The Fabric of Patriarchy
If 2017 is to be remembered for anything, it will be the year in which the system of masculinity and power was slitted — or at least unsheltered. The horror stories of Harvey Weinstein preying on young actresses or Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment scandal at Fox News aren’t some anomalies within male-dominated professions. As shocking as they may be, the more shocking revelation, however, should be the number of enabling agents — the media, fellow executives and powerful associates — who allowed the glimpse of fame and material rewards to mislead their moral compass.
It’s one thing if we live in a third-world country controlled by a dictator, where beauty contests are organized to weed out “unattractive women” for the sole purpose of finding a contestant worthy enough to be the president’s girlfriend — yes, this actually happened during the ruthless reign of the Charles Taylor presidency in Liberia. But we live in the land of the free, where the intentional silence by the media over the years and the coziness of powerful politicians allied with Harvey Weinstein underscore the collective effort of the universal system that protects men in power.
We saw it with Clarence Thomas, accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, but confirmed to the US Supreme Court nonetheless.
We saw it with then-candidate Donald Trump’s infamous pussy grab comment (among other allegations of sexual misconduct). It wasn’t a case of he said, she said. We all heard the recording, but the comment was dismissed as “just locker room talk” and the man was elected president despite vulgar comments in his own words and voice, a predatory attitude, and multiple sexual assault allegations (including the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl).
We saw it with Bill Cosby. Despite decades of rumors and private settlements, it took years before allegations surfaced to the general public. The legal system essentially allows the accused to buy the accuser’s silence via large cash settlements that legally bind the victim from speaking out, and Cosby was able to do just that.
When the Cosby scandal finally broke, he, like many others, played the blame-the-victim game. Trashing the victim is a classic ploy that plants the seed of doubt. At the same time, it effectively leads many rape and sexual assault victims to keep quiet. Ironically, it’s often the victim whose reputation is irreparably harmed while the accused gets a free pass.
Case in point, while Bill Clinton certainly fell upon hard times in the aftermath of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he remains a beloved father figure while Ms. Lewinsky is still working on rebuilding her reputation.
Speaking of beloved father figures, few are more beloved than Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby’s character in The Cosby Show. America loved Dr. Huxtable; we loved the comedian who made us laugh; we loved Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids; we loved how Cosby connected with children; we loved him in Jello commercials; we loved his dorky sweaters. It’s hard to believe he would drug and then rape women; we don’t want to believe it.
His spin doctors know that. At least 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault over five decades, but his recent trial ended in a mistrial with one juror reportedly saying, “And what it
really comes down to is, who are you gonna believe more? That’s all it was.”
In many cases, there’s a financial incentive to bury scandals and buy silence. For example,
• How many hugely successful movies is Harvey Weinstein responsible for and how might public outrage, such as a boycott of his films, affect studios? Answer a lot.
• While it took less than three weeks for Fox News to fire Bill O’Reilly after reports about his $13 million worth of sexual assault settlements went public, that didn’t stop 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, from contributing financially to five separate settlements to women accusing O’Reilly over the years. Fox News knew there was a problem and paid to keep it quiet in what looks like a ploy to protect O’Reilly and the network’s profits.
• It’s been noted that many journalists have been on Weinstein’s payroll, serving as consultants, screenwriters, or contributors to his magazine. Exposing his misdeeds could threaten their livelihoods if not be an outright career killer.
Weinstein’s misconduct was an open secret. Some have said, the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. A New Yorker article on the subject notes 16 former and current executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies who spoke to the author about their knowledge of his deeds, and who also requested anonymity due to fears of retaliation.
Something many of these men have in common, and in their favor, is philanthropy. Cosby is a well-known philanthropist who has given millions to historically black colleges and universities. Weinstein also supported the arts and women’s studies programs. Philanthropy coupled with outstanding professional careers make it hard to believe they could possibly be sexual predators and easy for apologists and others to defend them.
Power, patriarchy, gender oppression, and assault extend far beyond Hollywood and Washington, DC. For example, not only is the Roman Catholic Church patriarchal by design, it has had more than its fair share of allegations, coverups, protectionism, and convictions of sexual abuse and pedophilia.
Meanwhile, ask your female friends, in any town in the United States, and you’ll likely hear plenty of stories of sexual harassment or assault. Right now on Twitter and other social media sites, the hashtag #MeToo is trending. Reportedly started by Alyssa Milano to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault on October 15th, the #MeToo hashtag was receiving an estimated 37,500 tweets per hour that same night.
Like any tapestry, the fabric of patriarchy is complex, with many strands. Strands like power, blaming and shaming victims, disbelief, philanthropy, conflict of interest, and a desire by the establishment to keep the status quo weave a strong cloth. But like any piece of fabric, loose threads can appear. We can tie them and preserve the fabric, or we can tug on them, causing the entire thing to unravel. We have a choice. It’s time to pull those threads.