In the aftermath of Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein scandal — a scandal in which dozens of women are coming forward to allege sexual harassment and assault from a man widely rumored to be a monster for decades — famous starlet after famous starlet has written of her experiences in Tinseltown with flesh peddlers who call themselves producers. Molly Ringwald alleges that she has had “plenty of Harvey Weinsteins of my own over the years,” including a fifty-year-old crew member sexually assaulting her when she was 13 years old; America Ferrara says she was sexually assaulted at age nine; Reese Witherspoon at age 16.
All of this has led other women to tell their own stories of sexual harassment and assault. All of which is worthwhile if it reminds men to be careful around women at the office. But there are two problems with the #MeToo phenomenon. First, nobody seems to want to articulate a standard for wrongdoing worthy of punishment; second, even when wrongdoing is clearly worthy of punishment, nobody wants to name names. This leads to vagueness, a sense of generalized injustice without any serious remedy, at a time when serious remedies are easily available.
That’s a problem.
Let’s address these problems one by one. First, the standard of wrongdoing. The same Leftist culture that suggests that Vice President Mike Pence is wrong to avoid dinner with women who are not his wife, the same culture that mocks men who shy away from touching women casually at the office as prudish and awkward, the same culture that laughs off former Vice President Joe Biden getting handsy with every woman in a thirty-mile radius — that culture has a rough time drawing lines. Our standard on sexual harassment worthy of comment seems to change over time, with the nature of the harasser. It’s not a bright line; it’s Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
That description should lead us to a simple rule: no touching of women without their explicit consent. That’s the rule by which I abide. But that’s not the rule society has established. And we all know that without such a bright line rule, that’s not how human relationships work. How many people are married to people they met at a job? How many people have coupled with people they met at the office? Did those people all ask permission before moving in for a kiss or a hug? How many romantic movies involve the male lead asking the female lead for a kiss, or whether he can hold her hand? Do any? Context matters in every situation, and that means it’s difficult for some men to tell where the lines are.
That is not an excuse. That is a fact. And it begs for us to establish some bright lines again, contra the Left’s views on sexual expression.
Then there’s the second problem: even when lines have clearly been crossed, nobody seems willing to name names. As I’ve written, that’s morally obtuse. If you saw a man kill a nine-year-old child and you didn’t report it to the police, you’d bear a certain degree of moral responsibility for his future murders. If you were the nine-year-old child sexually assaulted by a producer, we can certainly understand all the emotional reasons why you wouldn’t go to the cops originally — but if you’re now a 25-year-old starlet, there is serious moral hazard to allowing a child molester to continue walking around town molesting children. The media seem complacent to ask no questions, and demand no names out of supposed sympathy for victims. But what about today’s victims? What about future victims? That’s the priority now, not telling stories without remedies.
Hollywood’s sexual harassment and sexual assault problem is an issue waiting to be fixed. And the fixes are right in front of us. But we seem bound and determined to wallow in the emotional difficulties of the situation rather than seeking solutions upon which we can all agree: drawing lines that make sense, and holding specific people accountable for crossing those lines. We should all be on the same side here; it’s not just #MeToo. As members of a civilized society, it’s #WeToo. Let’s work together to stop monsters before they can do more harm, and to establish ground rules that prevent misunderstanding and heartache now.