I am so sickened by Harvey Weinstein and his plethora of stories. These sleazy, repugnant renditions of foul behavior continue to flow unabated, like a broken sewer main. Story after story recounts how this man used and abused women without regard for their feelings, their dignity, or their very personhood.
Every time I see Weinstein’s name or hear it pronounced, I feel a particular ache of anger and disgust. I want to yell, “Jewish men do not behave like this! How could you?” I know his Jewishness is not germane to the crime, but his transgressions tar us all. He’s a guy from our tribe. He should have known better. Weinstein’s transgressions are an assault on the primary values of our tradition.
I am not naïve. I know that there are most definitely Jewish men who behaved and behave like this. Being Jewish does not automatically inoculate anyone with a conscience and a sense of boundaries. Menschlichkeit: behaving with respect for all others who like us are created in God’s image, takes time and empathy to learn. It’s something Weinstein never learned. In public, he sought to project an image of decency and philanthropic excellence. In private he was a pig, a selfish boor whose only modus operandi was to use and abuse women.
As a part of the males of the world team, I get sick as I read the accounts of women who were treated so contemptuously by Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, etc. Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum — and worse.
How is that for thousands of years, men have behaved like this? Why have men gotten away with such contemptible behavior for so long? Perhaps because other men have not called them out.
Contexts of unchecked power make many of us vulnerable to, and complicit in, the abuse of power. We may not like what’s going on, but many of us wouldn’t do anything to stop it. This doesn’t excuse the rest of us any more than it excuses the powerful for their crimes, but it should prevent us from telling ourselves the comforting lie that we’d behave better than the people in The Weinstein Company who reportedly knew what Weinstein was doing and failed to put a stop to it.
Yesterday, the director Quentin Tarantino acknowledged in an interview with the Times, that, “I knew enough to do more than I did. There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things. I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard. “If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”
Men have too often looked the other way at the demeaning behavior of men with women. The uses of sexual intimidation and violence can no longer be tolerated. We know too much. Brave women have dared to step up and accuse their attackers. Brave women and girls have written #metoo on Facebook in response to the recent stories by many victims of Weinstein et al. They are true heroes and champions, speaking truth to power in the strongest way possible.
Roxane Gay wrote an op-ed piece today in the Times. She said, “Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”
I’ve never behaved like Harvey Weinstein. I’ve never engaged in sexual harassment, and I don’t have any friends who have done it. As a parent and a rabbi and, yes, a man, I must continue to explicitly speak up about having zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any sort. I must continue to speak out against the corrupt uses of power to hurt and abuse others.
I am not responsible for Harvey Weinstein or others of his ilk. But I am most definitely obligated, as a rabbi and as a man, for speaking up and out, for teaching boys and reminding men that there is never an excuse for objectifying girls and women. It’s time for some serious evolution.