7 Lost Lessons of the Harvey Weinstein Controversy

As you probably have read, there are many opinions being shared in relation to Harvey Weinstein, and the allegations and controversy surrounding him at this time. These types of controversies can make us question ourselves and others. In typical fashion, this situation has led to questions about sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. It has also led to discussions about perpetration and being a victim.

In these discussions, there are lessons that are becoming muddied and even lost. This doesn’t make it any less important to recognize these issues. Here are the things that we always must remember in relation to sexual perpetration of any kind.

  1. Flirting and connecting aren’t sexual harassment. People flirt, and it can be embraced, but it can also be turned down as well. There is no crime in flirting. It can be fun and exciting to flirt. In fact, flirting is often not sexual at all. However, when flirting, you have to remember that this doesn’t have to be reciprocated. If you continue to try to connect in this way, and the other person isn’t interested, you are crossing a boundary. The same is true throughout an entire relationship with someone. When trying to move your relationship forward, whether emotionally or sexually, you will be making advances. Some of these will be received and accepted. Others will be rejected. If you’re unsure of the level of comfort of the other person, get vulnerable and ask.
  2. Power differentials in sexual relationships are not always sexually inappropriate. Many people enjoy one person taking charge. In these situations, it is both mindful and consensual. Both people also know that they can reject and exit a situation with freedom at any time. In these situations, the power differential doesn’t keep people in situations that they don’t want to be in, because boundaries still exist.
  3. It isn’t the victim’s job to manage a perpetrator’s behavior. We culturally tend to put the responsibility of the perpetrator’s right on the shoulders of victims of sexual abuse and harassment. We question the behaviors of the victim, rather than the perpetrator. I still hear questions like, “Why did you go along with it?” and “Why did she wear that, if she didn’t want this?” I also continue to hear extreme suspicion of victims who come forward with allegations. This suspicion prevents people from coming forward, and enables perpetrators to continue to engage in this type of behavior.
  4. People are shamed for being victims. Hollywood acts appalled by the actions of Harvey Weinstein, and empathetic to those who have come forward. Yet it harbors some of its biggest perpetrators, celebrates silencing its current victims, while setting a tone for its future victims. If that sounds harsh, it’s because it’s based in a harsh reality. We are in a society where our president’s biggest argument against an allegation of sexual abuse was that the woman wasn’t attractive enough to have been sexually harassed. I’m not saying the President was guilty. We simply don’t know. This isn’t about the president or politics. It’s more about how his statement resonated with others, and how we deal with sexual harassment. Boys and men can be shamed just the same by being called emasculated when they come forward with sexual abuse as well. We can’t face these realities and deal with the problems, unless we’re ready to name and accept how ugly they truly are. All victims deserve to be heard, regardless of who they are accusing.
  5. Men are victims too. Some are mistaking this as an issue of men versus women. I think this forgets that men are victims of sexual abuse and harassment as well. This can happen from other men, but can happen from women as well. Sadly, men and boys who come forward can be blamed as well for being victims, as well as treated as weak.
  6. No one is “asking for it.” This perception is unbelievable to me that it still exists. But it does. I still hear people insinuating that some women need to watch what they wear, and how they act. Instead, people need to respect the boundaries of others.
  7. Manipulating is inappropriate. When people play mind games to get what they sexually want, they are crossing boundaries. This isn’t cute or funny. It’s inappropriate. This includes “getting” people to have sex with you who don’t want to.

I know that some of the items on this list may make you uncomfortable. They make me uncomfortable to say. However, we can’t contend with what’s inappropriate, unless we contend with calling it what it is.

We also have to be careful not to combine too many issues and opinions at one time. This is a situation that doesn’t have to get involved in a cultural binary. There are multiple truths and realities when we are dealing with sexual perpetration. If we work together, we realize that we all pay a price when someone is victimized.


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