Harvey Weinstein—priapic, smug, and richly honored—has been losing his degrees. The University of Buffalo is rescinding his 2000 honorary degree. Harvard is revoking his Du Bois Medal, awarded in 2014 for his contributions to black culture. France is rescinding his Legion of Honor. These take-backs come despite Mr. Weinstein’s long record of standing up for progressive causes. Back in 2009, as he petitioned on behalf of a convicted rapist, Weinstein explained to the Los Angeles Times, “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”
After the New York Times and the New Yorker began to document Weinstein’s sordid career as a sexual harasser who frequently purchased the silence of his victims, his reputation collapsed, and with it his value to the institutions that honored him. Weinstein’s fall, of course, also ignited “Me too” accusations against Weinstein and many others.
The Weinstein-inspired spotlight on male sexual predators in the entertainment industry abruptly changes the narrative. Until the Weinstein story broke on October 5, most of the concern about sexual harassment focused on campus “rape culture.” Indeed, as recently as mid-September, feminist critics were battling over a review in the New York Times Book Review that disputed some of the assertions in Vanessa Grigoriadis’ book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. The reviewer, Michelle Goldberg, quibbled with Grigoriadis over details. They agreed that college campuses are in the midst of an epidemic of sexual assault and rape. Other observers, such as Christina Hoff Sommers, strongly dispute the widely reported claims that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted, or even 1 in 4, according to a 2015 New York Times story.
The high numbers generally result from surveys with trick questions and tendentious ways of interpreting the answers as well as “rape culture” propaganda that primes students to see their experiences through a distorting lens. But never mind that right now. The intriguing development of the last month is the discovery that there really is something like a “rape culture” to be found in one precinct of American society—not on the college campus, but in the movie industry.
And it may extend well past the movie industry. If the New York Times is to be relied on, sexual harassment also flourishes 378.4 miles from Hollywood in the California legislature.
There are, to be sure, many instances in which sexual harassment and assault do occur on campus. It could hardly be otherwise, and the cases that do emerge tend to get a great deal of attention. The dean of the University of California Law School, Sujit Choudhry, resigned in Spring 2016 after being accused of sexual harassment. He was plainly guilty of giving his assistant “kisses to the cheeks, bear hugs and repeatedly rubbing her shoulders and arms.” This was not wise, though by most accounts his touching was not intended to be sexual. Later in the year, a University of Southern California Medical School dean, Rohit Varma, resigned after the revelation that fifteen years earlier the university had reached “a financial settlement with a female researcher who accused him of sexual harassment.”
A little searching will turn up dozens of such stories over the years. But they seem to point to something other than a “rape culture.” Dean Choudhry and Dean Varma don’t even come close to the starting line of Harvey Weinstein’s reckless career. Higher education just isn’t a place where adult men who grab, harass, or assault can expect a free pass.
Me Too? No.
My own experience over the last forty-some years in higher education colors my views. I’ve known of a fair number of extra-marital affairs among faculty members, some of them involving students, but students who were consenting. Some of these resulted in the break-up of marriages and a few in the professors marrying their new love interest. By some of the current expansive definitions, these are instances of “harassment,” but they aren’t really. They are instances of men and women giving into mutual temptation.
But worse things do happen. I saw one case close up in the 1990s. A male professor lured an undergraduate student to a hotel restaurant where he drugged her and attempted to get her into a room. The university held a formal investigation. The accused professor had his own lawyer. But he was fired in short order. Had he done the same thing to other students? We never found out, but we did turn up evidence of other kinds of misbehavior, and once he was fired, the professor fled the country.
Attempted rape was one thing. We had other cases of faculty members going off other sexual deep ends: a peeping tom, a professor who used a toilet stall for gay assignations with students, and professors who stashed pornography on their university computers. Generally, the university came down hard on faculty members who paid the wrong kinds of attention to their students.
Students of course prey on each other far more than faculty members or deans prey on students. The hook-up culture and the readiness of many college students to drink to excess are parts of a recipe for sexual misadventures. Campus sexual assault outside that context appears to be rare.
Why then have feminists focused on the college campus as the center of “rape culture?” Because the term and the ideology that lies behind the term are tools of recruitment. The goal is to convince young women that they are in constant peril; that the college or university has little interest in protecting them; and that their “safety” lies in joining the larger effort to dismantle “patriarchy.”
What radical feminism offers young women on campus in exchange for their intellectual and personal independence is a sense of shared victimization and the sharp pleasures of resentment. These are based on nothing much. Feminist theory generally repels critical examination and has no use for facts that contradict its just-so stories.
Most but not all women who are initially attracted to the misandry of radical feminism in college eventually drift away from it. The theory is deeply at odds with actual human experience, including our deep need for life partners who complement us sexually and emotionally. A doctrine grounded in fear and promoting an ethic of shrill accusation isn’t very conducive to a good life.
Nor is marinating students in a make-believe world of sexual harassment good preparation for the day, if it comes, in which a young woman encounters a man who does harass or attempt to assault her. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk are out there. Theories of patriarchy, take-back-the-night marches, and pussy hats won’t stop them. Harvey Weinstein, after all, was a self-proclaimed “liberal feminist” accepted as such by the feminist establishment.