From Weinstein to Picasso, powerful men’s art should not negate their actions.
One year ago, the hashtag #MeToo went viral – sparking a movement for victims of sexual assault to come forward with their stories and raise awareness on behalf of the one in six women who experience this trauma in their lifetime. The movement gained even more traction when it started to expose big names in Hollywood, like producer Harvey Weinstein and actors Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman, as perpetrators of sexual harassment and/or rape, and reintroduced the allegations made against Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Since then, there have been mixed reactions to the Me Too movement, none of which have stopped women from sharing their stories. But not all allegations have led to such aggressive reactions as those against men like Weinstein and Cosby. So why do some accusations blow over like a bad storm, allowing men to continue to win awards for their work and be considered the greatest in their field or become president of the United States?
On Netflix, there is a comedy special by Hannah Gadsby entitled Nanette. Among her anecdotes about lesbianism and jabs at the patriarchy, Gadsby also openly attacks Pablo Picasso – bringing to light the cubist’s misogyny and his affair with 17 year old Marie-Thérèse Walter (he was 45 at the time.) The comedian does this to highlight what happens to horrible people when they produce great work. Picasso is and probably will always be seen as a visionary in the art world, despite his actions. This happens all the time.
Take Sigmund Freud for example. While his teachings are slowly being phased out by more progressive psychology professors, for a long time, Freud was considered a brilliant neurologist and the go-to when trying to understand how the human mind functions. Never mind the fact that he changed recorded outcomes of his research to correspond with his theories; believed that everything infants do, from breastfeeding to excreting was sexual; that masturbation caused mental illness; that he psychoanalyzed his own daughter; believed that women had penis envy; blindly accepted that his idol’s heinous practices; told a virgin patient of his that her cough was because of her unconscious desire to give her father a blowjob; that sexuality could be determined by how someone’s parents raised them; and more. Because Freud was a man, and because women at the time were second-class citizens, his research was taken into practice and became the basis for what most psychologists were taught about human cognitive function.
This pattern of accepting a famous man’s major flaws and wrongdoings because he is considered “great” is precisely why Casey Affleck is still employed after being accused of sexual harassment and why Drake’s predatory “friendship” with Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown has been brushed under the rug until now. And let’s not forget the marriages of dozens of famous male musicians to their teenage wives, or the fact that a man accused of sexual harassment by four women is the newest Supreme Court Justice.
When a woman publicly accuses a man of sexual misconduct, there are widespread calls for evidence to be brought forth and for the victim to produce a detailed, accurate account of what happened. These requests seem simple enough, but what happens when the assault was decades ago and there is no evidence? Or what if the victim cannot recall key details from the attack that others deem too crucial to forget? There is an increased burden of proof placed on women who accuse otherwise upstanding men because our patriarchal society is more focused on what the allegation might do to the man’s career than the effect it had on the woman’s life. They want to be absolutely sure that what the victim is claiming is true, despite the fact that trauma causes memory lapses as a defense mechanism and that the last thing a young woman is thinking after she’s been assaulted is, “I better save these clothes for evidence in the future.” Weinstein and Cosby were both formally charged because there were numerous accusations, many with evidence, while these other high-profile men in entertainment get a pass because no one believes women unless they somehow provide evidence that isn’t there.
But wait, there was just as little evidence to accompany the allegations against Kevin Spacey, so why did he get blacklisted so quickly? Even when it comes to sexual assault, women are still lesser to men. Spacey’s offenses were against young white men, and our homophobic society is already programmed to vilify non-heterosexual intercourse. Young white men’s lives are seen as the most valuable, and because they suffered sexual assault at the hands of a man, their stories were accepted. Note that when young men are assaulted by older women, their claims are rarely taken as seriously—a result of that same heteronormativity. And look what happens when a black man accuses a white man of sexual assault. Terry Crews, a former NFL player turned actor, came out during the heat of the movement last year with his own assault story. But instead of being embraced by the same people that immediately turned around and burned their copies of The Usual Suspects and removed House of Cards from their Netflix watchlists, Crews found himself being chastised by others for not “just fighting back.” Because Crews is black and a former linebacker, he is expected by most people in this society to defend himself if he is attacked by anyone and is therefore seen by most as weak for “letting somebody assault him.” Nobody allows themselves to be sexually assaulted. Most are paralyzed by shock and fear, and don’t fight back because they literally can’t, or don’t want to be killed for trying. But the same toxic masculinity that causes people to associate gay men with child molesters is the same prejudice that tells men they cannot be sexually assaulted and still be considered men. Kevin Spacey’s victims and Terry Crews all deserve justice and support but the operative word is all. The same society that blacklists Kevin Spacey should not be able to turn around and bully Terry Crews.
And in the case of many famous musicians and actors, they entered into relationships with their longtime girlfriends or wives when they were just teenagers, making any sexual contact they had with these young women effectively rape – even if they consented. Statutory rape is the act of an adult having sexual relations with an individual under the legal age of consent. Individuals under the age of consent cannot give it in the eyes of the law. No matter what. Even if these girls were fully aware of what they were doing and what was being done to them, and they said yes, because they were underage, those men are rapists. But they wrote great music and made great movies, so who really cares what happened back then, right? Wrong.
Sexual abuse or assault at a young age has a lasting effect on a person, conditioning them to accept violent sexual behavior as the norm for the rest of their lives. Sexualizing young girls as young as elementary school – pushing them to wear makeup and dress to look “older” as part of “self-discovery” and “expression” is perpetuating the age-old stigmas surrounding sexual assault: that how a woman dresses determines if she was “asking for it,” that wearing any amount of makeup, even to feel pretty, is “lying” to men. This culture of sexualization to please men is precisely what allows celebrities to get away with sexual assault. And on the other side of the coin lies Terry Crews, who was mocked and bullied because he came out about the sexual assault he experienced at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. All of these perpetrators are and were predators for what they did, but our culture with its sexism, toxic masculinity, and racism will tell you to ignore that in favor of continuing to appreciate art that was never good enough to warrant ignoring rape.
Mackenzie Brackett is a freshman writing major who wonders why the fuck we’re still talking about Freud’s writing. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.