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Friday, November 17, 2017


I feel a need to say something about the recent flood of revelations of sexual harassment, sexual violation, and outright rape by prominent men, even though I do not really have anything to contribute to the discussion beyond what many others have said and are saying.  I cannot very well run a blog and yet ignore what everyone is talking about.  Like everyone else, I am struck by three things. 

First, it is almost always the case that a man who is outed for one act of sexual abuse or harassment turns out, on closer examination, to be a serial abuser or harasser.  It is not at all surprising that once a woman has the courage to come forward and report what was done to her, many more women appear who have been treated in the same way by the man.  These are patterns of behavior deeply rooted in the man’s character.  Needless to say, getting away with it once merely emboldens him to try again and again.

Second, it is quite often the case that the man revealed as a sexual abuser is, by any reasonable objective aesthetic measure, an unattractive slob.  Harvey Weinstein is the poster boy for this feature of abuse.  I mean, let’s face it, very few sexual predators look like Brad Pitt.  Nor is it surprising that the abusers are often a good deal older than their victims.

Third, it is, I take it, obvious that these stories are more about the abuse of power than about sexuality simpliciter.  There is nothing intrinsically immoral about a man making sexual overtures to a woman [leaving aside marital status and such], or indeed to many women.  Some men find a favorable response all or most of the time [did anyone ever say no to Humphrey Bogart?], and some strike out all the time.  There is a delicate balance between being too diffident and improperly pushy, to be sure, but between a man and a woman of equal status and social power, there is nothing improper about either of them signaling an interest in sex.  The real problem arises when a man with social or economic or political or sheer physical power over a woman uses that power to compel a woman to submit to sex [or, for that matter, to anything else, but that is part of a larger discussion.]

By the way, an idle observation by a compulsive cable news watcher:  I have now seen six or eight panel discussions of sexual harassment featuring male and female anchors, commentators, and the like.  Every one of the women on those panels is, to my eye, physically more attractive than any of the men.  It is worth reflecting on what that tells you.

Which brings me to Roy Moore.  His behavior all those years ago was repetitive, creepy, pathetic, abusive, and in at least one case outright illegal.  It is also a gift from God, because it might just give the Democrats an otherwise unwinnable Senate seat at a crucial moment.  Like Josh Marshall of TPM Daily, I am extremely leery of the Republican desire to initiate an effort to expel him from the Senate, should he be elected.  I think that would set an extremely dangerous precedent.  Let us suppose my dreams come true and several real socialists [not faux socialists like Bernie Sanders] are elected to the Senate.  Does anyone doubt that an effort would be made to unseat them, an effort supported by many Democratic senators as well as all of the Republicans?  If Moore is elected, let him serve in that august body.  He will be a constant thorn in the side of the Republican Party, who deserve him.


s. wallerstein said...

The fact that every woman on the panel is more attractive than any of the men may mean that
in order to appear in television women need to be especially physically attractive and/or
wear attractive clothing (tight dresses, short skirts, etc) and make-up or that you are exclusively heterosexual or almost exclusively heterosexual and that you find no or very few men to be attractive.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

My point was that it is the first of those. I think I can spot a good looking man even though he does not turn me on.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm sure that you can spot a conventionally good looking man: you use Brad Pitt as an example.

However, I'm not sure that you or I can necessarily spot a man who is attractive to women or to gay males, since women, in my experience, are less attracted by purely visual clues than heterosexual males are (to women). I'm sure that you've had the experience of women talking to you about how attractive some male is, who is not good looking in the conventional sense at all.

On the other hand, I'm fairly sure that both of us can predict which women will provoke whistles from construction workers, even before the women pass the construction site, simply because most of us "straight" males react to very conventional visual clues.

Before the feminists (I consider myself a feminist too by the way) scream at me, I do not whistle at women in the street and go out of way to avoid even looks or body language which might communicate to them that I consider them to be merely sexual objects.

DDA said...

I think your remark on the schlubiness of the abusers applies mainly to the rich and powerful. There are plenty of conventionally handsome abusers out there; they do it for power/control.

Michael said...

I would warn against generalizations about attractiveness and attraction across gender lines. The idea that these men are simply sexually frustrated can actually be quite harmful especially as men like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp have also faced accusations of abuse and inappropriate sexual behavior, something we wouldn’t want to dismiss. Terry Crews, a former NFL player turned actor, has written about how he has been sexually assaulted by men in Hollywood, and how the experience was shameful and humiliating. This is to say that there’s a reason to focus more on power than anything else.

Also, S. Wallerstein, the idea that men are more “visual” than women is something that shouldn’t be taken at face value.

s. wallerstein said...


I just googled "Brad Pitt..sexual harassment" and I don't find any accusations against him.

Could you link to them please?

Anonymous said...

Closer to home, what have you to say about the accusations against high profile male philosophers? Did you ever witness the abuses that seem rampant in philosophy departments?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Anonymous, I have never witnessed those abuses, but recall that I left a Philosophy Department 25 years ago [first Afro-Am, then retirement.] I guess I have an exalted view of the calling of Philosophy Professor, but I consider such abuses, when they occur, as they certainly do, to be unforgivable. One such action, if established, is enough to warrant immediate termination. The danger, I would imagine, is most serious at the graduate level, because the female doctoral students are so completely professionally dependent on the good opinion and support of just one professor.

Michael said...

S Wallerstein, I may have been thinking of the allegations of child abuse. Nevertheless, the point about the attractiveness of the assaulter/assailant remains. This is more of an issue of power than sexual desire.

Jerry Fresia said...


A rather dangerous situation:

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

It takes courage in the current "intellectual" climate to dare to question that all the accused are guilty.