There is a a particularly repulsive footnote to the explosion of public consciousness around sexual abuse and exploitation caused by the Weinstein revelations. Religious social conservatives have been hard at work arguing that Hollywood libertinism, liberal sexual mores and the sexual revolution itself are to blame for the behavior of the Weinsteins of the world. Bret Stephens’ much-lampooned New York Times op-ed hit the “Hollywood values” angle, while David French took on the full-throated promotion of Handmaid’s Tale theocracy this weekend in The National Review.
Let’s be very clear about something: conservative social mores aren’t about protecting women and never were. They’re about controlling women.
The sexual revolution gave women options: the birth control pill allowed women to control their reproductive destinies and have children at a time of their choosing, which in turn gave them economic independence and the ability not to become indentured servants to whatever man happened to have sex with them and father children with them. The revolution empowered women to make choices of sex partners based not on the approval of their parents or the economic necessities of marriage, but based on their own personality preferences and physical desires. The revolution also allowed women to compete in previously gender-exclusive industries and become primary economic providers for households. In later decades it also allowed gay and gender-non-conforming people to pick identities and partners entirely of their own choosing.
All of this terrifies conservative men. Conservative white men have long lived in a bubble where they were able to objectify women and use both physical and economic coercion to force more talented, more capable and more physically attractive partners to stay with them despite their own gross deficiencies.
A world where a woman had to marry the first man she had sex with, is a world where superior women could be saddled for the rest of the their lives with inferior men based on a single mistake. A world where women were trapped at home with children while men dallied outside it, was one where men could grope and fondle their secretaries in abusive relationships while women had far fewer opportunities for relief from their oppressive marriages and domestic prisons.
When all else failed, the watchful eye of a patriarchal God would keep women in line, subservient to their domineering marriage partners. This same angry divinity did not, of course, prevent men from sexually exploiting and harassing any woman unfortunate enough to be within their economic power.
The sexual and civil rights movements changed all that. Not only could women pick their partners–and as many of them as they wanted–suddenly the pool of potential partners opened to men (and, eventually, women) of all races, too. Much of conservative resentment ever since, distilled to that now-so-common “cuck” insult in Trumpian circles, has centered around abject terror that white women would find men of color or other women a more pleasant alternative to their own less attractive and less interesting selves.
Which brings us back to Harvey Weinstein. Liberal culture and Hollywood values did not create Harvey Weinstein. Patriarchy and capitalism did.
Harvey Weinsteins have existed ever since the dawn of civilization when rich and powerful men have predated on exploited women in no position to defend themselves, long before the sexual revolution and in eras governed explicitly by strict sexual moral codes. Aflred Hitchcock did it to Tippi Hedren. Thomas Jefferson did it to Sally Hemmings. Supposedly Christian men from popes to barons have done likewise. Rape and abuse of women by men is the norm in social conservative society, whether in Christian Victorian England or Islamist Afghanistan; liberal sexual mores are the cure.
Harvey Weinstein isn’t just an alleged rapist and abuser. He’s a gross, wildly unattractive man who used his financial position as a capitalist owner and his patriarchal position as a man of power to force himself on women who would never have been in his league voluntarily. Harvey couldn’t compete for the affections of the women he wanted, and he didn’t bother to try. So he used money and power to get what he couldn’t objectively earn through charm, effort, grooming and good will.
This is the conservative program in a nutshell: allowing mediocre white men to use unjustly gained money and social privilege to earn rewards they do not deserve, protected and enforced by arsenals of private firearms and an angry, judgmental God. It’s a program that the sexual revolution has done a great deal to destroy, but there remains much work left to do.
May the work continue.