Thursday, 12 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein and "Sex Addiction"



















As one sexual predator shuffles off to earn the disdain of history, so another fills his space in the celebrity firmament. The explosion of allegations around heavyweight film producer Harvey Weinstein are simultaneously not shocking and shocking. Popular culture is well used to the legend of the casting couch, but the excruciating details of the harassment and attacks - some exposed by The New Yorker - are appalling. Here we have the not-at-all surprising story of a powerful man using his wealth and film industry influence to abuse women, enforce a pall of silence about his disgusting behaviour and, where necessary, pay off survivors. The weight of testimony puts the truth of the allegations beyond all reasonable doubt, as does Weinstein's behaviour since the story broke. He denies his decades of abuse and yet bleats about deserving a second chance and how he needs help. In short, his incoherence damns him.

To try and salvage something of his ruined reputation, Weinstein is engaging in that classic of abuser behaviour: denial. He has reportedly flown to an exclusive but discreet rehabilitation centre for sufferers of sex addiction. This is the rationale getting peddled to the press by the few lackeys he has left and, of course, it's complete bollocks. Whether the condition exists or not is a matter for debate. I lean toward the sceptical, but we know addictive behaviours are commonplace and physical and psychological dependencies are capable of being formed around all sorts of things. Yet to treat Weinstein's claims his abuse results from a pathologically uncontrollable libido is like granting "affluenza" and Drapetomania (treating slaves' desires to be free as a mental illness) the legitimacy of medical conditions. Weinstein is in no sense a sufferer and a victim, he is the perpetrator of a long-running series of sexual assaults. He used power to trap and attack the bodies of others.

Understanding gender is impossible without appreciating how sexuality and power is fused together. Masculinity in its hegemonic forms are coded by the positioning of women, which ranges across a spectrum of inferiority from barely human objects to second class citizens. Being a man, performing as a man, having self-worth as a man is inseparable from a heterosexual imaginary shot through with normative assumptions and expectations about the relations between genders. As the dominant gender (still), so it is men's outlooks that are naturalised and unquestioned. It's their desires that are sacrosanct, their power to define and characterise women that is accepted as the truth of gender, and, as a consequence, their violence and abuse that is covered for, explained away and, in some cases, flattered and encouraged.

The poisonous, traditional hegemonic masculinities are probably in long-term decline, but they live on in every dick pic, every fist raised against a woman, every sexual assault. Every denial of sexist and sexual violence. Weinstein isn't ill, he is entirely typical of another spectrum, this time a continuum of behaviour of men who take standard masculinity to heart, and one that takes in the full variety of misogyny. He is entirely responsible for the crimes he's accused of and deserves everything coming to him, which is hardly fair restitution for the women who bear the psychological scars of his attacks. His sex addiction self-diagnosis is designed to blur and bury his abuse of power, a ruse to try and naturalise his appalling conduct. The problem then is more than the individual. The ultimate culprit is faceless and disparate to the point where it always has a face and is therefore known to every woman. The enemy is the web of patriarchal relations responsible for the gendered disparity of power, its perpetuation, and the stunted, entitled men it turns out. Struggling to drive out poisonous masculinities would certainly make a difference, but the only way to root out patriarchy and make sure future Weinsteins are headed off before they develop demands something more than a kinder, gentler masculinity. We need to work toward the abolition of gender as a meaningful social location.

5 comments:

SimonB said...

Well said.

The fake surprise of so many of his important friends is notable. Now he's been outed the Obamas are disgusted. Hardly credible, could the holder of the office of most powerful person in the world not have had a clue? And Obama says he's a feminist.

There can't be a better illustration of the state of a country than when a creep can use their money to buy such high level blindness.

Mathias Alexander said...

"Weinstein is a victim of addiction", or "Weinstein is responsible for his own actions". Can both these statements be true at the same time?

Chris Rivers said...

Look within. Sir Gerald Kaufman...

MikeB said...

Skimming some of the social media commentary on this item, it is (as usual) striking how the US based coverage frames it as an individual issue. He has "an addictive personality" or else he is simply a rapist/scumbag etc. The proposed solutions are equally individualised - more victims need to speak out or take courage and resist; prison terms should be more punitive....

Remove the social and the collective from the analysis and you are left electing a head of state who is a self-proclaimed sex abuser.

Gary Elsby said...

"He is......"
Not until he is proven guilty Phil by a jury of his peers.
Some of the accusations do not need a court case but some do.
Very wrong to pre judge a man entitled to be innocent.