrage. It was a hot topic on the news, social media, and even “Family Guy” jokes. The fact that these men did such disgusting things to women got a lot of people talking. However, when the victims are men, the narrative is different.

Before Bryan Singer, the only notable scandal involving men was that of Kevin Spacey. However, the outrage he generated had less to do with the gender of his victim and more to do with how he used the scandal to come out as homosexual. That upset people, but the alleged crime he committed against his male victim became an afterthought.

This is where the double standard gets uncomfortably apparent. We, as a society, agree that assaulting and harassing women is a terrible crime. We rightly condemn it. However, when it happens to a male victim, and it happens more often than we think, we’re not quite as vocal with our outrage. It’s still a crime. It still involves exploration and pain. When the victim is a man, though, we don’t see it the same way.

I’ve highlighted this to some degree with a thought experiment. However, it plays out in other ways throughout our culture. Stories about women being victims are often harrowing and brutal. Stories built around male victims of sexual assault, though, can be comedies starring Will Ferrall and Kevin Hart.

There are any number of reasons as to why that is. Male victimization, especially in matters of sexual misconduct, carries with it some unique taboos. There’s this idea that men, being the ones with more power and influence in this world, can’t be victims in the same way as women. Never mind the fact that the pain any victim feels is real, regardless of gender. We still treat one victim differently than another.

It plays into this notion that men are just supposed to shake off that kind of victimization and women need some sort of special treatment. In a sense, it’s insulting to both genders and obscures the actual substance of the crimes involved. Whereas there’s an entire movement behind the effort to combat sex crimes against women, the crimes against men just fall to the wayside.

That’s not to say it’s being completely ignored. Some are making an admirable effort. Corey Feldman, a former child star, has been among the few celebrities who have been outspoken about the abuse young men have suffered in the entertainment industry. Terry Crews, a successful actor and former Old Spice Man, has spoken out against it as well.

However, to date their efforts haven’t generated the kind of notoriety and outrage as the movement to protect women from these same crimes. Their voices are often drowned out by other scandals that fit into this overall narrative of creepy, sinister men in power exploiting women.

For reasons that are too voluminous for one blog post, the narrative surrounding scandals like that of Bryan Singer aren’t quite as enticing. The notion of a powerful man victimizing another man just doesn’t come off as the kind of struggle that makes everyone feel more virtuous by joining.

It certainly doesn’t help that the taboos surrounding these scandals also mix with other taboos involving homosexuality. Those attempting to take a stand against male victimization have to be careful with their outrage because if they don’t, they can get labeled as a homophobic bigot and that’s not the crowd most people want to be part of.

In a sense, voicing outrage against the female victimization is easier and safer. There’s little ambiguity. A powerful man victimizing a vulnerable woman has clear, defined lines of injustice. The only emotions we deal with are those involved with our aversion to injustice.

With male victims, those emotions are still there, but they’re complicated by these uncomfortable ideas that don’t fit that narrative. It goes beyond double standards in that it requires us to contemplate the kind of crime that we don’t want to believe happens as often as it does.

That mentality is downright dangerous because it creates the sense that some victims are more important than others. Whereas a female victim will get all the love and support that hashtags and talk shows can offer, male victims have to fend for themselves. That’s a problem because fighting the same injustice with different standards is an injustice in and of itself.

The allegations against Singer remain to be proven and may end up being false, but the fact that this scandal doesn’t carry the same weight as others involving women reveals that ongoing efforts to combat sexual misconduct are incomplete. Until some of these double standards are confronted, then the injustice will continue.

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People Who Admitted They Were Wrong (And Why We Should Respect Them)

There’s one sentence that nobody likes saying. Hell, it’s a thought we avoid thinking at all costs. It’s painful, stressful, and downright damaging to our entire understanding of who we are. No, it doesn’t involve distressing phrases like “unfortunate accident,” “slight complication,” or “broken condom.” This incredibly gut-wrenching concept can be boiled down to five simple words.

“I admit I was wrong.”

I’ll give everyone not named Kanye West a moment to stop shuddering. I know. Just reading over that sentence was stressful. I’m only being half-sarcastic here, but I’ve been on the internet long enough and seen one too many comments sections to know the sheer power of those words, if only because they’re so rarely said.

More than ever, we live at a time when nobody wants to admit how wrong they are. It doesn’t even matter, in some cases, when someone is proven wrong beyond any possible doubt. People will still deny it. To make matters worse, a lot of these people tend to be in major positions of power.

There are a lot of things I can say about this phenomenon. Hell, I don’t deny that there have been times when I’ve clung to demonstrably wrong sentiments much longer than I should have.

A lot of it has to do with the flawed wiring of our caveman brains, which I know I constantly belabor on this site. We have this mental picture of who we are in our minds and being wrong is like a stack of dynamite to the foundation. It’s often why people will go to egregiously misguided efforts to protect that mental compilation of who they are.

However, I don’t want to spend too much time belaboring that. I’ll save that for other topics, preferably for a time when our collective faith in humanity is due for its regular gut punch. Instead, I want this post to inspire a sense of hope.

As hard as it may seem, it is possible for people to admit they were wrong. It’s even possible for them to make amends. It’s even possible for some of those people to be celebrities, individuals whose grasp on reality is often tenuous at best. I admit it sounds as impossible in an age where celebrities believe in aliens, chemtrails, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. It does happen though.

Recently, the fine and sexy folks at Cracked.com did a compilation, which they call Pictofacts, of people who undertook the agonizingly difficult task of admitting that they were wrong. Here are some highlights that should give everyone pause, if only to marvel at how any human being can humble themselves in the face of such distress.

Entry 20

Entry 19

Entry 17

Entry 15

Entry 3

These are just a few cases. There are plenty more out there that are every bit as profound. Even so, take a moment to appreciate the breadth of these admissions and the change of heart that these people underwent.

These aren’t just people who watched too much Fox News or listened to their crazy uncles too closely. These are admitted racists, homophobes, bigots, and even a goddamned Neo-Nazi who stood up, admitted they were wrong, and tried to make amends.

It’s impossible to overstate how dramatic this is, from a purely personal standpoint. The inability to admit when we’re wrong is hardwired into us. Making such an admission is akin to resisting the urge to eat when you’re starving or avoid staring at a pair of exposed breasts when you’re horny. It goes against some fundamental forces of biology.

It essentially requires that someone take a baseball bat to the entire foundation of their psyche and rebuild it from scratch. That is not an easy process, nor is it pleasant. It can cost friends, family, reputations, and even careers, as some celebrities like Leah Remini are finding out.

Despite all this, these people still do it. They still do what they understand to be the right and decent thing. It’s not just something that warrants respect. It should be celebrated. Stubbornness isn’t just an unfortunate default setting in our biology. It’s one of those forces that’s getting a lot worse. Anyone who can overcome it in this environment has a strength that not everyone has.

It’s because of that environment that cases like this, where people admit outright that they were wrong, will become more rare. In the age of the internet and social media, it’s too easy to find a group of like-minded people who will reinforce any position, no matter how wrong they are. Why else would flat earth societies still exist?

That makes acknowledging those who do admit their mistakes all the more important. Now, that’s not to say that everyone should overlook whatever misdeeds they did when they were wrong. As I said in my piece about forgiving sexual misconduct, there are some things that just shouldn’t be overlooked.

Even in the extreme cases, though, it’s important to give people a chance. We need to place faith in people, something I’ve lamented before. We, as a society, need to reward those who endure the agony of admitting that they were wrong. We should keep in mind just how difficult it is for anyone to come to such a realization, especially if they’re a celebrity or someone of major influence.

Admitting that you’re wrong requires strength. It should not be seen as a weakness. At a time when billions of people have access to unlimited information, including half-truths and outright lies, it’s important that people value what is true and just. It’s still a difficult process and our flawed biology will fight us every step of the way. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important.

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Forgiving Sexual Misconduct (And Why We Should Try It)

When someone says they’re sorry, how do you decide whether or not to accept their apology? Some are easier than others. If someone uses your toothbrush by mistake, it’s not a big deal for them to say they’re sorry, buy you a new one, and move on with your lives. It’s only when someone does something that’s really egregious that we find out how forgiving we truly are.

When it comes to egregious behavior, though, sexual assault and sexual harassment are near the top of the list. Recent news surrounding celebrity sex scandals have only solidified that sentiment. Just being a dick to someone is bad enough. Being a dick in a way that makes someone feel violated, used, and abused takes it ten steps further.

As bad as those lurid misdeeds can be, should we still accept their apologies when they express remorse? It’s a hard question to ask and one I’m sure evokes a lot of difficult emotions, especially for those who have been victims. However, forgiveness is a powerful force, more so than most people realize.

I’m not saying that everyone should forget about someone’s crime or overlook how awful it was, but it’s still a question that’s worth asking. Our ability to answer it will reveal a lot about our society and the kind of people we are. Knowing those risks, I’ll say it outright.

Should we forgive those accused of sexual misconduct if they apologize? 

I ask that question with the understanding that some people will never forgive someone for their misdeeds and for entirely understandable reasons. I don’t blame animal lovers for refusing to forgive Michael Vick for what he did to innocent dogs. I certainly wouldn’t blame victims of sexual assault to forgive the likes of Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby if they ever came out and offered a heartfelt apology.

However, even if certain people can’t forgive, that doesn’t mean that we, as a society, shouldn’t make the effort. Human beings are flawed creatures. They make mistakes. They do bad things, some worse than others. They may not think of their actions as bad. They may just see what they do as their own twisted version of “normal.”

It’s only when the breadth of their crimes are shoved in their faces that they stop making excuses. For those with power and influence, those excuses can be pretty egregious, as I’ve mentioned in my discussions on excuse banking. Despite those factors, these people are still human, at the end of the day. Provided they’re not sociopaths, they do have feelings and they do experience remorse.

Even if we, as a society, hate what they’ve done, should we give them the benefit of the doubt when they apologize? That may be harder to do for certain celebrities, but I still believe it’s worth doing.

It reflects a sentiment I expressed a while back on our growing lack of faith in people, as a whole. We’ve become so jaded, so cynical about the world that as soon as we see a public figure’s name trending, we instinctively assume the worst. I admit that whenever I see someone on the top trends of Twitter, I brace myself for news that’s going to churn my stomach.

It’s that kind of cynicism that really poisons our perceptions, leading us to assume the worst in people. Beyond making us miserable like extra in an old grunge music video, it numbs us to the possibility that someone can be capable of redemption. If we’re just too cynical, we don’t even bother giving them a chance.

That’s a tragedy, in and of itself, because if we don’t at least try to forgive people for their crimes, then what reason do they have to apologize in the first place? It just gives people more reasons to make more excuses, as Kevin Spacey tried and failed to do when his scandal broke.

Those excuses just leave us more jaded, thereby making those accused more defensive. It’s a brutal cycle that ensures people will become more focused on not getting caught for their misdeeds rather than rectifying them. That’s not a healthy mentality for any society, be it one that exists online or one from our caveman days.

I don’t deny that forgiveness is a challenge, especially as we’ve become more sensitive to certain types of crimes. It’s also a two-way street in that the celebrity and/or public figure has to actually apologize in the first place. That doesn’t always happen. Some people are incapable of such humility.

Some, however, do make the effort. Shortly after news of his scandal broke, Louis CK issued a statement admitting the allegations were true and expressed remorse for them. He didn’t file a lawsuit or go on a PR blitz to quash the story. He confronted it directly and owned up to it. That’s something even non-celebrities struggle to do and for that, he deserves some credit.

Again, that’s not to say that the things Louis CK did weren’t egregious. If possible, he should face the same penalties that any non-celebrity would face if they were in his position, whether that be a hefty fine, a restraining order, or jail time.

However, once he pays his price and admits his guilt, the ball is then in our court. It’s up to us to give him another chance to make amends. Yes, it’s a risk because if he does it again, then there will be another victim that suffers. We still have to ask ourselves, though, what good can possibly come by punishing someone like Louis CK until the day he dies?

Excessive shaming can have some pretty debilitating effects on people, some of which can inspire even more misdeeds. Think back to what I described with learned helplessness and Al Bundy Syndrome. At some point, a person subjected to too much punishment just stops trying to avoid it and does nothing to change their behavior. That too can lead to more victims and more crimes.

That’s why, in the grand scheme of things, it’s in our best interests as decent human beings to give those who express remorse for their sexual misdeeds a chance. First, give them a chance to confront and apologize for their actions. Then, once convinced of their sincerity, give them a chance to be good again.

That means not belaboring or hounding them for their past crimes. That doesn’t mean ignoring them either. What happened in the past is bad, but it should remain in the past. The focus should be on the present and the future. If both sides are on the same page, in that respect, then that’ll do much more to improve our sate of affairs. Let’s not lie to ourselves. We kind of need that right now.

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The Unpersoning Of Celebrities (And Why It’s Happening)

These past few weeks have been rough for celebrities, at least to the extent that anyone rich, famous, and powerful can have it rough. Between Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK, it has been a bad time for male celebrities who have used their fame to justify showing their dicks to women who didn’t ask for it.

I’ve already talked quite a bit about the impact of these scandals and the sexual dynamics that guide them. I don’t want to spend too much time belaboring the severity of these accusations, if they’re true. Some have already been verified. I don’t doubt that more will find their way into the headlines as we collectively agree that celebrities harassing women is not something we’ll overlook anymore.

It’s hard to say how far this probe into the sexual misconduct of powerful men will go. It may very well be the case that celebrity culture is facing an overdue purge of perverse assholes who think their fame gives them a convenient excuse to put their hands and dicks in places they don’t belong. However, it’s the way in which we go about punishing them that I find most revealing.

In George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, “1984,” he introduced a number of concepts that one too many authoritarian governments have taken to heart. I’ve talked about a few of them before, but one in particular that stands out is that of “unpersoning.” It’s a phenomenon that many of these accused celebrities are learning about the hard way.

In “1984,” the concept of unpersoning is as nefarious as it is pragmatic. When someone becomes a malcontent or a threat to the established order, it’s not enough to just arrest or kill them. They have to be utterly erased from history, society, and common knowledge.

It’s not just that it becomes illegal or taboo to mention a person. To unperson someone is to remove their existence from the collective consciousness of society. It’s not just that people forget about these individuals. They have to forget that they forgot so that anything this person may have said, done, or thought might as well have never happened.

While our society isn’t quite on the same level as Big Brother in “1984,” that hasn’t stopped us from making a concerted effort. Since the recent revelations, Harvey Weinstein has been ousted from the company that bears his own name. Kevin Spacey has been fired by Netflix and erased from his recent role in a Ridley Scott movie. More recently, everyone seems to be cutting ties with Louis CK.

It’s not quite the same level of unpersoning that we see in “1984,” but the concept is the same. It’s not enough to wait for the courts to sort out these accusations. Public opinion, public perception, and an increasingly low tolerance for this sort of behavior is putting once-powerful people on the wrong end of the social justice equation.

It’s still not clear just how true some of these accusations are and, as a rule, I don’t assume the worst until it is proven in a court of law. However, there sheer volume of the accusations lead me to believe that there’s some truth to the story. Despite what “Ocean’s Eleven” may have you believe, groups of people aren’t that good at subverting the law. Usually, one of them cracks under the pressure.

Even if only a fraction of the accusations turn out to be true, the unpersoning of celebrities is understandable to some extent. Please don’t take that to mean that I’m overlooking the possibility that some accusation may very well be fabricated or exaggerated. With celebrities, though, the situation is a bit different.

If an ordinary, non-celebrity person commits sexual harassment or sexual assault, it usually doesn’t make the news. Most of the time, it’s handled by the police, an HR department, or vindictive friends who put cherry bombs in the perpetrator’s toilet. That’s just basic justice for a functioning society.

The problem, for both celebrities and non-celebrities alike, however, is that proving these kinds of crimes is hard. Our justice system is built on the idea that those accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is very high and it’s a big reason why people like O. J. Simpson are acquitted.

It’s for that very reason, which O. J. Simpson himself proved, that it’s even harder to convict a celebrity. Unlike most ordinary people, celebrities like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have the power, money, and influence to hire the best legal defense that money can buy. It adds even more difficulty to securing a conviction while giving victims even fewer reasons to come forward.

That’s where unpersoning comes in. Multiple generations have watched as celebrities like O. J. Simpson get acquitted for heinous crimes because they had access to resources that most people can only dream of. As such, our collective faith in our rigid justice system is understandably low.

In a sense, social media and the internet has given people a mechanism for doing what the legal system can’t and won’t do. It gives society a way to punish those deemed guilty of crimes that their high-priced legal team and PR consultants won’t allow. In a sense, it’s the only way to ensure celebrities face some form of justice.

Unlike previous eras of Hollywood scandals, it’s not as easy to sweep an incident under the rug. If a celebrity does something horrible, it only takes a few people with functioning cell phones and social media accounts to expose those crimes. Just ask Mel Gibson how bad this can turn out.

A part of me still feels uncomfortable with this form of justice because it’s not hard for it to go too far. It’s both possible and likely that someone will get accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault who is entirely innocent. We saw it with the infamous UVA case and the Duke Lacrosse case. So long as people are willing to lie, there will be false accusations.

At the same time, though, a part of me understands why this is happening. We humans have an innate sense of justice, even as babies. When we feel there’s a serious injustice in our world, we feel compelled to right it. With celebrities, we’ve had precious few recourse that don’t involve overpriced lawyers. Now, through the use of unpersoning, we have a way.

It’s still not on the same level as Big Brother in “1984,” nor is it to an extent that a celebrity will go to prison. At the end of the day, a well-off celebrity will still have millions of dollars and mansions full of servants willing to cater to their every need. Sure, their lives and reputations will be damaged, but they won’t exactly suffer the same as an ordinary person convicted in a court of law.

It’s not perfect. It’s not even wholly consistent with all the tenants of justice. For the moment, though, unpersoning is becoming the new way in which we punish celebrities who commit injustice. Until we find a better way to deal with issues like sexual harassment, it’s the best recourse we have. Only time will tell whether it proves effective.

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How NOT To Respond To An Old Sex Scandal (Too Late For Harvey Weinstein)

Whenever a celebrity or person of influence becomes the subject of a sex scandal, sometimes the most you can do is just pop open a cold beer, put your feet up, and enjoy the show. There’s sure to be a mix of hilarity, disgust, and anguish along the way. You might as well be comfortably drunk.

Last year, it was Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly who got caught thinking with the wrong head and that cost them their jobs. While I’ve expressed my concern about the precedent those scandals might set, I never doubted for a second that there would be more like them in the future. I also didn’t doubt those involved would find a way to handle it poorly.

Sadly, I was right, albeit not surprised. Last week, the New York Times broke a story about Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, paying off sexual harassment accusers for decades. Among those accusers are famous names like Ashley Judd and not-so-famous names like Emily Nestor, who found themselves in a woefully unequal power dynamic where Weinstein held the kind of power that would make Christian Grey envious.

For those who are fans of Weinstein’s work, which include famed Miramax productions like “Pulp Fiction,” “Chasing Amy,” and “Good Will Hunting,” these are pretty distressing allegations. This isn’t the kind of playful flirting that goes too far. This is the kind of harassment that involves luring ambitious, vulnerable women to hotel rooms and demanding massages.

Granted, it could’ve gotten much worse, as we saw with the Roman Polanski scandal. For the most part, though, Weinstein’s conduct is not that different from what we saw with Ailes and O’Reilly.

He was a powerful man who could make or end careers. He was surrounded by young, attractive, ambitious women over which he had a great deal of leverage. Some men will take advantage of those opportunities and spend decades of their lives trying to shove it under the rug.

Eventually, secrets and hush money only go so far. Just a few days after the scandal broke, Weinstein was terminated from the Weinstein Company that bears his name. Even though many of the accusations haven’t made their way through the court system, the company heard enough and isn’t waiting for the verdict.

Before you start feeling any measure of sympathy for Harvey Weinstein, I think it’s worth pointing out that he hasn’t exactly denied the allegations, nor has he made any sincere apologies. Instead, he’s been making excuses and anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows how I feel about excuses.

homer simpson fail. . EPIC AIL Sometimes, youjust have no excuse.

Shortly after Weinstein was fired, he did exactly what nobody should do in a sex scandal and started making excuses. Instead of the old, “She told me she was 18,” excuse, this is what he said according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

In terms of excuses, this is basically the kind of D-level effort of a lazy high school student during a mid-term. He’s not apologizing. He’s not denying or asking for understanding. He’s just claiming that the times were different and somehow, harassing women like he did was okay back then.

Now, I wasn’t alive in the 60’s or 70’s. I don’t entirely know or understand what kind of culture Weinstein was talking about. I just know that in nearly every era and culture, being a dick to women is pretty frowned upon, especially if you’re in a position of power.

Weinstein wasn’t just some creepy guy following women home from bars. He was the head of a major movie company that could turn people into stars. Given the sheer breadth of people seeking stardom, and the vast majority of those who fail, it’s hard to understate how powerful Weinstein was.

It’s for that reason that his excuses come off as even more egregious. It goes beyond the “that’s just how things were” gimmick that we see glorified in “Mad Men.” This is a man who preyed on women who had dreams of being a star. He held those dreams in his hand and used them to take advantage of those women. There are just no excuses for that and his effort to make excuses just makes it worse.

Now, as bad as Weinstein’s excuses are, I also have to give him the same courtesy I gave Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. By that, I mean I need to point out that these stories the New York Times reported are not completely verified. There is a possibility, however remote you might think, that Weinstein’s conduct wasn’t as bad as the women claim.

It may even be the case that some of Weinstein’s accusers were never actually harassed, but are seeking damages because they want to extort money from him. That does happen. Men and women are equally capable of exploiting a situation. While Weinstein’s conduct and responses have made that unlikely, there’s often a chance that the media will exaggerate the story for dramatic effect.

At this point, though, it’s too late for Weinstein. He’s effectively sealed his fate by making poor excuses and doing a pitiful job of managing the narrative. Even if the accusations were all fake, his response to them has shattered any sense of sympathy or understanding he might have garnered. He basically shot himself in the foot and tried to treat it with sulfuric acid.

It’s almost certain that Harvey Weinstein won’t be the last big mogul or media icon to get caught up in a sex scandal. It’s also fairly likely that whoever gets caught next will make the same excuses.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle a scandal, even if you’re guilty. However, the kind of people who make excuses in being dicks to women probably don’t care much about the right way to begin with. That’s not just tragic. That’s downright cold.

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A Better Male Feminist: Ron Swanson

When it comes to icons and heroes, it says a lot about society when most these days are fictional characters. We’ve become a very cynical bunch, never putting too much stock into real people. It’s often only a matter of time before they tweet something stupid or are discovered to be card-carrying asshole.

In some ways, it’s a sign of the times. We are an exceedingly jaded bunch, born from a generation of burned-out hippies. We also live in a world where we have no concept of privacy and no ability to give anyone who holds problematic opinions a pass. For anyone who becomes an icon, it’s usually only a matter of time before they say or do something to ruin their iconic status.

Recently, Joss Whedon added his name to that bloated list of fallen icons. Up until a few weeks ago, he wasn’t just a successful director and alpha dog of geek culture. He was held up, by many, as a feminist icon. He was the gold standard that feminists referred to when asked to reference how a male feminist should conduct themselves.

Now, like so many other icons whose hypocrisy was exposed, Joss Whedon’s once impeccable feminist credentials have been shattered. While I’ve argued that his hypocrisy isn’t quite on the same level as other less reputable celebrities, it’s still a mortal blow, of sorts, to his status as an icon. He may still be a celebrity and a successful director, but he cannot be a feminist icon anymore.

I think that’s more than tragic. As an unapologetic fan of superhero comics, I know the value of having an iconic hero who embodies the values of a particular idea. While I’ve taken issue with certain brands of feminism, I do think there are still important women’s issues that deserve attention. Those kinds of struggles need icons and heroes.

So, in lieu of Joss Whedon’s shortcomings in this area, I’d like to offer an alternative to those seeking a new feminist hero who can raise the bar for everyone in terms of true gender equality. That hero is already an icon to many and one whose feminist credentials are a lot more pragmatic than Whedon’s ever were.

He’s a man, but he’s a man who earns the respect of men, women, and everything in between. He’s also a fictional character, but one who managed to carve a special place in popular culture for all the right reasons. Ladies, gentlemen, and those of unspecified gender, I give you the ultimate feminist hero, Ron Swanson.

To those who haven’t watched every episode of “Parks and Recreation,” bear with me. I have a feeling that those already familiar with the unstoppable force of American manliness that is Ron Swanson don’t need much convincing. They already know damn well why this man deserves to be an icon to men and woman alike.

For the sake of those who haven’t seen the show, and I weep for those people, allow me to explain. Ron Swanson isn’t just a man of many talents, from wood-working to cutting wasteful government spending. He’s a man of principle. Throughout every season of the show, he makes those principles clear and doesn’t give a wet fart about whose feelings or faces are hurt in the process.

Those are ideals that plenty of men can respect. However, it’s how he conducts himself around women that sets him apart even more. The fact he can do so with a perfectly groomed mustache is just an awesome bonus.

One of Ron Swanson’s most defining traits is that he deals with everyone the same way and sees them on a similar level, as individuals. Specifically, he sees most people as morons who annoy him and are too lazy/stupid/weak to solve their own problems. Yes, that’s a somewhat cynical view of people in general, but that’s just it. It’s how he views people.

Ron Swanson is nothing if not even-handed in dealing with men and women alike. Throughout the show, he holds both genders to the same standard. If you annoy him, as most people do, he won’t give you special treatment on the basis of what body parts you may or may not have. Annoyance is annoyance, no matter where it comes from.

That is, in essence, what traditional feminism has been about, treating both genders fairly and holding them to a similar standard. Ron Swanson does that better than anyone. Moreover, he doesn’t need to be constantly reminded. That’s just how he rolls. He doesn’t need any rigorous feminist training.

He also trusts women to be as capable as men in whatever tasks he gives them. While he’s the director of the Pawnee Park’s Department, he delegates most of the tasks to his deputy, Leslie Knope. However, he doesn’t do that because he has to. He does it because he trusts her to do the job and because Leslie wants that job.

His relationship with Leslie Knope shows that Ron is capable of working with women, trusting them, and acknowledging their value in a professional, non-romantic sort of way.

He has a similar relationship with his assistant, the crass and crude April Ludgate. Again, Ron doesn’t give her the job because she’s a woman. He gives her the job because he knows she’ll do it effectively. He also doesn’t try to make her conform to any particular standard for an assistant, gender or otherwise. He lets her be herself. Can you think of fairer, more pro-feminist way to deal with a female employee? I think not.

Beyond his working relationships, Ron shows he’s also capable of having deeper relationships with other women. Not all of them are healthy, though. He’s been divorced twice, both to women named Tammy. However, it’s these unhealthy relationships that really help solidify Ron’s status as a true feminist hero for men and women alike.

In a sense, Ron’s ex-wives are the very antithesis of feminism. In fact, they’re perfect feminist villains. Tammy One, as Ron calls her, is a joyless, ball-busting tyrant who has the warmth and comfort of a venomous snake. She exists to control everyone around her, especially Ron. She doesn’t accept anyone for who they are. She tries to mold them into whoever she wants them to be. Men and women alike are right to fear her.

On top of that, she works for the IRS. I honestly can’t think of a way to make anyone, man or woman, more terrifying. The fact that Ron survived a marriage with her should immediately give him credibility with any feminist looking to avoid the label of a man-hater.

Then, there’s Tammy Two, as Ron calls her, and while not quite as terrifying, she’s every bit as devious. What she lacks in Tammy One’s callousness, she more than makes up for with weaponized sex appeal. I’m not talking about the cute, lovable kind of sex appeal either. I’m talking about the kind that attempts to strangle a man with brute vaginal strength.

Like Tammy One, Tammy Two attempts to use sex to bend men and everyone around her to her will. Throughout the show, she makes multiple attempts to seduce Ron back into her grasp and almost succeeds a number of times. Despite her supernatural ability to manipulate men with her vagina, Ron is able to resist and break her hold.

On one level, that’s a perfect demonstration of a woman who uses sexuality for manipulation, something feminists and men’s rights activists alike complain about. On another, it also demonstrates that some men cannot be bought with sex, no matter how wild and amazing it might be. Ron is one of those men and he’s a better man because of it.

Despite his experiences with his ex-wives, Ron Swanson still treats women fairly. He’s even a romantic, of sorts, and not just towards bacon. In the later seasons of the show, he meets a woman named Diane Lewis and she’s everything the Tammys aren’t.

She accepts him for who he is, doesn’t want him to change, and eventually marries him. Ron treats her the same. Theirs is a true relationship of equals, a kind that feminists can respect and admire alongside that of Cyclops and Jean Grey. For a man to have endured two failed marriages to two monstrous women, yet still love a better woman for all the right reasons, is as heroic a story as any, especially within a feminist context.

Between the way Ron works with women, the way he loves them, and the way he deals with them, he demonstrates a far more refined approach to feminism than Joss Whedon ever did. He didn’t need to create female heroes. He didn’t need to make multi-billion dollar movies or iconic TV shows. He just had to show that it’s possible to deal with women in a fair, equal, and respectful way.

The fact that Ron does all of that without being the kind of whiney beta-male that makes every male feminist sound like they have a deflated scrotum. Ron is, by every measure, as alpha as it gets when it comes to men. He’s strong, he’s tough, he’s stern, and he has one of the manliest mustaches of all time. No one in their right mind would doubt this man’s masculine credentials.

On top of that, he’s not the kind overly-muscled, John Rambo kind of alpha male with woefully impractical muscles and ridiculous skills that nobody without Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body-building routine can hope to match. Ron Swanson has the build and physique of an actual man. He does set the bar too high or inspire body image issues, except when it comes to manly facial hair.

By nearly every measure, Ron Swanson is the kind of man that should earn him a place in the feminist hall of fame. He is everything men respect and women admire. He should be the icon and hero that feminists refer to.

I’m not saying he’s without flaws. I’m not saying there aren’t other men, real and fictional, who deserve a similar status. I’m just saying that Ron Swanson is the kind if icon that feminists can rally around. Granted, Ron doesn’t care much for rallies, icons, heroes, or annoying people in general, but that’s what makes him Ron fucking Swanson.

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Joss Whedon: Non-Feminist Hypocrite Or Too Human?

Happier times: Architect and producer Cole claims that Whedon cheated on her multiple times through their 16 year marriage in her piece for The Wrap; (pictured 2010)

If you’ve been following this blog in any capacity over the past year, or even the past few months, you’ve probably picked up on a number of themes. If you’re new and just stumbled across this blog because you noticed how much it talks about boobs, sex robots, and Deadpool, then here’s a quick rundown of those themes.

  • Every human being is at the mercy of their brain wiring to a large extent
  • Our brain wiring still assumes that we’re a bunch of cavemen hunting and foraging in the savanna
  • Our brains and body structure have two primary purposes, survival and reproduction
  • Any function other than survival and reproduction is secondary
  • Our overall biology is a blunt instrument that is nearly incapable of being precise, specific, or consistent
  • People will make endless excuses to justify actions they think were more logical than they actually are
  • Sex robots are awesome and cannot come soon enough

For this post, which highlights a major story that broke this past week, it’ll cover almost all of those themes. I’ll do my best to work sex robots into the discussion, but I can’t make any promises. It’s also a story that’s still developing so, in all likelihood, the details are bound to change at some point.

That tends to happen a lot when the story involves divorce, celebrities, and potential hypocrisy on a level that even our celebrity-loving culture can’t tolerate. I’ve made an issue of that kind of hypocrisy before when sex icon and walking male fantasy Pamela Anderson came out against porn, despite having become rich and famous from it. This, however, involves a different kind of hypocrisy.

That brings me Joss Whedon, whose life seems to have taken a few tumbles since it peaked while directing “The Avengers.” It’s not just that he never got “Firefly” un-cancelled or did not do a good job of handling the less-than-flattering controversy surrounding “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” His personal life is also suffering.

Lately, Whedon has been going through a long, tedious divorce with his wife, Kai Cole. Divorce is always rough, even when you’re as celebrated and successful as Joss Whedon. Celebrity couples endure it with distressing frequency, as Chris Pratt and Anna Faris recently learned. However, Whedon’s divorce has incurred another story with even larger implications.

Granted, it doesn’t take much to make divorce even more painful, especially when you have the resources of a celebrity. This might be one case where the pain goes beyond the relationship, revealing something about ourselves that’s as impactful as any billion-dollar movie.

That pain came in the form of a letter that Kai Cole penned about her husband for The Wrap. This is not just an angry rant from a bitter ex-wife, although that’s definitely a part of it. This letter potentially reveals a level of hypocrisy that may undermine our ability to trust any male celebrity who claims to be an ardent feminist.

While I’ve articulated my doubts about those kinds of figures before, especially of the beta male variety, Ms. Cole’s article is basically a perfect storm, of sorts. That’s because, until this letter, Joss Whedon had a reputation as being the quintessential male feminist in Hollywood geek culture.

He did plenty to earn that reputation too by creating shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dollhouse,” and the aforementioned “Firefly.” He even wrote comics like Astonishing X-men, which I still highly recommend. The man had a long list of accomplishments is what I’m saying. The fact he did so much under the feminist label says a lot about him.

Then, this letter comes along that basically says Whedon’s feminist credentials are built on a lie. For feminists and geek culture, that’s akin to finding out Wonder Woman’s breasts are fake. It’s a major revelation that may not have surprised some, but it’s still pretty jarring for those who held Whedon as the gold standard for male feminism.

For some context, here are some of the things his ex-wife said about those lies. I’ll give die-hard Buffy fans a moment to brace themselves.

There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of “Buffy,” Joss decided to have his first secret affair.

Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”

Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me. He wrote me a letter when our marriage was falling apart, but I still didn’t know the whole truth, and said, “I’ve never loved anyone or wanted to be with anyone in any real or long-term way except for you ever. And I love our life. I love how you are, how we are, who you are and what we’ve done both separately and together, how much fun we have…” He wanted it all; he didn’t want to choose, so he accepted the duality as a part of his life.

Now before I say anything else about this issue or Ms. Cole’s letter, I need to make one thing clear. This letter is just one side of the story. As of this post, Joss Whedon and his people have not commented on this letter. That could change between now and the second after I publish this post.

Also, keep in mind that the person who wrote this letter is an ex-wife who probably isn’t feeling too happy with her former husband. She has reason and incentive, due to his wealth and status, to undermine his reputation. That’s usually all anyone needs to shrug off details, context, and facts. Think excuse banking with child custody and huge amounts of alimony at stake.

For that reason, and others I don’t have time to get into, it’s unreasonable to assume that every word of Ms. Cole’s letter is completely true. It’s also just as unreasonable to assume that every word is false. Even if she is bitter, there may very well be elements of truth behind her claims. We’ve seen how hard it is to expose the hard truth of celebrities.

For the sake of exploring the implications, here, let’s assume that at least part of Ms. Cole’s letter is true. Since they are divorcing, it’s entirely plausible that Whedon was not entirely faithful during their marriage.

He’s a big name Hollywood director, armed with obscene amounts of money and influence. If you think for a second that beautiful women aren’t going to throw themselves at someone like that, then I suggest you watch some old Motley Crue music videos. Feminist or not, people are attracted to wealth and power. How else do you explain Mick Jagger having kids with women more than half his age?

I think it’s a near certainty that, at some point in his storied career, a beautiful young woman has offered herself to Joss Whedon in ways that would make Anastasia Steele blush. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some just showed up naked at his trailer and offered a guided tour of their vaginas. The only uncertainty is the extent to which Mr. Whedon accepted these offers.

Even if he accepted just one and never did it again, that would still be a major blow to his feminist credentials. That would be like finding out a Mormon priest smoked a joint with Snoop Dogg. It would be a hard thing to overlook.

Think of it from the perspective of the feminist characters that Mr. Whedon usually champions. What he did would be the antithesis of the narratives he tried to forge with shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Instead, it would basically be the same narrative of at least half of every porno ever made.

In that story, he’s anything but the feminist he claims to be. He’s a powerful man who uses his power and wealth to get sex from the kinds of eager young women who would fail the Bechtal Test on every level. It doesn’t matter that these women willingly offered sex. It still gives the impression that he’s a powerful man who’s using his position to get the kind of sex usually reserved for the villains in a “Mad Max” movie.

According to the letter, Ms. Cole was not an absent force in his life so it wasn’t like she was never around. She makes clear that she helped him with his career. She even contributed in some ways. However, those contributions didn’t stop Whedon from taking advantages of the sexy opportunities that presented themselves, often quite literally.

Whatever the extent of Whedon’s infidelity, if true, it still begs one important question. Does what he did make him a hypocrite in the eyes of feminism? Well, I would argue that it does, but to a fairly limited extent. He’s still a long way from the hypocrisy espoused by the likes of Pamela Anderson.

What he did was not very feminist. In fact, it was about as progressive as the setting of “Mad Men.” He plays directly into the narratives he claims to resent. However, he didn’t actively seek that narrative. It sought him. He’s a man. Feminist or not, when beautiful women throw themselves at you, that caveman brain of yours is going to take notice.

In Ms. Cole’s letter, she quoted Mr. Whedon offering an excuse for his behavior. Given what I’ve said about excuses, certain details should be fairly obvious.

When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.

That bold portion was my doing. Read it over a few times and think about what he’s saying. Mr. Whedon is implying that the concept of being surrounded by beautiful women wanting to throw themselves at you and feeling inclined to accept their eager offers isn’t just antithetical to feminism. It’s a disease.

That creates a couple of problems, both for his feminist narrative and his depleted excuse bank. One, it implies that, by being a disease, there’s some outside force responsible for his behavior and he’s somehow not responsible. Two, it also implies that a man wanting to enjoy the sexual opportunities that come his way is somehow inherently wrong.

Both of those problems fail miserably within the context of caveman logic and simple human nature. In fact, it even fails within the context of the natural biology of life that prioritizes survival and reproduction. Mr. Whedon did more than enough to acquire abundant resources for survival. Then, opportunities to reproduce follow and nearly every law of nature makes him inclined to use those opportunities.

In that sense, Mr. Whedon is not a hypocrite, but he is misguided in his understanding of sexual dynamics. I don’t deny that he sees himself as a pro-feminist person. However, I think that’s such a huge part of his identity that he’s willing to make more excuses than most to protect it. It’s really no different than what happened with Ted Haggard.

If Joss Whedon weren’t so closely associated with feminism, then the revelation that he might have cheated on his wife probably wouldn’t be news. He would just be another powerful man in Hollywood who enjoyed the fruits of being rich and famous. However, it’s his excuses, as Ms. Cole describes them, that are most telling.

It also reflects the distressing flaws in the kinds of sex-negative feminism that pervade certain parts of Hollywood and mass media. It paints certain sexual dynamics between gender, which are entirely logical within the context of biology, and paints them as flawed.

Now, I don’t deny that the human body has its flaws. Any man who has been kicked in the balls will attest to that. However, attempting to subvert those flaws never ends well. Just ask anyone who has survived gay conversion therapy. Any man or women who thought Mr. Whedon could subvert those same forces in the name of feminism is living in a fantasy world every bit as flawed as “Dollhouse.”

So while I don’t think it’s right to call Mr. Whedon a total hypocrite, I do think his actions, if true, reflect poorly on the principles he’s preached. It also reflects poorly on the brand of feminism that insists that certain male inclinations are inherently wrong. Mr. Whedon may be a great director and a less-than-perfect husband, but he’s still a man at the end of the day. If we acknowledge that, then we don’t need as many excuses.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, Reasons and Excuses