Over the last two week, it seems that everyone, from Hollywood’s highest ranking elite to news outlets and bystanders on social media, has an opinion about Harvey Weinstein, the 65-year-old fallen mogul and co-founder of Miramax and the Weinstein Company. At latest count, Weinstein faces allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault from close to 40 women, dating back as far as the early 1990s, with some being as young as 17 years old at the time of the incident.
Since the news broke three weeks ago, the film industry and personal friends have been clamoring to distance themselves from Weinstein. He has been fired from the Weinstein Company as co-chairman, stripped of his membership from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, suspended from BAFTA and expelled by the Producers Guild of America. As for Weinstein himself, he finally resigned from the Weinstein Company’s board of directors on Tuesday and is reportedly seeking treatment for “sex addiction” at a facility in Arizona. “I’m not doing okay, but I’m trying,” he said. “I gotta get help, guys. […] We all make mistakes.”
As the number of victims continues to multiply and attempts are made to grasp at an explanation, it’s important for us to recognize that sex—and specifically male sexuality—are not to blame for the scandal unfolding in gory detail before us. As someone who has worked both clinically and in a research capacity with incarcerated sex offenders, let me get one thing out of the way: Most men do not rape or sexually harass women. Following from this line of logic, predatory sexual behavior is not the result of being male and having a sex drive; it’s that some men willfully choose to act in an unethical and non-consensual way.
There has been a growing trend in recent years to shame and pathologize men for having inklings of sexual interest in women with terms like toxic masculinity, but this doesn’t offer any meaningful solutions. There is a difference between healthy sexuality and sexuality that transgresses against others. Conflating the two as being symptomatic of all men is not helpful or productive, and for those who commit these types of transgressions, cultural shaming will not stop them.
The problem is not about sex, or a love of having sex, either, and so-called “sex addiction,” also known as hypersexual disorder, is not recognized as a medical diagnosis. It isn’t listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the DSM-5). Instead, the available research suggests that excessive sexual behaviors are associated with things like religiosity, mood disorders (like anxiety and depression) and boredom as opposed to being reflective of a genuine addiction, like those involving drugs or alcohol.
There is a difference between healthy sexuality and sexuality that transgresses against others.
Blaming sex, or a hedonistic enjoyment of sex, for coercive and unconscionable behavior gives healthy sexual attitudes a bad name and incorrectly suggests that all men with a high libido or problems with hypersexuality are capable of acting this way. That’s all the more true when it has been proven that some females can be sexually coercive too. For men with repeated sexual offenses, a more accurate diagnosis would be that of antisocial personality disorder, or its cousin, narcissistic personality disorder. Both disorders are characterized by an indifference to the well being of other people and a lack of empathy. In the context of sexual harassment, antisocial and narcissistic men see other people as pawns to be used to suit their own—in this case, sexual—ends.
Research has previously shown that being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances, including sexual harassment at work, can leave a negative effect on women’s psychological well being and their ability to do their jobs. Arguably, the most crucial thing to take away from this scandal is how we move forward from it. We should continue having healthy attitudes about sex, even when it’s clear some people repeatedly choose to weaponize it.
Instead of viewing predatory sexual behavior as part of a wider problem endemic to our society, we must take individual responsibility when it happens. It’s too easy, as we’ve seen, to sit back and hope that someone else will take it upon themselves to say something. If you speak up, it will make it easier for the next person to. If you are privy to this kind of behavior happening, do not turn a blind eye; reach out to the person who is being harassed and ask what you can do to help. Onlookers stay quiet because it serves their best interests to—they don’t want to lose their jobs or be blacklisted by influential people. Any number of justifications can be made, but in the end, it’s a form of selfishness.
Women who experience sexual harassment often have to interact with their harasser in order to get their work done. Not only can this be extremely stressful and demoralizing, but it also increases the chances of other unwanted incidents happening in the future. If you choose to keep quiet for your own benefit, know that you’re enabling sexual predators to continue doing what they do—not only to this particular person, but likely, legions of other women down the road.
And to the morally outraged, there is no point in rallying around “social justice” if it doesn’t bring about meaningful change. We’ve made important strides in recent years to overcome victim-blaming. It’s just as important now to avoid shaming sex across the board under the guise of taking a stand. As a woman, I have dealt with my fair share of Weinsteins in the world. Most of us have—we are never the first and we are also never the last. But we can turn these situations into something positive that builds resilience and character. We can’t let darkness dictate how we live our lives.