Unless we Bring Spirituality Back Into our Intimate Lives, We Will Remain Bereft of the Deep Connection we Crave
As I stated in Part 1 of this series, I condemn the actions of Harvey Weinstein and any other sexual abuser and I find the response to what has happened to be incomplete. In Part 1, I looked at the psychological pool in which demonization, shaming and revenge swim or more broadly, the problem with our “book sized” response to the condition of human sexuality. In Part 2, my intention is to explore the gaps in the conversation from a sociological perspective.
I Push Back Against the Notion that Victimhood is Purely a State of Mind
Much of what I push back against in relation to a broad swath of coaching methodology is the notion that there is no such thing as a victim other than that we choose to be one. The work of Byron Katie, Landmark Forum and a host of other approaches come to mind. Their contention that everything is just a “story” is rooted in moral relativism where right and wrong, good and evil are synonymous.
The problem with this thinking is that in trying to empower the client, they not only whitewash evil but thereby disrupt the client’s moral center. This leaves the client floundering, disempowering him or her and perpetuating pain. It is thus that I, despite working with others to discover emotional peace through mastery of mind and self, consistently find myself arguing against the populist notion that victimhood is exclusively of the mind.
Interestingly regarding the current brouhaha about sexual abuse and assault, the conventional New Age discourse about victimhood is almost entirely absent. The women whom Harvey Weinstein assaulted and harassed have been given a clean slate of pure victimhood. And so I find myself on the other side of my usual tracks here. I am relieved that the conversation has not been about the need for the victims to “simply” frame their experiences as “just a story.” It isn’t. Simultaneously, I reject the notion that many of the victims were entirely powerless. I reject the clean slate of victimhood.
Lauren O’Conner’s Power Ration is Off ‘Cos Not All Assaults Are the Same
Not all assaults are the same. Some years ago, going out to the garden in my parent’s home, I noticed an intruder on the property. My first thought was to call him over and give him the purse slung over my shoulder. But considering that his intentions might be rape rather than money, I tried to get inside. Standing at the gate, he hit me from behind. At the end of our struggle, I was left without my bag, bruises over my face and upper torso, and a dislocated thumb. Is there a difference between the man who randomly attacked me and many of the women Harvey Weinstein attacked? Is there a difference between the stories of all the women who stand nothing whatsoever to gain from an attacker and those who might benefit from the relationship?
I think so. In one set of scenarios there is always a transactional aspect to the violation. In the other never. And given the transactional aspect of the relationships, the power balance as it is currently being portrayed is not entirely accurate.
Lauren O’Connor is quoted in the NYT article as saying, “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” This is inaccurate. She was not entirely powerless. She is not an infant or even a child. She was not in chains. Even if that balance is 0.1 to 9.9, the shift in balance is significant. That half a percent means you have accountability for your part.
In seeking resolution and healing, we cannot own someone else’s part. That is for the other to do. By the same token, we have to own our part – however minute it may be. Why was there such deafening silence from those abused or harassed? In part I suspect because of the transactional dynamic between them and Weinstein. And whereas the lion’s share of blame always belongs to the aggressor, that albeit minimal part needs to be owned. Yes, there are painfully incidents when the aggressor is exclusively to blame. I don’t think this was the case in the majority of incidents regarding Weinstein.
There is an Intimate Correlation Between Money and Sex
There is an intimate correlation between money and sex. It is not by coincidence that in Hebrew for example, the word for “money” derives from manna or the man the people of Israel ate during their sojourns in the desert and that the word for “sex” is min. Without going into the deep spiritual underpinnings of this, at the most basic level it is evident that human sexuality can be (and tragically is) commodified. At that moment, both money and intimate connection become corrupted versions of what they are intended for. It is a corruption painfully played out in Weinstein’s abuses.
He of course was using money and power to control. Simultaneously many of the women he abused admit to a) putting themselves in situations they feared would compromise them and b) not speaking out about what happened after they were compromised because of fear of loss of reputation, contracts, connections…loss of career growth and financial gain. In their Times article, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey describe the women as being “typically in their early or middle 20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry.”
In his article in the New Yorker, Ronan Farrow makes the following statements among many (italics mine):
Asia Argento…said that she did not speak out until now…because she feared that Weinstein would “crush” her…
Virtually all of the people I spoke with told me that they were frightened of retaliation…
[Asia Argento was born in Rome, also related abuse.] What complicates the story, Argento readily allowed, is that she eventually yielded to Weinstein’s further advances and even grew close to him…”I felt I had to,” she said. “Because I had the movie coming out and I didn’t want to anger him.”
[One woman who shared anonymously]…continued to have professional contact with Weinstein after the alleged rape, and acknowledged that subsequent communications between them might suggest a normal working relationship. “I was in a vulnerable position and I needed my job,” she told me. “It just increases the shame and the guilt.“
[Emily Nestor said that by one point,] “I was very afraid of him. And I knew how well connected he was. And how if I pi**ed him off then I could never have a career in that industry.”
There were women who unequivocally said no. And in some cases their careers suffered. It takes courage and deep commitment to one’s moral compass to do that.
But does the fact that a choice entails potential loss exonerate someone entirely from making it? Don’t all difficult choices entail a potential loss? That’s what makes them challenging. Does a woman not own even a miniscule percent of accountability for going up to the room of a man whom, it transpires (as reported here and told by Scott Rosenberg here and other places) everyone knew took advantage of women? If there was nothing to potentially be gained from interaction with him, would the same choice have been made? I doubt it. There was an anticipated exchange at play, a transactional one. On the flip side of a fear of retaliation was, in numerous cases, the anticipation of benefit.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine who’s nationally renowned and spent years in Hollywood. She told me of various instances when men both harassed and assaulted her. But she was never violated. On a call the other day she told me, “It was because I knew deep within that I didn’t need the men I was engaging with to live my purpose. I didn’t need their money. And I didn’t need their power. I wasn’t up for the transaction so there was no moment of doubt in which they could take advantage of me.”
Don’t own what is not yours. And do own what is.”
This transactional dynamic is also at play regarding those who were not violated but knew and maintained their deafening silence only to speak up after Harvey Weinstein’s astronomical fall from grace. They stood to benefit financially by not speaking just as now they stand to benefit from moral posturing and speaking out. I am disgusted by their silence and suspect of their condemnation.
Jane Fonda for example admits that Rosanna Arquette told her about Weinstein’s assaults but that she said nothing. “I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything right then,” she said. As Emily Zanotti says in an article on The Daily Wire, she should be! It was opportune for Fonda to keep her mouth shut. And now it’s opportune for her to open it. Zanotti points out her hypocrisy as follows:
Just recently, at the Emmy Awards, Fonda and co-star Lily Tomlin made provocative statements, accusing President Donald Trump of being a sexist, and emblematic of an oppressive Patriarchy designed to keep women down…Weinstein was clearly the exception to Fonda’s rule. According to Fonda, she never said anything about the Hollywood mogul because “I guess it hadn’t happened to me, and so I didn’t feel that it was my place.”
Right. Like something not happening to her was ever a reason for Ms. Fonda to not talk! She kept quiet because it suited her pocket to do so. And she’s talking now for the same reason.
Fonda-and-friends remind me of the account of Haman (whose name evokes both man “money” and min “sex”) in the Book of Esther. Prior to his downfall, we are told of the loyalty of his wife Zeresh and adoring friends. Immediately thereafter, we are told of his “advisors” and wife. According to tradition the “friends” and “advisors” were the same group of self-serving elites, wannabees and social climbers. It’s just that when he fell from grace, they self-righteously distanced themselves from him.
There is nothing new under the sun. Same old story. If everyone knew, Weinstein’s wife Georgina Chapman certainly did. She says, “My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions. I have chosen to leave my husband.” Please! Georgina is Zeresh and the Hollywood’s elites are Haman’s cohorts.
Our moral dilemmas are never easy. If they were they’d not be a dilemma.”
Thankfully society has been ready and willing to call out other Hollywood moguls as complicit. Commentary has been less harsh of those who could have spoken but didn’t. But any hint of laying even the tiniest smidgen of responsibility at the feet of women who for the most part chose to place themselves in a compromising situation with a known abuser has been almost entirely absent. And when the rare individual has suggested any ownership whatsoever on the part of the women involved, the backlash has been immediate and harsh.
Our moral dilemmas are never easy. If they were they’d not be a dilemma. The choice is not, “Buy in to a system to get ahead or live a life of depravation.” If you have principles, you live by them – even at the cost of your dream because your bigger dream is to take the high road and live a life based on your principles. This takes a brave person but nonetheless is a standard we must accept across the board. If we accept that the only way to “get ahead” is by compromising our ideals, we continue to break down society.
I am in no way condoning Harvey Weinstein. I am suggesting that there is a “yes-and” dynamic rather than merely “yes-but.” Yes. What he did was terrible. He has committed crimes. He must be litigated and punished. And there is a dusty corner of accountability at the edge of the palace of depravity that some women need to own up to. None of us need hold equal power to be held accountable for our own self-betrayal. Yes Harvey Weinstein was more powerful. And yes, the women by and large had some responsibility too. Don’t own what is not yours. But do own what is.
The Bigger Picture Includes Pedophilia, Pornography and a Dearth of Meaning
The larger backdrop to the painful stories emerging almost hourly is pedophilia and pornography.
Children are truly powerless. No man can be excused of sexual abuse. Not one. The transactional nature of the casting couch lays some responsibility at the feet of women. But when it comes to children, in Hollywood or beyond, that is not the case. Numerous women have spoken of being abused as children or young teens. Those young people have zero power. Their plight demands of us to protect them. Pedophilia and child trafficking are rampant and must be stopped.
The even bigger backdrop, that which feeds the pedophilia, is pornography. As the weeks since the story broke bring more and more evidence of abuse, it behooves us to look at the industry’s devastating effects. I see those effects daily in my work with clients whether addicts themselves or their loved ones. The money that drives the industry is destroying true sexual intimacy. The Web has brought the demon to the door, placed it in the pocket of even our youth. If we really want solutions we cannot simply call out the abusers. We need to look at the broader context in which that abuse occurs.
It struck me that Hugh Hefner died just before the Harvey Weinstein story broke.
It struck me that Hugh Hefner died just before this story broke. Was his death a segue to the healing of an ill that is eating at the heart of society? Contrary to some outrageous eulogizers, he did not empower women! He objectified, belittled, disempowered, abused and betrayed them. And he betrayed men too! For when one partner is using perverted pornographic images, not only the other but they themselves lose access to true intimacy. Hefner’s death and Weinstein’s disgrace call upon us to clean up our act.
The biggest backdrop of course is the hole inside each of our hearts. The Talmud teaches, “It is not the mouse but the hole that is to blame.” A huge hole in our hearts, a dearth of nourishment for and souls, is feeding the problem.
To heal our broken sexuality we must turn our attention to our spiritual selves as the two are intimately connected: In its account of Creation, the Bible relates of the creation of light then water and then firmament. These three paradigms underlie all creative acts. Anything we do begins as an abstract idea – light. We then give it form – water. And finally we manifest that in the world – firmament. This is reflected in human sexuality. According to the Kabbalists, consciousness is the source of both sexuality and procreation. The attraction that begins in the mind is analogous to light. This energy then moves from the brain into the cerebral spinal fluids and makes it way down the spine eventually embedding in the semen of the male. This is the “water” component of procreation. That seed, invested with the Divine energy which first arose in consciousness, is implanted in the uterus or “firmament.” The ovum as earth completes the analogy. At a metaphysical level, it is this fusion of light with earth that brings about the birth of a child.
The biggest backdrop of course is the hole inside each of our hearts.”
What does this have to do with the scourge of sexual abuse and perversion? Clearly spirituality and sexuality are part of a continuum. Sexuality is not a necessary evil. It is an essential part of how we serve our Creator. However to engage in not just a physical act but in real intimacy with another, the continuum must remain uninterrupted. A healthy person pays attention to both body and soul. On the one hand, spirituality without healthy physical intimacy implodes on itself. It is the reason that many “spiritual” leaders who proclaim abstinence as an ideal are perpetrators of the worst kind of sexual predation. On the other hand, sexuality without robust spirituality grotesquely devolves into hedonism and pornography.
Western society is weighted to the latter. Until we address the necessity to bring spirituality into our intimate physical lives, we will be left bereft of the deep connection we crave. If we don’t attend to our innate desire for meaning, if we ignore our soul’s yearning for spiritual and emotional intimacy along with its physical counterpart, we land up with pornography, pedophilia, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. On a daily basis I work with individuals who are aching for meaning and who have filled that vacuum with a host of substitutes from screen addiction to food to booze to pornography and the like. No amount of physical pleasure can fill the deep desire of the heart. Despite the fact that the earth is the source for all food, one cannot sustain a body on soil. Similarly one cannot sustain a soul on anything but an authentic connection to G-d. The sorry state of our intimate lives begs of us to infuse it with soul.
There’s lots more we can do to fix this problem than pointing fingers. Let’s follow the money trail to understand the bigger picture. Let’s put meaning before money. Let’s start to fill that hole in our heart so that we can heal, really heal, the pain.