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How Harvey Weinstein Justifies Sexual Harassment With Progressive Politics

A conversation with sociologist C.J. Pascoe, author of ‘Good Guys Don’t Rape’

To be clear, Harvey Weinstein isn’t a “good guy” in any classic sense. He is, at best, a classic bully. While Weinstein doesn’t necessarily fit the M.O. of the archetype offered in C.J. Pascoe’s 2016 paper “Good Guys Don’t Rape,” which documented how some men distance themselves from identities as rapists while exhibiting abusive behavior toward women, he did very much attempt to align himself with good causes. See, for example, the rambling apology wherein he vows to atone for his sins by taking on the NRA. Generally speaking, Weinstein hid behind liberal causes (Planned Parenthood) and progressive political candidates (Hillary Clinton) as a means of cloaking himself in some form of decency, even if his reputation (whispered or otherwise) was that of a giant asshole.

To better understand this dichotomy of the good guy — or in Weinstein’s case, the good donor — and the man who could allegedly sexually abuse more than 50 women, I recently spoke to Pascoe, a sociology professor at the University of Oregon. She explains that because dominance is the central component of Western masculinity, these types of sexual assaults are often performed by wolves in sheep’s clothing (or men in “woke” clothing).

As we’ve heard in the recording from the Ronan Farrow New Yorker piece, one way Weinstein tried to lure Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into his hotel room was by positioning himself as her “friend.” Does this play into your “Good Guys Don’t Rape” theory?
Yes, Harvey Weinstein identifies as a liberal, a leftist and perhaps even as a feminist. Just as progressive white people couldn’t possibly imagine themselves as racists, guys like Harvey Weinstein consider themselves to be “good men” who respect women because they donate to Planned Parenthood. They can’t see themselves as being predatory because they’re blinded by their own sense of themselves. They’re the good guys, whereas the ones who rape and sexually assult women are the bad guys. They think, I’m not one of those bad guys so my behavior could never be bad.

How do they become so blinded?
It’s hard for humans to understand that we’re capable of doing both good and bad things. Conventional wisdom is: There are good men and bad men. Bad men do bad things, and good men do good things. But that script has failed us. And in terms of our understanding of masculinity, that’s a cultural failing.

Why?
Because it hasn’t given us the language to talk about people like Harvey Weinstein who are both good and bad. I think Harvey Weinstein is even having a hard time coming to grips with himself. For example, his reaction has been much different than Bill Cosby’s, which was “these women are liars and awful people.” Harvey Weinstein’s has been more self-flagellation, saying, “I need to get help.”

Did you buy it?
I find him to be a little confused. There’s a contradiction at play. He fundamentally doesn’t think of himself as a man who enjoys dominating others. It seems like he’s having a hard time reconciling his own behavior with his own image of himself. If we’re going to be successful at moving toward gender equality, we need to develop a way to talk about what happens when our behavior and identity doesn’t match up.

How can we be better allies as men? What are some actionable things we can do to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem?
Good question. Teenage boys I work with wonder, What am I supposed to do? Why do I have to be the one who says, “Guys, that’s not cool”? That’s really hard. But I do think men need to both support women in public and call other men out publicly.

How?
We need to develop a language to help men call out other men in the moment in a way that doesn’t shame them but opens up a dialogue. Part of that is helping men deal with their own experiences of being on the receiving end of sexually inappropriate behavior. We’ve only just started to gather research on sexual victimization of men. Yes, we have men dominating women, but we also have men dominating other men. Until we give men the tools to talk about how they’ve been dominated, we can’t expect them to be true allies with women.

Can you give an example of language men could use?
Frame everything in “bro” language. For example, “Dude, that’s not cool. Let’s not do that, man.” That way you don’t sound like you’re a scolding parent. Also, helping men develop empathy — something they’ve been socialized to not have — can make a real difference. Something like, “You wouldn’t talk about your sister that way…” could be effective. And if a woman is actually there, stand with her in that moment.

What’s your reaction to the spate of recent sexual abuse scandals — Weinstein, Cosby, Ailes, O’Reilly, etc.?
Men are being held accountable for their actions because they’ve refused to change as the culture and laws have changed around them. These men learned how to be men in a world where this behavior was completely acceptable. It’s become less acceptable over the decades — both culturally and legally — and these men are seeing the ramifications of it.

Are the ramifications effective?
We’re starting to see a different form of behavior: Men know it’s bad to be a racist. It’s bad to hit your kids. And it’s bad to sexually harass women. They also know you’re supposed to distance yourself from that behavior. So what next? Will we see men do what they usually do — give lip service and distance themselves from the behavior while engaging in problematic actions themselves? Or will we see a real change?

Should we be optimistic for change?
We haven’t changed our fundamental definition of masculinity — dominance over women and other men — in 50 years. Nothing can really change until we start to take on that definition and consider masculinity, itself, as a problem. Thankfully, we’re starting to see changes with the whole toxic masculinity movement, but not enough.