Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Terry Crews, Corey Feldman, And Why The Anti-Harassment Movement Is Ignoring Them

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Recently, late-night talk host, Samantha Bee, took some time from her comedy news show to talk about sexual assault. That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. Many women have been doing that since the anti-harassment movement began. However, Ms. Bee did something noteworthy with her message.

She talked about the impact that harassment and sexual assault had on men. She even invited actor and former NFL player, Terry Crews, to participate. That gives her message more weight because Mr. Crews has been trying to raise awareness of that issue ever since the movement began. He even testified in front of a Senate committee on the issue, sharing his own stories of assault and abuse.

It’s a surprisingly balanced message from someone not known for having a good filter. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it. She doesn’t present it in an overly dire way, but the message it conveys is still serious.

It also sheds light on a major blind spot in the anti-harassment movement. It showed in how the scandals involving Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer were handled by the media. Whereas the victims of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were given plenty of support to tell their story, the male victims were largely ignored.

In fact, the primary reason why the Kevin Spacey scandal made headlines had less to do with the victim he assaulted and more to do with him using that to come out as gay. Him using that incident to address his sexuality wasn’t seen as contributing to the anti-harassment movement. It was seen as him derailing the movement for LGBT acceptance by associating his sexuality with assault of a minor.

The victims for both Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer never got a chance to have their voices heard. Unfortunately, that’s fairly common for male victims of sexual abuse. Mr. Crews has even addressed this on multiple occasions. Shortly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, he provided a fairly lengthy explanation on Twitter that explain why few speak up and even few are heard.

His comments are gender-neutral, but Mr. Crews also mentions how men face unique challenges in confronting this issue. Make no mistake. Sexual assault against men does happen and there’s plenty of raw data to back it up. The way it’s talked about and thought about, though, gives the impression that it’s not as big a deal.

That’s a big reason why men like Mr. Crews don’t come forward with their experiences. In his own words, “The silence is deafening when it comes to men talking about this issue.” Even though he’s been fairly vocal on this issue, few outside Ms. Bee have given him a chance to tie those experiences into the ongoing movement.

In addition to Mr. Crews, there are a few other notable voices trying to raise attention on the harassment and abuse of minors. Corey Feldman, a former child star, has been vocal in his efforts to expose the physical and sexual abuse he endured in his youth. He has even been trying to make a documentary exposing rampant child abuse in Hollywood, which has yet to be made.

This issue is personal for someone like Mr. Feldman because his friend and fellow child actor, Corey Haim, was also sexually abused as a young teenager. In his book, Coreyography, he talked about how they both struggled to deal with it. Drug abuse, which played a major part in Mr. Haim’s death in 2010, was a means of escaping the issue rather than dealing with it.

That’s understandable, considering the business they were in. Drug use in Hollywood isn’t just a long-standing part of the culture. It’s sometimes necessary, albeit for tragic reasons. It provides an escape for people like Mr. Feldman and Mr. Haim, one that’s much easier than coming forward and naming their abusers.

It’s the same issue women face when they’re victims of sexual assault. They’ll make a claim, but hesitate to name the abuser out of fear, shame, guilt, or willful disbelief. In Hollywood, especially, the people they deal with are rich and powerful. They have the resources to make anyone’s life, especially public figures like Mr. Feldman and Mr. Crews, extremely unpleasant.

On top of that, people who accuse a celebrity or public figure of such crimes are usually subject to major harassment as well. In that sense, staying silent is just easier. The anti-harassment movement has been trying to change that, at least for women, by providing them a platform with which to come forward. As a result, egregious crimes have been exposed and are actively being prosecuted.

However, those same efforts aren’t making much room for men like Mr. Feldman and Mr. Crews. They’re still in the same situation as they were before the anti-harassment movement began, trying to speak openly about a difficult issue and struggling to find support.

Why is that, though? Why are these men not allowed to stand on the front lines with the women who brought down Harvey Weinstein? There’s no easy answer to that. Chances are if you ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 different answers and at least 90 of them will sound like conspiracy theories.

I don’t claim to have a definitive answer, but I have reasonable suspicions and it has do with crafting a narrative. As an aspiring writer, I know a thing or two about narratives and why it’s so important to keep them concise. To some extent, the anti-harassment movement is an ongoing narrative that has to stay concise in order to pursue its goals.

Unfortunately, staying concise means ignoring or avoiding anything that might disrupt that narrative. In that context, Mr. Feldman and Mr. Crews are significant disruptions, albeit through no fault of their own or even those who champion the anti-harassment movement.

That’s because, for better or for worse, there’s this standard notion of how a case of sexual assault plays out. When most people close their eyes to imagine it, they probably don’t imagine someone like Terry Crews getting cornered in a crowded room. They probably imagine a scared young woman in a dark alley, crying out for help as some big, ugly, sadistic man abuses her.

Like any strong narrative, that notion conjures all sorts of powerful emotions. We feel anger, disgust, and sorrow for any woman who has to endure such an experience. We also feel seething anger towards any man who would do that to such a woman. The decent human being in us wants to help that woman and beat the snot out of that man.

If you reverse the genders in that narrative, though, it just doesn’t work. Those same decent people just can’t imagine a scenario where Terry Crews or Corey Feldman are cornered in a dark alley, assaulted by a man or woman, and suffer the same way. Even when they do, it doesn’t evoke the same feelings.

If anything, it complicates the narrative. These are supposed to be men. They’re supposed to be tough. Mr. Crews is a former football player. Mr. Feldman is a Hollywood star. We expect them to fight back. We expect them to not need our support the same way a woman would. To some extent, that assumptions demeans both men and women.

That doesn’t matter, though, because the narrative only works if it has that emotional resonance. People are more inclined to rally around a movement where they get to comfort an emotionally distraught young woman rather than a rich, imposing man. Like a movie where the sweet virgin schoolgirl escapes the masked serial killer, it’s more satisfying.

Moreover, it has to be satisfying to get people to rally behind it. This often come with a cost, which can really escalate if it goes too far. Some are already voicing concerns about the anti-harassment movement losing control of the narrative. Ignoring the abuse of men like Mr. Crews and Mr. Feldman only compounds those concerns.

Until the narrative changes, these men will still struggle to be part of the conversation. The piece with Samantha Bee is a good start, but it’s still an uphill battle. The idea of men being sexually abused is subject to a unique brand of stigma. That doesn’t make the suffering of the victims any less real, nor does it make crimes of the abusers any less egregious.

I don’t expect the anti-harassment movement to fully embrace Mr. Crews or Mr. Haim anytime soon, but so long as they keep making their voices heard, they’ll remind people that the narrative is still incomplete. Abuse, harassment, and victimization affects everybody, regardless of gender. When you prioritize justice for some over others, then that only creates more injustice for everyone.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, media issues, men's issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

How Much Are We Willing To Hurt The Innocent To Punish The Guilty?

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There are certain questions that nobody likes to ask, but still need to be answered. Questions concerning crime, justice, and punishment are usually at the top of that list. Lately, answering those questions has becom more urgent. If current cultural trends continue, that urgency will only increase.

That’s not because people are becoming more keen on justice. It’s more a byproduct of injustice being so much more visible in the age of the internet and social media. Crimes don’t just make the news these days. They can trigger full-blown social movements, destroy careers, and bring down powerful people.

To some extent, this is a good thing. We, as a social species, have an innate sense of justice hardwired into us. When we see something unjust, be it a kid stealing a cookie or a gruesome murder, most sane people want to see some level of justice enacted. When it isn’t, that bothers us. That’s where our sense of empathy comes from.

That said, it is possible for that innate desire for justice to go too far. Nature is a blunt instrument, largely out of necessity. Our desire for justice is no different and in the same way egregious injustices are harder to hide, gross misapplications of justice are becoming more visible as well.

As of this writing, the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that works to exonerate those who’ve been wrongly convicted of a crime, have freed 350 people, some of whom were on death row. Those are the lucky ones, though. In a 2014 study, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that approximately 4 percent of those sentenced to death row may be innocent.

Think about that, for a moment, as a simple math problem. For every 100 people who are executed by the state for their crimes, 4 of them are completely innocent. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian, or communist, the murder of an innocent person offends our humanity to the core. Only a sociopath would be comfortable with that math.

That murder of some innocent people for the sake of punishing the guilty is an extreme example, but one that nicely highlights the potential pitfalls of our reckless crusade against injustice. I don’t bring it up to start a debate on the death penalty, which is very much a dead-weight issue within politics these days. I’m using it to provide context for misapplications of justice that aren’t as clear cut.

Thanks to social media and global connectivity, it’s a lot easier attack injustice without the rigid bureaucracy of legal justice system. It’s largely because of this emerging technology that the ongoing anti-harassment movement and the push for greater diversity have become more vocal. Instances of injustice that might have been ignored in the past are now much easier to confront.

Instead of hiring a lawyer, getting the cops involved, or going door-to-door to raise awareness, these perceived injustices can be attacked online, which can subsequently lead to offline consequences. While that can be an effective recourse for those who wield great power and have an army of lawyers, it does come at a cost and innocent people have felt that cost.

While there are plenty of cases that don’t become mainstream news, some of the most notable include the Duke Lacrosse incident or the UVA rape case. These are both cases that struck the right and wrong chords at the right and wrong time, evoking in people their inherent aversion to injustice in the utmost. It got people upset and emotional, so much so that they didn’t stop to wonder whether those involved were really guilty.

The alleged crimes were undeniably heinous. There’s no question about that. Anyone guilty of such crimes deserves to be punished. However, in wanting to punish such crimes, innocent people suffered. Some had their reputations temporarily ruined and others have been irreparably destroyed.

There are other lesser known cases of innocent people suffering because of an accusation that later turned out to be false. There are likely more in which the innocent person never gets justice. It’s impossible to know how common they are. Most will point out how rare those instances and in terms of raw numbers, that’s true.

However, that still implies that we have to accept the price that some innocent people will suffer in our pursuit of justice. It also highlights how important it is to have a functioning justice system that includes traditions such as due process and the presumption of innocence.

It’s a tradition worth belaboring too.

It’s an imperfect process, admittedly. There have been notable cases where someone likely got away with a crime because the standards for a conviction are so high. The principle behind that system is that, in the name of not condemning the innocent, we accept the price that some of the guilty may escape justice.

For some people, that’s more untenable than the condemnation of an innocent person. That has become a much more prominent theme in recent years, due to the anti-harassment movement. That’s somewhat understandable, given how long men like Harvey Weinstein got away with their deplorable behavior.

In the effort to prevent or punish such deplorable behavior, though, those critical tenants of our justice system that are supposed to protect the innocent are being cast aside. There are some within the anti-harassment movement who emphasize the importance of believing the victim’s accusations in lieu of the presumption of innocence.

Other, more radical, voices in the movement have favored changing the standards of evidence for rape cases so that they would no longer be subject to reasonable doubt. Granted, these are somewhat extreme measures that probably won’t upend our justice system anytime soon. Others far smarter than me have already pointed out the dangers and debunked many of the assumptions.

None of this is to say that the anti-harassment movement or the effort to hold people accountable for their behavior is entirely misguided. I’m in favor of exposing crimes and having the guilty pay for those crimes, provided they really are guilty. I support efforts to reduce harassment, sexual or otherwise. I support efforts to reduce sexual assault on women and men. Most decent human beings share that sentiment.

What I don’t support is the idea that it’s okay for more innocent people to suffer for the sake of capturing even more guilty people. As I mentioned before with the Innocence Project, our flawed justice system already condemns innocent people. A willingness to let more innocent suffer is the wrong direction to go in fighting injustice.

I know that’s easy for someone like me to say because I’ve never been the victim of a serious crime. I’ve had some stuff stolen before, I’ve been cheated out of some money, and I have been roughed up before, but I’ve never been seriously injured or assaulted. I can’t imagine how someone who has been seriously victimized feels about what happened to them.

Their suffering matters. The suffering of innocent people matters too. It’s why the question surrounding hurting the innocent to punish the guilty needs to be asked, even if the answers make us uncomfortable. The fact those answers make us uncomfortable reflects the flaws of our justice system and how imperfect our world really is.

At the same time, it also reminds us why seeking justice and combating injustice matters. We, as a society and a species, cannot function if there isn’t some semblance of justice. For victims and innocent alike, we need those institutions so that we can prosper and grow as a civilization.

From the anti-harassment movement to crusading prosecutors to overt bias in the court system, there comes a point in the pursuit of justice where compromising the innocent is a price that some are willing to pay. Once that line is crossed, though, it sets a dangerous precedent that relies on dangerous assumptions.

To be willing to compromise the innocent, it’s necessary to believe that people who fit a certain profile are guilty by default. If their gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or nationality checks enough boxes, then innocence becomes an afterthought. It becomes another numbers game in assessing potential guilt over actual guilt.

That’s a precedent that can easily devolve into a panic and, as history has shown, panics tend to harm the innocent far more than the guilty. It also undercuts the suffering of actual victims because if actual guilt becomes an afterthought, then so too does actual victimization.

That, in many ways, is the greatest price that comes with compromising innocence. Punishing a guilty criminal simply rights a wrong. Punishing an innocent person has impacts that go beyond simply making an undeserving individual suffer. It has a ripple effect on the entire concept of justice, much of which cannot be qualified.

That’s why, even if it is as rare as some claim, the punishment of one innocent person should offend our sense of justice more than a guilty person escaping. A guilty person is still going to be guilty, no matter what their high-priced lawyers say. An innocent person who is punished for a crime they didn’t commit often lose so much more than just their innocence and that’s an injustice no one should tolerate.

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When Is It Okay To Exchange Sex For Favors?

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In case you missed the title of the article, I’ll ask the question again. When is it okay to exchange sex for favors? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a serious question about a serious issue in our culture that just so happens to be the premise of one too many porno scenes. I ask the question because I think it’s a lot more relevant now than it has been in recent years.

Concerns about exploitation, harassment, and corruption have never been greater. Some of that is a result of recent scandals. Some of it is a result of ongoing social movements that are a lot more sensitive to gender roles and expectations. Some of it is just a byproduct of living in an era of social media where it’s very hard to keep secrets.

I would argue that the relevance of this question has become even greater in recent years as attitudes towards sex have become more regressive in some areas. Depictions of beautiful women in the media and even beautiful women in video games have become controversial. It has created an atmosphere where everyone is more sensitive to how sexuality is depicted and pursued.

It doesn’t matter that those controversies rely heavily on egregious double standards that make extreme generalizations that can be both hypocritical and damaging. This is the world we live in. If you attempt to use your sexuality and sex appeal to gain favors, then that’s an issue. People have already lost jobs and had their lives destroyed because of it.

It’s understandable on some levels. Most reasonable people will agree that there’s a point where someone seeking a sexual favor from someone else is outright exploitation. There’s a reason why there are laws in place that say an employer can’t demand sex from an employee or risk losing their job.

Most who aren’t in positions of power probably agree that those laws should remain. However, they’re only part of a much more complicated dynamic. Within the context of the innate justice that most people have, there is a line between seeking a sexual favor and outright exploiting someone. It’s just not always clear where that line is.

Take, for instance, the classic casting couch scenario that plays out in so many pornos and Hollywood horror stories.

A beautiful, ambitious actress walks into a room. She badly wants a particular role. She’s willing to do anything to get it, even if it means sleeping with a producer. Being a legal adult, she offers this to the male producer. He accepts. They have sex and she gets the part. The actress furthers her career. The producer gets to have sex with a beautiful woman. Both are satisfied with the outcome.

Now, this particular manifestation of the scenario is probably the least distressing. The woman enters with a willingness to have sex in the name of furthering her career. The man is just as willing to accept her offer. You could even flip the genders and it would still work. Two consenting adults are each seeking something from one another. Sex is just the currency they use and in the end, they both get what they want.

There may still be some who think that scenario is a problem. Some may slut shame the woman for essentially whoring herself to get favorable treatment. Never mind the fact that a willingness to use your body to get favorable treatment is not an issue when it doesn’t involve sex, as every professional athlete can attest. They still see this use of sex to get favors as unfair.

Others may scorn the man for going along with it, using his influence to help the woman’s career in exchange for sex. Again, never mind the fact that being in positions of influence or just having a lot of resources in general will attract those seeking favors. Somehow, using sex as currency is still seen as unfair. Even so, it’s a stretch to say that anyone was exploited in this scenario.

The line may be obscure in that instance, but still clear enough. It’s fairly likely that sort of thing plays out in the real world, both in Hollywood and the business world. Joss Whedon even alluded to it during his own sordid scandal last year. However, it still represents a best case scenario, of sorts.

It doesn’t take too much tweaking to make that same scenario more distressing. Here’s another one that probably occurs fairly often in the world of Hollywood and business. For some, it may be a bit more difficult to discern the line.

A beautiful, ambitious actress walks into a room. She badly wants a particular role that would really help her career, but she wants to earn it on the merits of her skills. She auditions. The producer says she’s good, but so are several other actresses, a few whom have more experience than her. Her chances aren’t great.

Then, after the audition, the producer sits down with her and offers a deal. If she has sex with him, he’ll get her the part. The woman is reluctant, but the man doesn’t push it. He gives her a few hours to decide with the understanding that the offer expires in two hours. The woman agonizes over the decision, but eventually decides to go along with it.

She meets up with the producer. She willingly has sex with him. She doesn’t feel that good about it, but the man does what he promised. He gets her the part. The role really helps her career, just as she hoped. She still didn’t like that she had to sleep with the producer, but she doesn’t regret it. Both she and the man got what they wanted.

I imagine this scenario will generate more uncertainty, arguments, and even a little outrage. To some, the producer in that scenario sexually assaulted that woman, using his power to get her to sleep with him. To others, it may just be a simple case of having to jump through some unpleasant hoops to further your career.

The line in this case is a bit harder to identify. It is very much a quid pro quo exchange, the kind that would definitely result in a sexual harassment case if it occurred between an employer and an employee. However, the woman in this case is not an employee and an audition is not the same as a job. The man just has resources the woman wants for her own benefit. He gives them to her in exchange for something.

The fact the exchange involves sex is where the uncertainty comes in. You could also make the argument that there would be similar concerns if money is involved because that would constitute bribery, but that involves considerably different circumstances. It’s one thing to just pay for an opportunity, which isn’t as taboo, even if it’s unethical in many cases. It’s quite another for someone to offer their body.

On top of that, it’s fairly reasonable to assume there aren’t as many people who have those kinds of resources to bribe someone as there are people willing to have sex. It’s less a matter of legal constraints and more a matter of tangible assets. Most people only have so much money or skill to offer. Sex is one of the few inherently valuable acts that’s essentially built into us as a species.

Even if with those caveats in mind, it’s not entirely clear if there was outright exploitation in that scenario. Yes, the woman was reluctant and didn’t really like that she had to do it. However, she had a chance to refuse and even considered it. In addition, after she made the choice, she got what the producer promised. He delivered on his part. She delivered on hers.

That would change considerably if the man just slept with the woman and didn’t get her the part. In that case, it probably would count as exploitation because he was the only one who got what he wanted and the woman got nothing. Unless the woman got the man to promise on tape that he would get her the part in exchange for sex, she probably would have little recourse.

There are plenty of other distressing scenarios I could list, but I won’t go over the entire spectrum of sexual favors. I present them and the potential complications they incur to add substance to the initial question. Most people agree that exploiting someone for sex is wrong. People are a bit less certain when it involves consenting adults using sex to exchange favors.

It’s a question that covers so many issues, from concerns about prostitution to how we craft marriage laws. No matter how we answer that question, there will be people in this world who have resources and opportunities. There will also be people willing to perform sexual favors in exchange for one or both. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of understanding where the line is now and where it should be in a just and fair world.

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The Law Of Proportional Backlash And The Anti-Harassment Movement

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There comes a point in every social movement where the momentum seems unstoppable. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, racial equality, or finally having a female Dr. Who, there’s a sentiment that certain trends are just going to play out and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

That’s a false impression, by the way. Human beings are complex, erratic, and fickle creatures. I’ve touched on this before and will likely bring it up again because human beings are just that interesting. That said, they can also be quite frustrating.

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When it comes to highlighting those qualities in the midst of an ongoing controversy, though, I have to be careful because I don’t want my points to get lost in the anger. I know as well as anyone else with an internet connection that digital outrage has a nasty habit of undermining meaningful dialog. I want to avoid that as much as possible cause this is one point I feel is worth making.

As I write this, the latest major social movement to combat sexism and sexual misconduct is close to that point I mentioned earlier. It’s still a very hot-button issue and I’ve tried to be fair in discussing it on this blog. However, the current momentum of this movement, which has the wholly noble goal of preventing harassment, is coming up against a force that reflects the eccentricities of human nature.

That force doesn’t have an official or scientific name, but it has many familiar components. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll label it as follows:

The Law Of Proportional Backlash

I’m not claiming this law is definitive or on the same level as the laws of relativity. To make sense of what’s going on, and what often happens with these social movements, it’s just helpful to have a unifying idea to tie it all together.

The essence of this law that I just randomly coined is pretty simple. It’s the human equivalent of Newton’s Third Law, which says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When it comes to social movements, though, the reaction is more than that. It’s can also be an outright backlash.

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To illustrate, you need only look at the frequency with which political parties gain and lose power. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, as society has become more connected, open, and diverse, these tendencies have played out with stunning regularity. It often plays out like this:

“Hey! The current social order isn’t the perfect, utopian society I want. Let’s kick the people in power out of office and put in these people making impossible promises to achieve impossible things.”

A few years later.

“Hey! These people we put in power haven’t created the perfect, utopian society I waned either. Let’s kick them out and put in other people in power who are also making impossible promises to achieve impossible things. Moreover, let’s hate, shame, and spit on the other side for failing to do all those impossible things!”

I fully concede that’s a very basic illustration of how political power fluctuates in the modern world. I also concede there are many variations, but in terms of the big picture, this is how the Law of Proportional Backlash works.

A movement begins, be it political or social. It gains momentum. Usually, there’s some sort of event that acts as a catalyst. With racial segregation, events like the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education helped get things going. With same-sex marriage, Massachusetts being the first state to legalize it did the same.

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For the current movement against sexism and sexual misconduct, I think most would point to either the 2016 presidential election or the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst. I would argue it’s a combination of both, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the movement gained a lot of momentum. If it could take down someone as powerful as Harvey Weinstein, then it’s safe to say that movement is pretty strong.

As often happens, though, the momentum provokes backlash. That happens whenever a movement fails to achieve every goal and, spoiler alert, no movement ever achieves every goal. The world is too complex and impossible problems tend to frustrate human limitations. As a result, a movement has to overreach and that will spurn a backlash.

With the movement against sexual misconduct, there are plenty of signs of overreach. There are people scorning others for making reasonable arguments about there being a spectrum of harassment. Careers are being ruined on the basis of anonymous accusations and mixed messages that are impossible to discern.

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There was even a distressing article on BigThink that argued that crimes involving sexual violence should not be subject to the traditional standards of proof. The underlying reason for that is too many guilty people get away with their crimes so it’s worth the risk of punishing the innocent to remedy that issue.

It’s that kind of sentiment, one in which the proportion becomes increasingly extreme, that tends to hasten the backlash. Whenever a movement gets to a point it’s deemed appropriate to sacrifice innocent people for the sake of a cause, then that’s usually a sign that it’s reaching beyond its ideals and emboldening opponents.

There are already major news outlets reporting on that phenomenon. Publications like the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and even the liberal Huffington Post have discussed it in various forms. The reactions to those speaking out against sexual misconduct is no longer one of unity and support. Now, there’s criticism and animosity, the first signs of a real backlash.

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Those behind the movement need only look at the LGBT movement to see what that backlash can entail. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, the resulting backlash triggered a surge in “religious freedom” bills that promoted a new kind of discrimination. That backlash is still ongoing. The one surrounding sexual misconduct may just be getting started.

I still don’t doubt the sincerity and ideals behind the movement against sexual misconduct. People want justice for those who have been victimized. Justice is an inherent aspect of the human condition. We’re literally wired to seek it when we feel there’s an injustice in the world.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that justice, anger and resentment end up clouding those ideals. We’ve seen that anger directed towards the political process that played out in 2016. We’ve seen it used to demonize and denigrate entire groups of people, including an entire gender in some cases.

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When people are attacked, their first instinct isn’t to admit defeat. It’s to fight back. That’s just basic survival instinct and there’s no way any movement, be it political or social, can circumvent that. By fighting back, the backlash itself gains momentum. Sometimes that backlash gains enough momentum to become a movement in it’s own right. Then, it too may be subject to a backlash.

It seems like an never-ending cycle, one in which little is gained in the long run. While I don’t deny it can be disheartening, I believe there are gains that make many movements worthwhile in the long run. Just ask any same-sex couple who can get married now if they’re willing to risk such a backlash. They would probably do so in a heartbeat.

I don’t know how the movement against sexual misconduct is going to play out, even if the backlash it inspires ends up being minor. I hope, in the long run, it has a net-positive effect on society. It still won’t be a perfect society, but whether it’s from the movement or the backlash, even a little gain in justice and human progress can still mean a lot in the long run.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

On “Demolition Man” And The Path To A Dispassionate Dystopia

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When it comes to foreseeing the future, be it a “Star Trek” utopia or a “Mad Max” wasteland, Hollywood can be downright prophetic at times. While movies are wrong way more often than they’re right, there are the times when certain movies are more prophetic than they probably intended. Every vision of the future varies wildly, but a few of those visions end up being more relevant, albeit for distressing reasons.

One movie that I find myself contemplating a lot more lately is “Demolition Man.” To date, it’s still one of my favorite Sylvester Stallone movies that doesn’t involve Rocky Balboa. When I was a kid who was just beginning to appreciate R-rated movies, “Demolition Man” ranked right up there with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

It wasn’t just because it was a great action movie, complete with over-the-top violence and a charismatic villain that Wesley Snipes played to perfection. Like “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” it had depth to it, something that’s rare in action movies, even today. However, after seeing it again recently on cable, I think it’s vision of the future is more relevant now than it was in 1993.

In terms of predicting certain trends, “Demolition Man” already had a pretty good track record. The movie foresaw things like video chat, self-driving cars, mass surveillance, and Arnold Schwarzenegger getting into politics.

There is, however, one vision that even “The Simpsons” didn’t predict and it’s downright distressing at how accurate it was. Beyond the technological advances, the shiny world of “Demolition Man” has a very dystopian undertone.

While it looks peaceful and prosperous on the surface, the movie quickly reveals that this is a world dominated by an extremely authoritarian system run by the well-mannered, yet devious Dr. Raymond Cocteau. It’s a system that willfully and proudly employs draconian laws that ban anything and everything that might be bad for you, from cigarettes to loud music to spicy food.

It’s a system that doesn’t just punish people for cussing. Anyone who doesn’t go along with Cocteau’s rules is basically doomed to live in the sewers as part of a permanent underclass, as Dennis Leary’s character, Edgar Friendly, so eloquently put it. His world regulates intimate human contact to a level that even the Catholic Church would find egregious.

This is a world where people don’t touch each other. They don’t hug each other. Even when they try to high-five each other, they stop just short so that their skin never touches. Needless to say, the people in this world don’t have much of a sex life. In fact, it makes for a very awkward scene at one point.

This is pretty revealing in the sense that when John Spartan, Stallone’s main character, asks about “the old fashioned way” to Sandra Bullock’s character, Lenina Huxley, she’s repulsed by the idea. She then goes on this long rant about how sex is so dangerous. She even notes that in this future, sex requires a goddamn license from the government.

It seemed so laughably ridiculous back in 1993. Unfortunately, it makes a distressing amount of sense in 2018. We may not need a license to have sex, but we’re already developing apps and legal framework surrounding sex and consent. Is the idea that we may one day need a license to have sex really that outrageous?

The situation we have now is not the same in “Demolition Man,” but the themes are eerily similar. As I’ve noted before, the war against horny men and horny women has been escalating. While we’ve done a lot to reduce the stigma of people having sex for reasons other than procreation, society is giving people others reasons to be as repulsed as Huxley was by the idea of “old fashioned” sex.

We’re now in an era where the mere act of depicting a beautiful woman in a video game is considered oppressive to women. Given the recent surge of sex scandals and public displays by celebrities, there’s a growing undercurrent in our culture that would’ve made Dr. Cocteau’s job that much easier.

There’s now a full-fledged movement against sexual misconduct in all forms, be it harassment in the workplace or flirting in public. Reactions to that movement are still ongoing and changing by the day. Some are adopting the so-called Mike Pence rules when dealing with the opposite sex. Some are taking a more radical approach and attempting to just distance themselves from the entire gender setup.

Both approaches play right into Dr. Cocteau’s hands. Both seem to manifest in the dystopian order that we see in “Demolition Man.” It’s a world that came from a society that only ever saw the bad in people. Dr. Cocteau himself said that before he took charge, people trembled in fear at what society had become. That fear made it easy for someone like him to step in and impose his order.

In “Demolition Man,” the violence and crime of the past was used as the source of that fear. Today, violent crime is at record lows, but fear of crime is prevalent as ever thanks largely to media depictions. At the same time, fear of sexual harassment or being accused of it is growing, even as rates of sexual assault declined by more than half.

Given that potent combination of fear, which perfectly entwines sex with violence, is it any wonder that people in 2018 are avoiding being alone with the opposite sex and are less inclined to resist the growth of mass surveillance? Dr. Cocteau may be a fictional character, but we’re following a similar path without him.

Demolition Man” takes place in the year 2032. Is it really that impossible to think our collective fear surrounding violence and sex in 2018 won’t lead to a similarly dispassionate world? As much an optimist as I am about the future, a part of me does worry that we’ll walk the path that Cocteau laid out in the movie.

In that world, fear about crime and sex is so great that basic touch is seen as a pre-cursor to deviance. We already saw Matt Damon get in trouble for suggesting there was a spectrum for harassment. As a result, our future interactions will have to be micromanaged. Even if the crime rates continue to drop, the slightest chance that someone could harass or assault another has to be taken as a certainty.

That may not mean we dress in the strange robes that the people wear in “Demolition Man,” but it’s very likely that world won’t allow for much provocative attire. We already know how cultures like that manifest today and they’re not sexy or friendly, to say the least.

What makes these manifestations worse than those in “Demolition Man” is that these conditions may not need to be imposed by someone like Dr. Cocteau. We may just become so crippled by our fears of violence, harassment, or being accused of harassment that we’ll just create the repressive world of Cocteau without him. That, in my mind, would be an even worse dystopia.

Now, I concede we’re still a long way from that kind of society. If someone like Dr. Cocteau came along today and tried to impose the kind of society that required a license for any kind of sexual activity, he would probably fail. I take some comfort in that.

However, the more our fears surrounding sex, gender, harassment, and violence escalate, the more inclined we’ll be to craft a more repressive, disconnected world. History and basic human biology has shown that sort of effort never works in the long run and can be very damaging.

There are a lot of lessons to be had from a movie like “Demolition Man” while still enjoying Sylvester Stallone delivering his memorable one-liners. Beyond the over-the-top action that makes the movie such a spectacle, there’s a message that is more important in 2018 than it ever was in 1993.

A world built around elaborate, authoritarian rules that try to regulate human expression may seem utopian on the surface, but it becomes distinctly dystopian when you look at the implications. Some of forces behind that dystopia in “Demolition Man” are already starting to manifest. If it ever gets to a point where a high-five has to be rethought, then we should worry.

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Remembering (And Learning From) The Satanic Panic

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Lock your doors, hide your children, and pray with the force of a million pious nuns because it’s happening. It’s out there and it’s probably going on as you’re reading this. There’s a vast network of Satanic cults who have infiltrated schools, child day care centers, and major media outlets. They’re coming for you, they’re coming for your kids, and they’re determined to corrupt every soul they can.

I hope everyone who just read that laugh paragraph is either laughing or confused. It was not meant to be serious. The fact that I actually have to clarify that for a certain segment of people who may take it seriously says a lot about the human condition. It also reveals even more, albeit in a way that’s hardly flattering to our species.

When one person has crazy, irrational fears, we can easily shrug them off and move on with our lives. When a large group of people have those fears, though, it’s a bit harder to ignore, especially when it becomes a full-fledged panic that spurs outrage, ruins lives, and wastes resources.

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This is exactly what happened in the 1980s during the so-called Satanic Panic. It may sound like the name of a bad heavy metal band or one of those funny church signs, but make no mistake. It was no laughing matter. There was a real, genuine fear among people that there was a conspiracy of Satanists looking to abuse, exploit, and corrupt children.

It got so serious that major news outlets, the FBI, and even Oprah Winfrey began reporting on it. They included disturbing recollections of adults taking children into dark rooms, dressing up in Satanic attire, and subjecting them to unspeakable abuse that often included sex acts. It got pretty horrifying, which is part of why it got so much attention. This is just a small sample of what some kids recalled.

In hours of footage, they talked about how the devil-worshipers preyed on the wealthy community, holding pedophilic orgies and murdering innocent people. They said the Satanists abused and tortured babies, slitting their throats, drinking their blood and dancing while wearing their skulls.

It all sounds too horrible to imagine. The descriptions are objectively horrifying. There’s just one key detail that undercuts that horror. There’s no verifiable evidence that any of it happened. There’s only evidence that the lives of innocent adults were irreparably ruined.

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It’s amazing to think that something so irrational had terrified and overwhelmed sane, rational people in a civilized society. Actually, that might have been amazing to contemplate five years ago. I think it’s distressingly easy to imagine something like that happening in an era where false accusations can become a viral media spectacle.

Most people may roll their eyes at the notion that history tends to repeat itself from those who don’t heed it’s lessons. Historically speaking, though, those lessons keep popping up in new forms in conjunction with new panics. One day, it’s a conspiracy of Satanists. The next, it’s a conspiracy of Bronies. In each case, a similar pattern emerges. History may not entirely repeat itself, but it sure follows a similar script.

The catalyst for Satanic Ritual Abuse panic was similar to what triggers most panics. One particular story, which may or may not be true, captures the public’s imagination and terrifies parents to no end. The story, in this case, was called “Michelle Remembers” by Lawrence Pazder. This was to Satanic Ritual Abuse what Harvey Weinstein and GamerGate was to the ongoing panic over sexual misconduct.

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The book itself is a disturbing story disguised as a real documentation about a psychiatrist uncovering repressed memories from a woman who had been abused by a Satanic cult. Almost immediately after publication, the legitimacy of the story came into question and Pazder got sued for libel. That didn’t matter, though. The story went onto become very popular and was actually taken seriously.

This culminated in the infamous McMartin Preschool Trial where, after seven years and millions of dollars in legal fees, those accused were found innocent. That didn’t matter in the end. The media coverage, combined with public fears, made them Satan-loving monsters by default. Needless to say, their lives were ruined.

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As I said before, and it’s worth belaboring, there was no hard evidence that any of these crazy Satanic rituals ever took place. The allegations were pretty elaborate, but the problem from a truth perspective was that they were based primarily on the testimony of young children. That’s a huge problem beyond the fact that most anecdotal evidence, even from competent adults, is unreliable and rarely admissible in a trial.

The testimony of those children was gained largely through something called recovered-memory therapy. It’s not as intensive as it sounds. Therapists just ask impressionable kids leading questions and get them to tell say whatever they want while claiming it’s a real memory.

That proved to be an effective/dangerous tool in provoking the emotions of the masses. It’s one thing when an adult makes a claim that sounds extreme, but when a child says it who may have been horribly abused, that nurturing instinct that most decent human beings have goes into overdrive. It doesn’t matter if there’s no evidence. The mere possibility that it could be true convinces us.

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Even after more thorough investigations revealed far more mundane truths, there was still plenty of panic. There was even an organization called Believe The Children that advocated accepting their testimony, even if it couldn’t be verified and meant ruining innocent lives.

This is where some of the distressing similarities to the ongoing crusade against sexual misconduct start to manifest. Now, right of the back, I want to make clear that I am not claiming that the movement to combat sexual harassment is as vacuous as the movement against Satanic Ritual Abuse. I really want to make that clear. However, the parallels are worth noting.

Yes, there have been cases of real, verified assault that have been proven in a court of law. There have also been cases where a false accusation put an innocent person in prison. Just like those urging that people believe the horrific stories told by the children, though, there are those who urge that we place a similar belief in anyone who accuses someone of a sex crime.

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There’s a reason why we have a justice system. There’s also a reason why the standard of proof for a serious crime is so high. There are some who don’t like applying that standard to sexual misconduct, but there’s a reason for that. In a civilized society, we understand that punishing innocent people can be much more damaging than letting a guilty person go.

I know that doesn’t sit well with certain people. One person getting away with a sex crime is one too much, especially for those who have been victimized. However, and I know this is going to strike the wrong chords, but that’s the price we all pay for having a functional justice system.

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It’s not perfect because humans aren’t perfect. Trying to make it perfect, though, at the cost of innocent lives is a price that undermines the very concept of justice. The Satanic Ritual Abuse craze in the 1980s ruined innocent lives. Their suffering is a crime in and of itself.

In a sense, the unjust suffering of an innocent is twice the injustice of a guilty person getting acquitted because it inflicts unjust guilt on someone and forces them to carry that burden beyond the accusation. That is why presumption of innocence is so important in any justice system.

The ongoing efforts to combat sexual misconduct has noble goals. Even the panic around Satanic Ritual Abuse had noble goals in wanting to protect children. Most decent people are on the same page with those goals. However, when outrage, anecdotes, and hyperbole are the primary tactics, it leaves little room for actual substance.

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That substance matters because, in terms of the bigger picture, violence against women has gone down significantly over the past 20 years. Women today are far safer and less likely to be victimized than they’ve been in decades past. I know that’s not much comfort to those who have been victimized, but one burning tree doesn’t need to start a forest fire.

In the end, the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic created a pretty scary environment for parents and children, so much so that little things like facts, truth, and justice got lost within the horror. Those little things matter even more with real crimes like sexual assault. If there’s one lesson we should learn from the Satanic panic of the 1980s, it’s that terrible stories can lead to terrible injustices if the truth gets overlooked.

In the interest of ending this on a lighter note, check out this old video from the Satanic Panic and enjoy a good laugh. Yes, they really took it that seriously.

 

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In Defense Of Hook-Up Culture (To A Point)

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There are certain cultural phenomena that are difficult to defend. Things like big businesses, the NFL, or the current president come to mind. However, some of those things are attacked, denigrated, or hated for misguided reasons. It’s not always the case that they should be defended, but there are times when a little balance is needed.

When it comes to a topic that’s easy to criticize, hook-up culture has a bigger target than most and that target has only grown in recent years. It’s one of those issues that has fronts for both the unceasing war on horny women and the escalating war on horny men. To defend it means fighting a two-front war, which has historically been a bad idea.

I’m still going to try, though, and not because I think hook-up culture in its current state deserves to be defended. There are certain aspects about that state that I find flawed, some of which I’ve discussed before. Even so, I do believe some aspects of hook-up culture should be defended. I still intend to pick my battles very carefully, though.

At the moment, hook-up culture has been getting attacked on multiple fronts. It used to be that only cantankerous old people whined about young people having more sex than what priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks deem appropriate. These people saw hook-up culture as antithetical to the idealized nuclear family model that was glorified in every 50s sitcom.

Most people, these days, don’t take that kind of whining seriously. However, a new attack on hook-up culture is actually coming from other young people and otherwise educated people that are smart enough to recognize why those idealized 50s sitcoms were pure fantasy. Instead, they’re attacking hook-up culture as some inherently toxic manifestation that’s destroying men and women alike.

Make no mistake. This attack isn’t restricted to extreme conservatives who see hook-up culture as an affront to traditional values or liberals who see it as a tool of oppression that’s inherently objectifying. It’s not even restricted to man-hating feminists who think cat-calling constitutes assault or women-hating men who see every woman is a gold-digger who wants to ruin his life.

The attack runs deeper than that. Taken all together, these attacks reflects a sentiment that isn’t always hostile to sex, but treats it the same way most people treat a phobia. Regardless of political or agenda affiliation, sex from the attackers is almost always in a context of anxiety, fear, and hyper-vigilance. That phobia manifests in different ways.

If you’re a conservative traditionalist, hook-up culture evokes a fear that anything other than the nuclear family will destroy society and hurt those who participate.

If you’re a liberal progressive, hook-up culture evokes the fear that men will exploit women, using them for their own selfish reasons and subsequently contributing to their continued oppression.

To some extent, I can understand those fears. However, like most phobias that don’t involve spiders, those fear are not justified. They also reflect some very unhealthy attitudes about sex, intimacy, and romance in general.

Some of those attitudes play out in the sensationalized headlines surrounding hook-up culture. In these stories, it’s often portrayed as callous, bland, and overtly hedonistic. People aren’t getting together to fall in love, get married, and make babies. They’re just having sex the same way they would scratch an itch.

For some people, that’s unnerving, especially if they have children above the age of consent. There may even be a twinge of jealousy in that these young people are enjoying the kind of fun that older people didn’t get to experience when they were that age. While I suspect that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the root cause.

Beyond the cause, though, the attitudes feed the sex-phobic sentiments whenever there’s news that hook-up culture may be harmful. There has been research on the topic and while the American Psychological Association does not draw any sweeping conclusions, it does take the position that hook-up culture is often prone to complications.

Chief among those complications, which also provokes the sentiments of the liberal progressive crowd, are the instances in which people regret hooking up. This is especially sensitive for women. In one study, over 75 percent of the women who’d hooked up with someone regretted it.

For some, it was just an unsatisfying experience. For others, it was somewhat traumatizing. This has become especially taboo since the recent scandal with Aziz Ansari in which the line between regret and misconduct is difficult to see. If you have an agenda, though, confirmation bias will allow you to see these situations as either misogynistic assault or man-hating extortion.

That’s what I find particularly dangerous/revealing about these attacks on hook-up culture. It’s so easy to find instances where people have a bad experience with it or are negatively affected by it. By singling these instances out, whether it’s mental health issues or part of a major celebrity scandal, every side can point to hook-up culture to justify their various sexual anxieties.

It probably doesn’t help that these anxieties may very well contribute to the ongoing orgasm gap between men and women. It also doesn’t help that trends in social media have made hook-up culture even easier to pursue than ever before. By nearly every measure, hook-up culture has little way of defending itself.

This is where I come in and I’m already bracing myself for the criticism.

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When I take a step back and look at the intent of hook-up culture instead of the anecdotes surrounding it, I do see something that’s worth defending. I’m not going to discount the negative impact it might have on some people, but I think the sentiment behind hook-up culture deserves more merit.

To highlight that merit, I need only ask a few questions. I doubt I’ll get honest answers from everyone, but at least consider them when contemplating hook-up culture.

Is it possible that hook-up culture reflects some of the inherent flaws with our traditional approaches towards seeking love and sex?

Is it possible that those engaged in hook-up culture are actually looking for some casual intimacy and NOT just hedonistic indulgence?

Is it possible that men prefer hook-up culture because they don’t want to jump through all the hoops of a relationship to get the intimacy and sexual release they desire?

Is it possible that women prefer hook-up culture because they just want to enjoy the toe-curling pleasure that comes with basic sexual intimacy?

Is it possible that some people just want to explore their sexuality without committing too much of their time, energy, and life to a relationship?

None of the questions above are rhetorical or factious in any way. They’re serious, honest questions that I think need to be asked when assessing the issues surrounding hook-up culture.

Regardless of whether or not hook-up culture exists, people are going to get horny. People are going to want to express their sexual desires. There’s no way to stop that. Religion, government, and culture has tried desperately over the years, some going to more extremes than others. All have failed.

This is what I think it hook-up culture’s best defense. It reflects and acknowledges the inherent need of people to express and explore their sexual desires without navigating the myriad of legal, social, and cultural rituals associated with it. In some respects, that reveals the inherent shortcomings in those rituals themselves.

I don’t doubt there are risks associated with hook-up culture. Disease and unwanted pregnancy are at the top of that list, along with instances of exploitation and assault. Focusing on those outcomes is like calling Eddie Murphy’s entire career a failure just because he stared in “Pluto Nash.”

There is a larger context to consider. Remember that study about people regretting their hook-ups? Well, science is rarely that definitive when it comes to matters of human psychology and sexuality. Later studies reveal that the extent of that regret isn’t very strong. It turns out that, like paying to see “Pluto Nash,” we tend to get over it. Most functioning human beings do.

Those same studies also make clear that the quality of the hook-up matters. If someone hooks up with someone for sex, but the sex isn’t satisfying, then of course there’s going to be some regret and anxiety later on. That’s what happens whenever our expectations aren’t met. Just ask anyone who got excited about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ failed Super Bowl guarantee.

This is where the extent of my defense of hook-up culture ends. While I think the various criticisms and anxieties about it are unwarranted, it does carry some baggage that makes all those unpleasant anecdotes so common.

Hook-up culture, in its current form, has all sorts of heavy expectations surrounding it. Whether it’s people actively engaged in it or those observing it from the outside, there’s this sense that hook-up culture is this non-stop party where everyone is enjoying the Caligula-style orgy and nobody leaves unsatisfied. That’s just not how human sexuality works.

Human beings are a passionate, social species. When hook-up culture becomes too dispassionate, which can happen, then it ceases to be a healthy expression of human sexuality. In that context, it’s basically glorified masturbation. As a romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can’t get behind that sort of callousness.

However, I think the attacks on hook-up culture are more misguided than hook-up culture itself. Men are seeing it as an agenda that beautiful women are exploiting. Women are seeing it as an agenda that misogynistic men are exploiting. Liberals and conservatives are seeing it as an affront to everything they deem good and moral. In attacking it, though, they all reveal their own sexual anxieties.

If our collective sexual attitudes are to improve, along with our overall satisfaction, we need to confront these anxieties. Hook-up culture isn’t going away because people wanting to enjoy sex with fewer strings is not going away. We can either learn from it or fight it, with the understanding that fighting it rarely ends well for either side.

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