Sexual Abuse and the Golden Globes: What’s Right and What’s Wrong

It’s good that sexual harassment and abuse are beginning to be taken seriously and I was looking forward to seeing what kinds of statements were being made at the Golden Globe Awards. I was glad to see women standing in solidarity with each other and those who have been abused. Their black dresses seemed a fitting symbol of the seriousness of the problem, how wide-spread it is, and that its time to change things.

Although the focus was on women, it was acknowledged that men were also supporting women’s protest stance and the #MeToo movement continues to gain notoriety.  #TimesUp, a new group, is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere. “Powered by women, TIME’S UP addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.”

Women’s power that addresses the problems of sexual harassment and abuse in our society is powerful healing for women and men.

There are some things that resonated with me as being very right about the protests and some things that I thought were very wrong. Let me explain.

  1. I think its wonderful that women are coming together.

Change happens when people come together to say “no” to abusive practices. Women are powerful and when they come together in support of each other, the solidarity creates positive change for women as well as men.

  1. Men supporting women is healthy and helpful.

Sexual abuse and harassment is not just a women’s issue. Many men participate either directly or indirectly. Even though only a small percentage of men sexually abuse women, many more go along with it, laugh at it, or make jokes about “guys just being guys.” More men need to ask themselves, “how would I feel if that was my wife or my daughter being treated that way?

  1. Oprah models the way of a passionate warrior.

The reasons that Oprah is one of the most respected people in the world is that she models the true warrior spirit. She stands against oppression, but she does it with love and kindness. She shares her own experiences of abuse and reminds us all about the forgotten people that should not be forgotten.

She calls on us all to remember Recy Taylor who was a young wife and a mother in 1944 She was just walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama., when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped and left blindfolded by the side of the road, coming home from church. She builds on a horrible happening to inspire humans to do better. “And I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth — like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented — goes marching on.”

Although a powerful advocate for women, she never puts men down. She concluded her speech with these words:

“So, I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, ‘Me too’ again. Thank you.”

Her example makes everyone one of us, men and women, want to be a better human being.

  1. Stedman Graham is model for how to be a strong man in support of a powerful woman.

I’ve always admired Stedman Graham. He exudes a quiet strength and it can’t be easy being the partner of an icon like Oprah. Yet, he has been her rock for more than 30 years and I’ve watched him evolve from a young, handsome, dark-haired mystery man to the distinguished looking escort who stands with Oprah as her loving partner. They both agree that getting married would have been destructive to their relationship. I’ve always looked up to the man as a role model of healthy masculinity, even though I don’t know him personally.

Here’s what I didn’t like: The dehumanization of men who are accused of sexual harassment.

Whatever, you may believe about celebrity men who are accused by women of sexual harassment or assault, they are still human beings. Kevin Spacey was accused by more than a dozen men who say he sexually harassed and attempted to rape them decades ago.

Eighty-four women have accused Weinstein of inappropriate to criminal behavior ranging from requests for massages to intimidating sexual advances to rape.

Host Seth Myers quipped about Weinstein “I think it’s time to address the elephant not in the room … Harvey Weinstein isn’t here tonight because I’ve heard rumors he’s crazy and difficult to work with,” he said. “But don’t worry — he’ll be back in 20 years when he becomes the first person ever booed during the in memoriam.”

To consider Harvey Weinstein’s future as one where he will continue to be seen as a caricature of evil for the next 20 years sells humanity short and contributes to a simple, but inaccurate, portrayal of the problem. The narrative might be stated this way: There are a group of evil, sexual predators, who must be identified, and removed from power so they can’t ever hurt women again.

The problems with this narrative are twofold. First, by imagining that there are a group of “bad apples” that can be removed from the community, we delude ourselves into believing we can solve the problem without looking at the source. Scapegoating a few “evil men” gives us some momentary satisfaction, but causes us to avoid doing the hard work of true healing.

Secondly, by denying the humanity of the men involved, we push the problem further underground. The focus remains on empowering women to stand up to abuse, without asking the deeper question—What would cause a man like Harvey Weinstein to abuse so many women? What would cause a man like Kevin Spacey to abuse young boys and men?

To get at the real problem we have to see sexual abuse for what it really is—A complex personal, interpersonal, and social problem that has roots in childhood. If left untreated it can cause abused children to grow up to become adults who abuse others. I’ve been treating this abuse cycle for nearly fifty years as a therapist. Healing is not easy, but it is possible, and it starts with telling the truth, without shaming the person.

But let me be crystal clear here. I’m not saying we should say of Spacey and Weinstein, “You’re not responsible for your abusive behavior because you were abused as a child.” Most abused children don’t grow up to abuse others. Those who do should be held responsible for their actions.

Yet, if we want to prevent further abuse, we have to address the roots of the problem in childhood. We won’t understand why Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein or any of the other men did what they did, until we ask what happened to these men when they were little boys?

There is a now extensive research over more than 25 years showing the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on adult health and well-being. Are we ready to ask the hard questions about the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse or are we content to demonize the men? I’d like to see Oprah step forward and lead a real campaign to address these issues. It could do more good than becoming President. Though knowing Oprah, she could probably do both, and still have time to have fun with Stedman.

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Comments

  1. Why do you suddenly want to empathize with the men who engage in egregious sexual behavior? I don’t know if any of the accusations against men like Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey are true. But, if anything, we should focus more on 2 groups of men: those who are falsely accused of sexual assault and/or harassment and those who have been subjected to sexual assault and / or harassment.

    Despite the U.S. justice system’s proclamation that everyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, the feminist left has succeeded in forcibly exempting men from that basic civil right. Men accused of such heinous acts are most often assumed to be guilty from the start and have the burden of proving their innocence. Politicians, media figures and wimpy pseudo-psychologists like Phil McGraw have contributed to this distortion. And it shows no signs of letting up. If men like Weinstein and Spacey really were innocent, they should have responded quickly to counter-attack the accusations. Instead, they made excuses for their pathetic behavior; Weinstein saying he has some mental health issues, and Spacey claiming a culture of homophobia as the source of his angst.

    But what about the countless numbers of innocent men who have been charged with or convicted of sexual assault? Many have been kicked out of their own homes; forced from their jobs; thrown in jail; and put on death row. Outside of the high-profile “Innocence Project” cases, where are the champions for them?

    And what about the men who have endured sexual assault and / or harassment? Not all of them are victims of predatory gay men, despite the persistence of that myth. I can’t tell you the number of times women – both at work and in public – have made crass comments about my face or body and / or physically accosted me. If I dared to complain about it, the onus on proving it not only falls back onto my shoulders, but I become the subject of ridicule. My father (who grew up in the 1940s and early 50s) once told me he knew of some boys at his old high school who were engaged in romantic affairs with female teachers. That was some 65 – 70 years ago! So that’s really nothing new.

    What about the fact male infants and children are several times more likely than their female counterparts to be physically abused and neglected or even killed? Yet we have special laws to protect adult (mostly White) females. Why do we have a law in the U.S. banning so-called “female circumcision” (which never existed here), but no similar law to protect males? Every year in the U.S. anywhere from 100 to 300 infant and toddler males die from botched circumcisions or complications arising from the surgeries afterwards. If the same number of adult females were dying from cosmetic surgeries, do you honestly think the American public would stand by and collectively say, ‘Oh well. Shit happens’?

    Again, I ask, why do you suddenly want to humanize the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey? They’re not the victims in these matters.

  2. Jed,
    Thank you for this and I’d like to add just 2 things.
    1. Whenever I see a man in the news that has committed any crime, no matter if it’s rape, murder, bullying, drug OD or abuse, and countless other crimes. The first question i ask myself is, “where is his father”? Not to take the onus off of the man, its because we know that almost all (and quite possibly all) of these men came from broken homes, absence of fathers (or good male role models) or abusive fathers.
    2.It’s also unfortunate that some good men are being accused of things they haven’t done. It may only be a few false accusations, and one is too many. If I woman doesn’t like a man she knows she can ruin his life by accusing him of almost anything and he’s finished.
    Thank you for what you do,
    Bob

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