Harvey the Otherer

Many might be familiar with the philosophical and psychological process of “othering”. The process by which an individual is turned into more of an object than a human being. In fact it has become so de rigueur that it is commonly used in the American lexicon. Showrunner and writer Jill Soloway ( @jillsoloway ) even dropped it into an awards acceptance speech. I am fairly certain I have seen Lena Dunham ( @lenadunham )casually drop it into her timeline.

The concept itself has a long history of development. As in many great things in philosophy, its story starts with Hegel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel) and moves through the fascinating phenomenologist, Husserl (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Husserl). But the idea as we know it can most closely be attributed to the 20th century philosophers Jean Paul Sartré and Simone de Beauvoir.

Hegel established that the concept of “other” was required in order to establish a sense of the self. The idea being that in order to define a self that which is other must also be defined. Sartre moved this ball much farther down the field and de Beauvoir carried it the rest of the way. In The Second Sex, de Beauvoir recognizes that the historical othering of women (to make them subject and object TO men and the world of men), is in fact the same process that American society had inflicted upon the African American and the Native American.

Now this is all fascinating for the philosophy nerds out there, I am sure. But what does it have to do with Harvey Weinstein and the sexual predators of his ilk?

Social media is alight with how animals like Weinstein, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump do what they do to women not because of sex, per se, but because of power. The need to feel and be powerful.

This may well be true. Probably is true.

But to get to the point at which it all seems ok to sexually molest, assault or even rape another human being (of any sex), there is a key step that almost everyone is missing and looking past.

What all of these men have done, at some point, is told themselves that the individual they are assaulting is an object. The human that they are grabbing is subject to THEIR will and their will alone. The very anima of that woman looking for a role in a new film is HIS to control, because in the end she is merely a puppet in his universe.

This is othering.

There was a process by which all of these men were taught, learned and/or were led to believe that some other humans are merely objects to be played with as they saw fit. Objects devoid in feeling, independence or agency. They were taught by a lifelong series of inputs and signaling that this was ok. They did not spring forth from the womb this way, they were molded in this way. And the is the difficult part. Difficult to understand and difficult to deconstruct.

Because it is all of the inputs of human development that are to blame here. Family of origin, pedagogy, society-at-large, subcultures and media all play a roll in this process.

However, before we all leap to the end-game of “sexual assault is about power”, which it is…we must first wrestle with the concept that othering is the gateway drug that allows all manner of horrors to be inflicted upon our fellow humans.

At some point in all of the aforementioned assaulters’ pasts, they learned that women (or at least a category of women in their minds) were other, and therefore the object of their whims.

To understand where we are on the subject of sexual abuse we must seek to understand the metaphysical patient zero in all of this. And that patient zero is Othering.