by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review
Civilization does not cure men of malice, especially when there are no repercussions for bad behavior.
Observers look for some sort of common denominator that would make sense of the daily news blasts of nonconsensual sexual escapades of media, political, and Hollywood celebrities.
No sooner are these lists of the accused compiled than they have to be updated, hourly. Long hushed, covered-up, or even forgotten sexual IEDs suddenly go off without warning and blow up a career.
Weirder still, the now-outraged often overnight can become the outrageous.
One moment Richard Dreyfuss expressed furor when he learned that gay actor Kevin Spacey long ago had groped his own son under the table (while the three were working on a script). The next minute, Dreyfuss himself was accused of an earlier repulsive unwanted sex act or advance toward a female subordinate.
New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush condemns the bad behavior of journalist Mark Halperin — and then finds himself accused of similar coerced sexual behavior. Senator Al Franken’s often sanctimonious outrages over the Fox News harassers would soon apply just as easily to his own behavior. We forget that the original context of Juvenal’s famous quip “Who will police the police?” was the insidiousness of sex.
Note these latest scandals are different from the age-old stories of consensual adultery. They are mostly not consensual affairs in the workplace, supposedly initiated by grasping subordinates or by oppressive bosses in midlife crises. Nor are they the connivances in dating and courtship — all the sort of consenting unions gone awry that are the stuff of novels and films.
Instead, in nearly all these examples of sexual harassment, there is inherently a beauty-and-the-beast asymmetry, male arrogance — and spitefulness. What repels is not just unwanted or coerced sex acts — but the gratuitous cruelty that so often surrounds them.
So what are the common pathologies to all these male icons — who are falling as fast as Confederate statutes a few months ago, in our earlier manifestation of collective moral frenzy?
Was it male-menopause desperation on the part of these middle-aged men?
Did fear of aging or death drive them to use their assumed power to get sex (of various sorts)?
Did the terror of fading away bring Charlie Rose’s proverbial “crusty paw” out of his sleeve? His targets were almost always younger, less experienced, and attractive professional women.
Few such women would probably have willingly consorted with someone like the septuagenarian Rose or the off-putting Weinstein (who had an uncanny resemblance to the late gruff American actor Kenneth McMillan, who played the creepy Baron Harkonnen in Dune)?
Or were the prominent culprits more often liberals and progressives? Men of the Left assumed that their loudly professed feminist credentials earned them indulgences and exemptions to covet as they pleased.
Many progressive predators assumed that if they were caught, most of the victimized women would weigh the damage that might be done to the liberal cause if they took out one of the good guys on their side. (Remember Bill Clinton’s progressive, “feminist” defenders of the 1990s.)
Is the fuel of these accusations, then, loss of deterrence: Once a man of influence and power believes that his abstract morality can cloak his private immorality, there are few restraints left in our postmodern secular age to restrain his setting libido?
Or was the catalyst for harassment age-old ego and narcissism?
Being before the cameras and in the spotlight befuddled these celebrities into the delusional thought that their name recognition and petit fame meant that women — all women of every age and station — secretly wished to be part of their inner circle. Did they assume, despite their targets’ clearly expressed uninterest or outright resistance, that women “really” wished a Matt Lauer or Mark Halperin would flirt or make advances?
Or was the problem occasionally rooted in the proverbial “revenge of the nerds” factor?
The perpetrators were neither in their salad days nor athletes or physically robust. But mostly they were the former nerds of high school and college, who had been ignored by the dating crowd and who later excelled in writing, talking, making money, or administering.
Once they found that their intellectual, artistic, or political niches worked like a narcotic on the naïve, perhaps they sought to make up for lost time. In other words, they would somehow do in their fifties, sixties, and seventies what they had failed to do in their twenties and thirties — now coercing with the brain and tongue what they had once failed to win with their biceps.
Or were they just workaholic players who wished to engage in quickie impersonal sex? Their modus operandi was to skip the preliminaries and just crudely get down to business. And their warped logic was that for every ten targets that were repulsed by phallic exhibition, groping, or potty talk, there might be one who was some kindred demented spirit.
All of the above may explain a similar pattern of behavior. But one ingredient seems missing in these analyses: gratuitous cruelty.
Almost every allegation contains some theme of male orneriness.
Think of the smirk on Al Franken’s face when he posed for the camera while fondling the breasts of a sleeping Leeann Tweeden. Why the need for a smile of triumph in humiliating an unaware target?
Think of Matt Lauer’s purported sicko game of asking fellow grandees whether they would wish to marry, have sex with — or kill — his various female co-hosts? In what category would Lauer himself have fit, had his female subordinates played the same game about their bosses?
Think of Bill Clinton allegedly smirking as he stalked out of a hotel room, advising the bleeding Juanita Broaddrick to “put some ice” on her lip that Clinton had just reportedly chewed.
Think of Glenn Thrush fabricating stories of role reversal, to depict the victimized women as vixens for their supposed pursuit of him. Are we really to take seriously the claim of a dorky Garrison Keillor that he was groped dozens of times by nymphomaniac women, a victimhood apparently that offsets his victimizing?
In the most macabre sense, think of the doomed Mary Jo Kopechne thrashing about in a sunken car, fighting for her young life, as the drunken driver and perpetrator — Ted Kennedy — sulked about on shore, worrying only about losing his Camelot career.
Think of Charlie Rose’s victims who described the “fury” of his advances and his “animalistic” tactics. One victim said that Rose grabbed her hair and twisted her neck; another found herself trapped in his country house without transportation home, crying as Rose grew angry that she had not welcomed his sexual exhibitionism.
Think of the similar sick exhibitionism of a Conyers or Weinstein. Both deliberately walked about in their underwear or in open robes, glaring at their grossed-out targets as they reacted negatively to their phallic exposure. (After how many terms in office, or after how many hit movies, did Conyers or Weinstein decide it was now an uplifting experience for a female subordinate to catch sight of his male organ?)
Think of a Mark Halperin allegedly pressing a woman against a window, or masturbating behind a desk as he leered at her.
The streak of malice is so frequent in all these allegations that it becomes a theme.
Did the callousness result from the idea that such important men had a strict timetable, with not a second to be wasted by romance or even rudimentary expressions of professionalism and friendship? But why did they not even feign liking the women they coerced?
Are feminist theoreticians on to something when they say that in these cases of sexual assault, physical gratification is only part of the equation (sometimes a small part) — that the real impetus might be the sadism of nastily humiliating someone judged weaker?
I grew up on a farm and live there now, and for over half a century, I’ve at various times been surrounded by dogs, donkeys, horses, cows, and wild animals ranging from hawks to coyotes. One notices over the decades how animals eat and couple.
They are utilitarian and in the human sense selfish to the core. The animal does not know where its next meal comes from, and so he bites, growls, and attacks any rival who gets too close as he almost instantaneously gulps down or swallows whole his meal.
In matters of sex, the male animal, after an occasional rudimentary display of intention, simply approaches his target and attempts to mount; if he faces too much opposition, he tries again later or approaches another target. There is, of course, a Darwinian explanation for animal behavior. But humans are supposed to have developed over the centuries a civilized culture to repress our innate selfishness and cruelty in matters of food and sex.
These men seemed to have enjoyed reverting to their premodern reptilian selves. Do they revert all the more easily to their instincts also because there are few marshals to take them down?
In the old days, for every Weinstein or Charlie Rose, there would have been a get-even husband, outraged dad, family friend, big brother, or furious boyfriend who would have cornered the cowardly assaulter (called out as a “punk” or “bully”), and either knocked his block off or dressed him down. I once saw a tough old World War II veteran walk up and grab a stunned prominent local judge, raise him over his head, shake him good a few times, and say, “Listen, knock it off bothering my wife.”
But is all that “toxic” masculinity now passé — killed off by the chaos of the Sixties and the assurances that the deep state could handle harassment? Women, we are told, don’t need deluded Gary Coopers or condescending Jimmy Stewarts around to open doors, pick up the tab, or play their historic chivalrous roles in protecting women from the cruel men among them.
But the malicious men currently in the news knew that too often the slow-coach Human Resources Department would merely catalogue their assaults and weigh the costs and benefits of endangering the careers of rich, powerful, famous predators.
Given that fact, lots of cowards like Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, or Harvey Weinstein did what all cruel bullies do. They attacked and humiliated the vulnerable without worry of repercussions — and they did so with wanton meanness apparently as sick relish.