The Harvey Weinstein debacle has left a seriously bad taste in my mouth.
The words ‘vile’ and ‘venal’ vie for dominance although they’re both spot on.
It’s neither the abuse of power, nor his predatory nature that bother me as much as the silence of other men that rankles most. Why the silence? Because in some way, I feel complicit. You see, I know where this silence is grown, how the silence has contributed to the distorted perceptions many men carry about their relationships with women, how these perceptions are conceived and nurtured.
I too have been guilty of silence.
At fourteen, I was far more interested in riding my bike and reading fantasy novels than in thinking, or talking about sex. I was curious about sex, as one can be curious about the names of trees, or stars, but women’s genitalia were mysterious far off places, best left for later discovery.
I remember standing awkwardly in school changing rooms as one of our pubic haired tribe spoke about his sexual ‘conquests’, how he crowed about how he ‘grabbed her by the pussy’ (sound like someone else?) or how another boy ‘showed her who’s boss’. I remember other boys like me, looking around nervously, pretending we were very busy as these often physically mature boy/men flexed their testosterone and fragile masculinities. There were times, that if you didn’t laugh on cue, or join in on the venal banter you were accused of being a ‘moffie’ (homosexual), a label that seemed to call down all manner of furies on a boys body. At school, my camouflage was excellent, I could move between groups, shape shifting and experimenting with different models of masculinity, I could travel between and then vanish when conflict arose. Emotional sensitivity in a young adolescent boy was often ruthlessly dealt with by the alphas. Hiding ones emotions and silence around crass sexual innuendo were ways to survive and avoid being singled out. If you learned to laugh in the right places, you had immunity and would not be cast out.
And yet, although there was a lot of hollow machismo between boys passing a playboy between them, there was also a complex interplay between shame, desire, curiosity and fear that danced across their virginal faces. Innocent boys who were also trying to learn about sexual intimacy with nothing to guide them but locker room bravado, dated two dimensional sex education and in some cases, emasculating mothers who used their sons to replace their depressed, unfaithful husbands. In helping boys transition into men by understanding the nuances of sexual intimacy, fathers were largely silent, absent or guilty of perpetuating antiquated gender stereotypes, their ideas of sexual intimacy and masculinity minted by previous generations of sexually repressed forefathers.
I have heard too few narratives of fathers teaching their sons a healthy respect and admiration of women. I’d like to know what Harvey Weinstein’s father taught him about how to treat a woman.
Men who are so obviously wounded by their own limited ideas of sexual intimacy can be found in very powerful positions. The combination of power dynamics and sexual exploitation has a long history and silence allows it to flourish, not only in the corridors of power, but in our schools, our churches and even our homes.
There is a plague of silence which starts in the home by not talking about healthy, consensual relationships between men and women. The intergenerational transmission of an often brutal model of machismo, faux masculinity and patriarchy does not only affect young girls and women, it is also a brutal attack on the young, sensitive, ignorant minds of boys.
Things need to change, men need to stand up and educate their sons and others around respect and equality. We need to review sex education and life orientation in our children’s schools to help them learn about healthy, authentic relatedness. We need to challenge other men when they denigrate women, and interrogate our woefully inadequate models of masculinity.
As a father of two daughters, as a man and as a therapist working with men, I stand up and say ENOUGH!