As Valentine’s Day approaches this year, our country is in the midst of a cultural watershed moment. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a clear sense of direction about where to go from here and how to bring about lasting change. I am referring to the #MeToo movement and all of the revelations of sexual immorality and depravity at high-levels in the government, sports and entertainment industries that first broke with the Harvey Weinstein story in the New York Times last October.
Treat the Problem
All of this has fueled talk about a time of reckoning and the ushering in of new laws and policies. As long as we seek to change laws and policies the problem will never be solved. Our current cultural tumult is a disease that reaches much deeper than our laws. It is rooted in the hearts and souls of every person caught up in its grasp. Slogans and laws will not usher in any lasting change for the same reason that a person who says he feels fine while he has a splitting headache is in pain despite his assertion to the contrary. Mere words in the latter case and laws in the former simply don’t go deep enough to treat the problem. What will go deep enough? I will seek to give a summary answer below.
Hugh Hefner- Sexual Fantasies
Hugh Hefner died on September 27, 2017. The news of his death brought on instantaneous and near-universal praise from virtually every corner of our culture. Large numbers of people from entertainers, to former and current models for Playboy magazine and sports players, showered the late Hefner in accolades, words of praise and admiration, and well wishes for his ‘career’ and ‘work.’ This is a man who made his living convincing young (and in most cases vulnerable) women take off their clothes to feed the sexual fantasies of millions of men while these same women remained at the beck and call of Hefner’s own sexual fantasies all in the name of ‘liberation’ and ‘class.’ As he says in the previous link, his whole project is built on providing an alternative to traditional sexual morality and showing how oppressive and unnatural monogamy and saving oneself for marriage are. And to this end, he published countless images of naked women on countless pages for the viewing pleasure of millions of men. He also built a mansion where hordes of scantily clad women were living on his dime and completely subject to his manipulation and sexual whims.
The Harvey Weinstein Scandal
Fast forward a couple weeks and the Harvey Weinstein scandal breaks in the New York Times. Appalling details of his degeneracy and manipulation of young women trying to make it in the film industry came to the fore nationally. He was near-universally scorned by everyone, celebrity and average Joe alike and for good reason. Such depraved acts of violence, manipulation, and exploitation should be met with scorn and disdain both for the sake of justice and to give a cultural example that such actions will not be tolerated and will be punished accordingly. There are now several ongoing legal investigations into Weinstein’s actions. However, it seems that the root of the problem has not been dealt a fatal blow. Even in the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal and all of the other scandals that have come to light since, do we really think we have seen the end of sexual depravity on the part of men towards women? Are we even justified in saying that perhaps the tide has been stemmed? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Two general observations lead me to this position.
Allegations of Sexual Assault on Capitol Hill
First, consider Speaker Paul Ryan’s response to the allegations of sexual assault on Capitol Hill. The House and Senate were mandated to attend sexual harassment training. It is an ‘important step’ as the Congressman says, but will it have any lasting impact? To ask the question, it seems, is to answer it. Would training have stopped Harvey Weinstein or any other perverted individual from committing their horrible crimes? Now, such a measure is probably not intended as a silver bullet to solve the issue. But in the absence of any other visible and rigorous actions taken, it seems that mandated harassment training is at least being treated as if it is a good enough response.
Second, notice the juxtaposition of the two cases with which this column began—the celebration of Hugh Hefner’s life after his death and the coming to light of Weinstein’s wicked deeds. I have yet to hear or see in the mass media any condemnation of Hugh Hefner and his lifestyle in light of the #MeToo movement. Of course, many would say that all of his sexual acts (or at least the ones we know of) were consensual; he wasn’t wicked like Harvey Weinstein. Perhaps that is the case, but does publishing a monthly magazine filled with pictures of naked women along with salacious articles for decades not have an effect on our cultural psyche? Is it not reasonable to say that the Playboy ‘philosophy’, as Hefner called it, which promoted open marriages, premarital intercourse, and the voracious digestion of lewd images of women by countless men, has trained us as a society to look upon women as centers for gratification and not much else? How can we rightly condemn Weinstein and all sexual abusers on one hand, but then on the other commend a man and a ‘philosophy’ which prospered on the backs of manipulated and exploited women, all the while teaching men to let their sexual desires be fulfilled unchecked by any ‘puritanical’ considerations?
Culturally Divided Against Ourselves
Our Lord said that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:22-25). We are, at present, culturally divided against ourselves. The situation is most grave because it risks destroying progress against a terrible scourge on our culture that is borne primarily by our friends, daughters, wives, and mothers. As long as our responses to such actions are changes of policy/law and harassment training, coupled with a lack of condemnation of the causes of a cultural ethos that promotes the objectification of women and unchecked sexual desire and satisfaction, we will never see progress. Clearly, it took time for us to get to this point of depravity culturally and it will take time to get better. So, what will help us make progress in the right direction?
Rout Out the Causes
We must rout out the causes of sexual depravity in order to make progress. As Our Lord says, “If your right eye is the occasion of sin, pluck it out and cast it aside…” (Matthew 5:29-30). First, we must endeavor to remove from our culture all of the gratuitous displays of sexually explicit content. This is not a new Puritanism but realism. Do we really need topless women or women in very tight and revealing clothing to sell hamburgers, cars, web domains, etc.? You might say that such things are not the same as sexual assault. You would be right, but we human beings are creatures of habit and impression. How do you think seeing such ubiquitous images of women will frame the minds of young men and women in our culture? They send a repeated message to men that women should always be sexually available and are objects of gratification. And they send messages to our young women that tell them to put all of their effort and emphasis on how they look so as to attract the attention of men.
Young Men Must be Taught
Secondly, young men must be taught how to live and interact with women. St. Paul says that a man should treat and look upon his wife as his own body. It is unheard of that a man should bear ill will towards his body, and so too with man and woman (Ephesians 5: 25-28). The reason the ethos promoted by Playboy is so insidiously harmful is because it teaches men, through repeated exposure to its content, to treat women wholly as another as one would treat any object they seek to get something out of. Men must realize that every woman they look upon is someone’s daughter and, in some cases, someone’s wife. That is to say, they should not just see an object but a person who is beloved and who is properly loved and adored in the context of a mutual human relationship. Only when we, as a culture, see women as partners to be loved and respected will we begin to break the tyranny of sexual depravity that has taken hold of so many parts of our society.
Let’s Open Our Hearts To Truth
As Joel says, “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). It is only when we open our hearts to the truth of the humanity and dignity of our fellow sisters that we as a culture will hold them up as we should. Once we combat this evil not just with a change of law but with a change of soul—a change that does away with the rending of clothes off of our sisters and ushers in the rending of the scales from our eyes and the corrosion from our hearts—will we be able to love and adore our sisters in the proper way. Let us make that our intention this Valentine’s day and work to change our young men and our cultural ethos to treat women with the respect and dignity they all deserve.