We’re All Mad Here: Weinstein, Women, and the Language of Lunacy

“He has demons.” The language of madness is the last resort for a society that can no longer deny the evidence of structural oppression and violence.

We’re through the looking glass now. As women all over the world come forward to talk about their experiences of sexual violence, all our old certainties about what was and was not normal are peeling away like dead skin.

.. “Back in the day we’d all heard stories about it, but… well, the people telling them were all a bit crazy. You know, messed up. So nobody believed them.”

I took a sip of tea to calm down, and suggested that perhaps the reason these people were messed up — if they were messed up — was because they had been, you know, sexually assaulted

.. The process we are going through in our friendship group and in our culture as a whole is something akin to first contact. Abusers, like little green men in flying saucers, have a habit of revealing their true selves to people nobody’s going to find credible — to women who are vulnerable, or women who are marginalized, or who are just, you know, women.

.. So who’s the crazy one now? To be the victim of sexual assault is to fall down a rabbit hole into a reality shaped by collective delusion: specifically, the delusion that powerful or popular or ordinary-seeming men who do good work in the world cannot also be abusers or predators. To suggest otherwise is to appear insane.

.. Something important has changed. Suddenly women are speaking up and speaking out in numbers too big to shove aside.

.. Now, instead of victims and survivors of rape and assault being written off as mentally ill, it’s the abusers who need help.

.. The social definition of sanity is the capacity to accept the consensus of how the world ought to work

.. Anyone who questions or challenges that consensus is by definition unhinged.

.. Suddenly, it’s Weinstein, not the women calling him a rapist and a pig, who gets to be the one with “demons.” He needs to see a therapist, not a judge.

.. What’s the word for what happens when a lot of people are very sick all at the same time? It’s an epidemic.

.. They are not able to express righteous rage without consequence, because they are not men.

.. if you had sought justice or even just comfort and found instead rank upon rank of friends and colleagues closing together to call you a liar and a hysteric, telling you you’d better shut up — how would you feel? You’d be angry, but you’d better not show it. Angry women are not to be trusted, which suits abusers and their enablers just fine.

.. This is what we’re talking about when we talk about rape culture

.. If everyone around you gets together to dismiss the inconvenient truth of your experience, it’s tempting to believe them, especially if you are very young.

.. More to the point, predators seek out victims who look vulnerable. Women and girls with raw sparking wires who nobody will believe because they’re already crazy.

.. Now it’s the abusers who are seeking asylum. Asking to be treated as sufferers of illness, rather than criminals.

.. The language of lunacy is the last resort when society at large cannot deny the evidence of structural violence.

.. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen, so instead we pretend that there’s no pattern here, just individual maladaption. A chemical imbalance in the brain, not a systemic injustice baked into our culture.

.. Lundy Bancroft, who has spent decades working with abusive men, abusers are no more or less likely to be mentally ill than anyone else. “Abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs,” says Bancroft. “Abusers have a distorted sense of right and wrong. Their value system is unhealthy, not their psychology.”

.. The abusers who are now being excused as mentally ill are not monsters, or aberrations. They were acting entirely within the unhealthy value system of a society which esteems the reputation and status of men above the safety of women. Many abusers, on some level, do not know that what they are doing is wrong. They believe that they are basically decent. Most men who prey on women have had that belief confirmed over the course of years or decades of abuse. They believe they’re basically decent, and a whole lot of other people believe they’re basically decent, too. They’re nice guys who just have a problem with women, or booze, or their mothers, or all three.

.. Right now, all around me, I see women working to support men, as well as each other, through this difficult time. It’s not just because we’re nice and it’s not just because we’re suckers, although it’s probably a little bit of both.

It’s because we know how much this is going to hurt.

.. we worry that men are too weak to cope with the consequences of what they’ve done and allowed to be done to us.

.. The threat of extreme self-harm is a classic last-resort tactic for abusers who suspect that they’re losing control, that their partner is about to leave them or tell someone, or both. It’s effective because it’s almost always plausible, and who wants to be the person who put their own freedom and safety ahead of another person’s life?

.. the bone-deep knowledge drilled into us from birth that we were put on this earth to protect men from, among other things, the consequences of their actions. We’ve been raised to believe that men’s emotions are our responsibility. Even the men who hurt us.

.. As the list of names grows longer, the plea for mercy on the grounds of mental illness is being deployed in exactly the same way. These guys are suffering, too. If you carry on calling for them to come clean and change their behavior, well, that might just push them over the edge. And you wouldn’t want that, would you? You’re a nice girl, aren’t you?

.. We are expected to show a level of concern for our abusers that it would never occur to them to show to us

.. I’m worried about the several men I know who have hurt women in the past and who are now facing the consequences. I’m worried about the men who are analyzing their own behavior in horror, who stood aside and let it happen, and who are suddenly realizing their own complicity — and struggling to cope with the guilt, the shame of that knowledge.

.. we can worry about whoever we like — as long as we worry about the survivors first. We were not liars, or hysterical. We were telling the truth.

.. Reframing serial abuse as a mental health disorder stashes it conveniently on the high shelf marked “not a political issue.”

.. sickness does not obviate social responsibility. It never has. Sickness might give a person the overwhelming urge to act in repulsive ways but sickness does not

  • cover for them during business meetings or
  • pay off their lawyers or
  • make sure they get women dropped from films:

it takes a village to protect a rapist.

.. toxic masculinity leaves a lot of broken men in its maw. That culture conspires to prevent men and boys from being able to handle their sexuality, their aggression, and their fear of rejection and loss of status in any adult way; that it is unbearable at times to exist inside a male body without constant validation.

.. People say that they are shocked, and perhaps they are. But shock is very different from surprise. When was the last time you were really, truly surprised to hear a story like this?

.. The truth is that a great many of those surrounding Weinstein did know. Just as the friends and associates of most sexual predators probably know — not everything, but enough to guess, if they cared to.

.. It is easier to cope with the idea of sick men than it is to face the reality of a sick society

.. I’m sure it’s not a lot of fun to be Harvey Weinstein right now, but sadly for the producer and those like him, the world is changing, and for once, cosseting the feelings of powerful men is not and cannot be our number-one priority. For once, the safety and sanity of survivors is not about to be sacrificed so that a few more unreconstructed bastards can sleep at night.

The Pigs of Liberalism

a certain kind of powerful liberal creep only gets his comeuppance when he’s weakened or old or in the grave. The awfulness of Ted Kennedy, at Chappaquiddick and after hours in D.C., can be acknowledged only now that he’s no longer a liberal lion in the Senate. The possibility that Bill Clinton might be not just an adulterer but a rapist can be entertained now that he’s no longer protecting abortion from the White House. The sins of Woody Allen … well, I’m sure Hollywood will start ostracizing him any day now.

.. If your culture’s code is libertine, don’t be surprised that worse things than libertinism flourish.

.. while not everyone knew exactly how Harvey Weinstein treated women, everyone knew what kind of man he was. The women he harassed didn’t have the power to restrain him, but plenty of powerful people did.

.. Weinstein didn’t like my question about O, there was an altercation; though the recording has alas been lost to time, I recall that he called me a cunt and declared that he was glad he was the “fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town.” When my colleague Andrew (who was also then my boyfriend) intervened, first calming him down and then trying to extract an apology, Weinstein went nuclear, pushing Andrew down a set of steps inside the Tribeca Grand — knocking him over with such force that his tape recorder hit a woman, who suffered long-term injury — and dragging Andrew, in a headlock, onto Sixth Avenue.

.. Such was the power of Harvey Weinstein in 2000 that despite the dozens of camera flashes that went off on that sidewalk that night, capturing the sight of an enormously famous film executive trying to pound in the head of a young newspaper reporter, I have never once seen a photo.

.. those who had encountered Weinstein often spoke of the conviction that they would never be believed.

.. But another reason that I never considered trying to report the story myself, even, truly, in the years after I did start writing about gender and power as my beat, was because it felt impossible. Sisyphean. I remembered what it was like to have the full force of Harvey Weinstein — back then a mountainous man — screaming vulgarities at me, his spit hitting my face. I had watched him haul my friend into the street and try to hurt him. That kind of force, that kind of power? I could not have won against that.

.. The best reporters out there tried, for years, perhaps most memorably David Carr, for this magazine. But Weinstein didn’t just exert physical power. He also employed legal and professional and economic power. He supposedly had every employee sign elaborate, binding nondisclosure agreements. He gave jobs to people who might otherwise work to bring him down, and gave gobs of money to other powerful people, who knows how much, but perhaps just enough to keep them from listening to ugly rumors that might circulate among young people, among less powerful people.

.. The accounts in the remarkable New York Times piece offer evidence of the ways in which power imbalance is so key to sexual assault, and in the case of Weinstein, to the ability to keep it from coming to light for so very long.

.. they all speak of the abusive thrill gained not from sex but from the imposition of your will on someone who has no ability to resist or defend themselves from you, an exertion of power on the powerless.

.. Recent years have seen scores of women, finding strength and some kind of power in numbers, come forward and tell their stories about Bill CosbyRoger AilesBill O’ReillyDonald Trump. In all of those cases, as in this case, the history of allegations has been an almost wholly open secret

.. Barack Obama, whose daughter recently worked as his intern.

..  I was also struck by his physical diminishment; he seemed small and frail, and, when I caught sight of him in May, he appeared to be walking with a cane. He has also lost power in the movie industry, is no longer the titan of independent film, the indie mogul who could make or break an actor’s Oscar chances.

.. His legal team also includes David Boies and Charles Harder, the lawyer who successfully sued Gawker on behalf of Hulk Hogan. Anita Dunn, who worked in the Obama White House, reportedly gave Weinstein pro bono PR advice in recent weeks; Weinstein has also, supposedly, reached out to the Clintons’ crisis PR honcho Lanny Davis.

In Country Music, Nice Guys Finish First (for Now)

At the time, country music was still reckoning with its bro tendencies. For most of the 2010s, 20-something men in weathered baseball caps injected the genre with an almost comical masculinity — brawny, hip-hop-inflected sounds, lyrics that treated women as objects of lurid attention. Stars like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line were making intriguing musical hybrids with often woeful gender politics.

.. Mr. Rhett sings gently, with the faintest hint of soul-music syrup in his barely-accented voice. “Die a Happy Man” was so straightforward it landed with a shock. It became Mr. Rhett’s breakthrough hit, topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for 17 weeks.

As often happens, it also became a template: the country gentleman. And so Nashville’s bro tide is now receding, supplanted by a kindlier new generation of male country singers. They focus on uncomplicated, deeply dedicated love or, alternately, being hopeless on the receiving end of heartbreak.

.. They sing with voices light on drawl. They ooze respect, charm and, occasionally, dullness. At times they recall George Strait, the restrained cowboy superstar; at others, Earl Thomas Conley, the emotional ballad specialist of the 1980s.

.. More often than not, they have sturdy, approachable, single-syllable last names: Thomas Rhett, Brett Young, Chris Lane, Michael Ray.

.. They are the men next door, promising undying affection and emotional stability — a cliché, perhaps, but one more appealing than the last.

.. This surge also doubles as a response to the gender crisis that has been gripping country music the last few years, as captured in two parallel phenomena: the rise of the bro, and the disappearance of the female star.

.. For most of this decade, the genre’s male stars have been strutters: egocentric, bumblingly flirtatious, a little dunce-y.

At the same time, female singers have been getting squeezed ever more tightly

.. younger artists like Maddie & Tae and Kelsea Ballerini found success by positioning themselves in opposition to prevailing masculine narratives.

.. It dilutes the toxic levels of masculinity in the genre without offering women songs of their own to sing, instead plying them with ones that place them on a pedestal.

.. This is the emo side of the gentleman, looking inward for shortcomings, not outward.

In the bro era, women were objects to be chased. In these songs, they’re porcelain, gleaming and precious.

Liberalism and the Campus Rape Tribunals

The legal and administrative response to campus rape over the past five years has been a kind of judicial and bureaucratic madness, a cautionary tale about how swiftly moral outrage and political pressure can lead to kangaroo courts and star chambers

.. It’s also a cautionary tale with specific implications for cultural liberalism, because it demonstrates how easily an ideology founded on the pursuit of perfect personal freedom can end up generating a new kind of police state, how quickly the rule of pleasure gives way to the rule of secret tribunals and Title IX administrators (of which Harvard, Yoffe notes in passing, now has 55 on staff), and how making libertinism safe for consenting semi-adults requires the evacuation of due process.

.. Rape and sexual assault are age-old problems. But the particular problem on college campuses these days is a relatively new one. For ideological reasons, the modern liberal campus rejects all the old ways in which a large population of hormonal young people once would have had their impulses channeled and restrained — single-sex dorms, “parietal” rules for male-female contact late at night, a general code emphasizing sexual restraint. Meanwhile for commercial reasons as well as liberationist ones, many colleges compete for students (especially the well-heeled, full-tuition-paying sort) by winkingly promising them not just a lack of adult supervision but a culture of constant partying, an outright bacchanal.

.. both parties are frequently hammered because their entire social scene is organized around drinking your way to the loss of inhibitions required for hooking up. It’s a social world, just as anti-rape activists and feminists have argued, that offers an excellent hunting ground for predators and a realm where far too many straightforward assaults take place. But it’s also a zone in which it is very hard for anyone — including the young women and young men involved — to figure out what distinguishes a real assault from a bad or gross or swiftly regretted consensual encounter.

.. many colleges shamefully loath to deal with rape accusations at all. But once that reluctance became a public scandal, the political and administrative response was not to rethink the libertinism, but to expand the definition of assault, abandon anything resembling due process and build a system all-but-guaranteed to frequently expel and discipline the innocent.

.. a system designed to assume the guilt of the accused has clearly encouraged dubious charges and clouds of suspicion and pre-emptive penalties unjustly applied.

.. a not-much-talked-about truth that minority students seem to be accused of rape well out of proportion to their numbers on campus. So setting out to strengthen women’s power relative to men has created a cycle of accusation and punishment whose injustices probably fall disproportionately on black men.

.. Offering young men broad sexual license regulated only by a manifestly unfair disciplinary system imbued with the rhetoric of feminism seems more likely to encourage a toxic male persecution complex, a misogynistic masculine reaction, than any renewed moral conservatism or rediscovered chivalry.