House of Harassment

Where go the House of Cards

The question came a few minutes after I finished my presentation. “Should we watch the films of the actresses who revealed what Harvey Weinstein did to them?” That was a thoughtful question, since I had ended my talk by suggesting that we stop reading John Howard Yoder and spend the time seeing where his sexually abusive behavior influenced his theology. The convocation happened in conjunction with my exhibit Laments for an Age of Sexualized Power at Bethel College in Kansas.

I will approach with skepticism and caution the denials made by those in power. We should expect a denial since this revelation will likely cause turmoil in their lives.

It is impossible to look at the news without seeing someone from the film industry or a news network or a politician being outed for their behavior. Given the nature of my exhibit, which has occupied a great deal of my time over the last two years, I have done considerable thinking on these issues. I offer here some of my reflections on ways to view what is happening, and will eventually share my response to the Weinstein question.

The first thing I commit to do is to listen carefully to the victims of abuse who come forward with their story. I will believe their story. I will approach with skepticism and caution the denials made by those in power. We should expect a denial since this revelation will likely cause turmoil in their lives. Few people with that level of power will really admit, or even admit to themselves, what they have done.

Pedophilia, sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual abuse are not the same things. They do, however, have in common violence, domination, and power, and the result is some level of trauma and pain for victims.

No ideology, political agenda, church, or institution is so important that the perpetrator must be saved at the expense of the victim. I am unwilling to sacrifice the victims for what is considered something of greater good. If we make these moral calculations, we have already lost our moral moorings. I admit that I suspect the reason Fox fired Bill O’Reilly (insert the appropriate institution and name) is that the corporation assumed it would cost its brand and negatively affect its financial position. I make this assumption because Fox apparently knew of the massive hush payments that were made before O’Reilly’s last contract was approved. If we choose to ignore victims for the sake of our agenda, then we should be honest that it is to maintain power and that we have chosen to compromise our moral stance. If we choose to ignore this now, it will teach our sons that it really is okay to be abusive because it won’t stop them from getting jobs, getting elected, or becoming famous. It will tell our daughters that they should just suck it up, since they will be mostly ignored if they speak up.

To protect the perpetrator, as has been done for years, is closely related to the urge to deny the validity of the victims so we can maintain power or make money or because we just don’t want to believe these things are happening.

Some ask, why didn’t they come forward right away, or why did it take so long? If we examine our culture, it becomes easy to understand why it is so difficult to come forward and report. So many people in powerful positions, from presidents to CEOs, call those speaking out liars and denigrate them publicly. Imagine again how hard it would be to speak out against someone who has great influence on your future, who is in a position of power, which means he (usually a he) is more likely to be believed.

Now back to Weinstein. I think we should look carefully at the writings and productions of those involved with sexual abuse. I suspect that most of the films produced under Weinstein are influenced more by the directors and actors than by him. We should be careful not to punish the careers of these women who have stepped forward. We should maybe check in on those who enabled and helped to hide these cases, including the lawyers crafting the settlements, and wonder why their careers aren’t suddenly tenuous. It is the bystanders who don’t act that should make us explore our own behavior.

I wonder how the show House of Cards will eliminate the Kevin Spacey character. We will see. What I find most troubling in all of this is that the executives of House of Cards will act, while the church and many Christians seem to be the last to follow the moral imperative to act justly, to be truthful, and to offer a haven for the vulnerable.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.