Last month, every time I turned on the TV or read the news on the internet, there was some new sexual abuse or harassment scandal being plastered on my screen.
Last year it was the Church of England. Then it was Hollywood. Then it was the Olympics gymnast doctor scandal. Then it was #MeToo. Then it was that Aziz Ansari story. Then it was the President’s Club.
The scale of this uncovering has been huge.
I’m all for evil being exposed, because that’s the only way to be rid of it. But some of these incidents are not all that clear-cut. When lines get blurred, the real evils and injustices become harder to tackle. Worse, we end up preoccupied with the symptoms of a broken system, instead of tackling the root.
Let’s take the Aziz Ansari story, to start with. If you don’t know what this is about, a young woman, ‘Grace’, came forward last month, as part of the #MeToo campaign, to tell her story about her date-gone-wrong with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. You can read her account here (it’s a bit graphic, be warned).
There’s no denying the unpleasantness of this recount and Ansari seems like the kind of douchey guy you really don’t want to date. But if you can detach yourself for a moment from the emotional telling of this story, the facts remain: ‘Grace’ went to Ansari’s apartment willingly enough and, despite feeling uncomfortable, performed sexual acts on him. When she texted him the next day to tell him how she felt, he apologised. He hadn’t understood her non-verbal cues. (Unsurprising. I mean, he’d been drinking).
Whilst unpleasant and uncomfortable, this account does not constitute sexual assault. In the article ‘Grace’ says she felt pressured to do things she didn’t want to do. But Grace was not forced against her will. She could have said ‘no’ and walked away. Even better, she could have refused to go back to his apartment after a hurried first date that she didn’t seem to enjoy.
Stories like this complicate the whole #MeToo campaign with some blurry definitions as to what constitutes assault or abuse, and what does not.
I’m not saying ‘Grace’ should feel responsible for Ansari’s behaviour. But where’s the acknowledgement of her own error of judgement? There’s a difference between feeling hurt and taken advantage of, and needing to publicise the incident to the world. There’s probably more nuance to this but I think it has more to do with why women feel like they need to have sex with someone they’ve just met, than it does about the definition of consent.
Another recent example is the President’s Club scandal a few weeks ago. I won’t go into this in much detail but if the allegations are true, I don’t see them as particularly surprising. It’s sad and gross, especially considering that a lot of those men are probably married with kids. But the women hired to hostess on the night were told to dress scantily and made to sign a 5-page NDA. Didn’t any of them ask themselves why? Being groped by drunk men shouldn’t be part of anyone’s job description. But the mass hysteria surrounding this story was a little disproportionate.
What bothers me even more is that the very same culture that decries sexual assault continues to promote the objectification of human beings without batting an eye.
Why is there so much outcry about #MeToo but very little about pornography, for example? Pornography harms everybody involved: The actors, the consumer and those close to the consumer (and there are a lot of consumers. According to the Huffington Post, porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined each month). Pornography fuels the demand for sex trafficking, one of the most extreme forms of sexual abuse out there. Why isn’t this being taken seriously? Why isn’t more being done to educate young, impressionable teens about the risks attached to porn use?
But unhealthy, hyper-sexualised relationships are not always presented so overtly. They’re just as likely to be packaged attractively with seductive advertising and slick soundtracks. Fifty Shades of Grey is a timely example. Despite the increasing number of people who have called out Fifty Shades for what it is – a ridiculous saga normalising an abusive and controlling relationship – it continues to be advertised as your ultimate Valentine’s date night.
But the problem lies deeper still. It’s not just the glorification of abusive relationships in the media. It’s about the way society views sex and relationships altogether.
If a rom-com doesn’t depict the protagonists jumping into bed almost immediately, is it even a rom-com? Even Friends can’t go without joking about casual sex or porn multiple times per episode. (Not trying to ruin Friends for you. Chandler is life. Just trying to be objective).
The music industry is no better. I’m sure I wrote about this years ago but until the media stops selling music using half-naked women and basically-soft-porn music videos, it needs to shut up about female empowerment. You’re not powerful if you have to take off your clothes and sing about sex to make people buy your music.
Seems bleak right? Well, it’s probably helpful at this point to take a step back and recognise that what we’re seeing is nothing new. Sexual norms in Greco-Roman society were even more permissive than they are today. If you were the master of the house, pederasty (sleeping with your boy slave) was considered A-OK. Fidelity in marriage was looked down upon and your typical Greco-Roman home would be adorned with every-day items covered in pornographic images. Classy.
The spread of Christianity would have been an affront to everything that Greco-Roman culture stood for. Today, as we’ve drifted further and further away from the pattern for sex and relationships that God had in mind for us, we see much of the same.
The progressive ideology that led to the liberalisation of sexual norms is the very same one that has created an environment where sexual misconduct can run rife. Ironically, perhaps, it’s predominantly the political Left championing the #MeToo campaign, when it’s the Left that demanded sexual liberation in the first place.
Our culture is desperately confused. We think more ‘progression’ is the solution but instead we’ve regressed into a situation where sex is cheap; both glorified and debased.
After the whole President’s Club saga, Theresa May vowed to ‘stop objectification’ of women. How exactly is she going to do that? How will it be enforced? Where is the line?
You can’t police people’s thoughts and attitudes. Only by promoting a better, healthier model for sex and relationships can you hope that attitudes will shift.
Nothing I’ve just said presents a real solution to these issues, but I hope that by recognising the correlation between what society promotes, and its outworkings, we can all be a little smarter about what we consume and which narratives we buy into.
Little left to say here except as always, to leave you with some further reading/watching:
For a really accessible resource on healthy sexuality, Moral Revolution is great. Go like them on Facebook or Instagram, they post pretty regularly.
Also, I saw a new book has just been launched called Sacred Sexuality by Bobbi Kumari. Has anyone read it? Is it good? Does anyone have a copy for me to borrow/review?!
And FINALLY, Christina Hoff Sommers offers some intelligent thought on #MeToo here.