The past month has seen the near implosion of Hollywood. That’s because of the revelations about mega-powerhouse Harvey Weinstein’s regular habit of allegedly sexually assaulting and harassing women, and the apparent industry-wide willingness to look the other way.
Many on the right have correctly condemned the left’s reticence to talk about such issues when applied to heroes of the left (see, e.g., former President Bill Clinton and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy); in response, many on the left have rightly condemned the right’s newfound willingness to look the other way when its own oxen are gored (see, e.g., then-candidate Donald Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape, the late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes).
We all should be on the same side regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. That doesn’t mean that we have to agree to avoid voting for those who engage in such activities (although I have done so and think doing so would be a good rule of thumb); it’s quite possible to openly admit the evils of a candidate and still feel that the candidate would be a better legislative alternative than his or her opponent. It does mean, however, that “whataboutism” is perhaps the worst response to stories of sexual harassment and assault: Just because Clinton did it doesn’t mean that Trump’s behavior is acceptable, and vice versa.
Putting partisanship aside, the question next becomes how to curb such behavior. In this arena, there’s truly only one solution: changing the prevailing societal standards, and naming individuals. The latter is easier than the former, of course — it’s a tragedy that major stars and starlets who knew about Weinstein’s reputed predations did nothing for years. It’s difficult to expect young, up-and-coming actors and actresses to speak out when victimized: Few will believe them, their careers will be ruined and they are eminently replaceable in a city where every barista has a script and every waitress wants an audition. But those who already have established themselves do have an obligation to protect those aspiring actors and actresses from predators.
Why hasn’t that happened?
This raises institutional issues in Hollywood, and the requirement that societal standards change. Hollywood has been replete with sexual assault and harassment from the very beginning. Despite its supposedly feminist credentials, Hollywood has made the general choice to favor a libertine version of feminism — with consent as the only important value — over the stricter version of feminism that decries power relationships driving sexual relationships.
Unfortunately, the first version of feminism hasn’t just won out in Hollywood, it’s won out in society more broadly, pressed forward by Hollywood. Society now condemns any limits on sexual relationships, and sees “consent” as a binary value; transactional sex is just fine, in this view, and cannot be condemned. This makes it incredibly difficult to police both sexual assault and harassment because the same set of facts can be seen as either people doing what they want to do to get ahead, or sexual exploitation. Removing meaning from sex means treating it as a purely physical act, degrading both sex and those who participate in it.
The result: more sexual confusion and less willingness to step forward and condemn egregious conduct.
Hollywood has made the general choice to favor a libertine version of feminism – with consent the only important value.
Here’s what we need, then: some rules. We need to know about — and uniformly condemn — exploitation of women by powerful men. We need to know about — and uniformly condemn — the Hollywood casting couch, which has been joked about for decades and treated as a way of life for that same amount of time. And we, as a society, have to let Hollywood know that if it doesn’t change its ways, we will take action: We will stop seeing their movies, stop watching their television shows. We will not participate in making people wealthy and famous so that they can abuse others, or watch silently as that abuse takes place.
We should listen to and respect women who tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. But this can’t be just another hashtag campaign. We must have hard conversations because sexual dynamics are fluid and difficult to police. If we don’t, Weinstein will be just a blip — and then things will go back to business as usual until the next Weinstein crops up.
Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”