Opinion

The 'Harvey Effect' is changing how we talk about sexual assault

The Harvey Weinstein revelations — and their ripple effect — are paving the way for a revolution

It is like a rolling cavalcade, like God slamming his fist on the table of the Earth and pieces tumbling to and fro. The journalistic exposés on Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual harassment have emboldened many people to share their stories, and not just people in Hollywood. The so-called "Harvey Effect" — people daring to speak out against powerful men who serially harass or abuse others — has toppled careers in Hollywood, in the media, in Silicon Valley, and even in the British Parliament.

I can't tell you how pleased I am by this. Few things are more disgusting than sexual abuse and harassment. Using power and fame to conceal it and perpetrate more of it only compounds the disgust. The revelations have a salutary effect. They show what every keen observer of humanity knows: that underneath the veneer, much of human life is woven through with cruelty and malice. The truth shall set you free, sayeth Scripture, and amen to that.

There are some, though, who, while rightly condemning sexual harassment, nevertheless fear unintended consequences of the Harvey Effect. They fear the rise of a mob mentality. They're afraid that relentless condemnations will blur the line between outright crime and mere creepiness. Some worry that a "witch-hunt" atmosphere will deter powerful men from mentoring young women, lest they create the wrong impression. These are all legitimate concerns, and they are offered with good intentions.

Still, to all that I say: humbug!

One very good outcome of the Harvey Effect has been the revelation that predatory sexual behavior can happen in any milieu, in any context, and that it tends to be especially present when people can use power and prestige to get away with it and conceal it. Indeed, too many victims are silenced by fear and gaslighting. But they should speak out! Let them speak out!

Some of my more conservative friends roll their eyes when progressives counter the idea that a hyper-vigilance around harassment will cause innocent actions to be misconstrued, but on this one I give the point to progressives. It's actually easy to not harass women, you see, and it's actually easy to not be a creep. I live in France, where the boundary between acceptable and non-acceptable behavior is a little more blurry than in the United States, and you can still tell the creeps from the non-creeps.

When you are in a position of responsibility, it is incumbent upon you, not only to behave, but to avoid even the appearance of misbehavior. Leaders are scrutinized, and they must pay attention not only to what they do but to how it looks and will be interpreted by others. That aspect of leadership was not invented by the PC police, it is inherent to the thing. It is hard. Leadership is hard! But since monarchy is pretty much a thing of the past, there's a very good solution: If you think being a leader is too hard, go do something else.

Will there be false accusations and will there be excessive lynch mobs? Probably. But serial sexual aggressors in positions of prominence going unpunished is a much, much more serious problem.

The Harvey Effect has also complicated easy political narratives around sex, and that's a good thing. Some conservatives like to say that the sexual revolution, by removing so many boundaries, has set predators loose, and some progressives believed once a patriarchal culture was removed, then predation would go, too. We now know the reality is much more complicated.

The persistence and protean nature of male creepiness might be a spur to a tiny alliance in the midst of the endless culture war; whatever their differences, and their different metaphysical justifications, progressive feminists and social conservatives at least very much agree that male sexual predation is wrong. Both sides should see this moment as an opportunity to build bridges and fight a common battle against disgusting enemies who need to see their comeuppance.

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