I just fished out a book that, according to the preface, the author wrote in two weeks. In that short time he has introduced conceptual innovations in his thinking, rigged up a theoretical construction and worked out its practical consequences. And in the meantime he has been calling his good friend the publisher over and over again. Well, go ahead, I sigh, and I start to read.
People, men, apparently do not know themselves how ludicrous such display is. You are a philosopher and in two weeks you reformulate the value ontology of Marxism; you are Mao Zedong and as a 72 year old you swim across the Yangtze in an hour; you are writer X, art pope Y, and you consider yourself a gift from god to women, you are the greatest, you have the greatest: it is laughable.
But we should not be mistaken, because it works. Despite its ludicrousness, the display is applauded. Or maybe even because of its ludicrousness. It works just because someone gets away with the nonsense. In the case of sexual abuse at The Voice, lawyer Richard Korver says that in the Netherlands we are not used to “addressing people about inappropriate behavior”. That’s true. And that is not only the case in the Netherlands.
Late last year I read A Big Family by the French lawyer Camille Kouchner. Memoirs in which she writes that her stepfather abused her twin brother from the age of thirteen to fifteen. The family environment, the French intelligentsia, is silent. The mother of the children Kouchner, a prominent political scientist, is later furious that her children are bringing the story out. “There was no violence involved. Your brother was never forced into anything. My husband has done nothing.”
A culture of indulgence isn’t just formed by men. That is why it is strange that women now isolate themselves in an advertisement in which they address John de Mol about his attitude towards sexually transgressive behaviour. “Dear John, It’s not the women. Greetings, the women of your company.” No, of course it is not the fault of women if they are raped. Not even if they are verbally harassed. But you can hope that ‘the men’ from John’s company feel the same way.
Moreover, women in positions of responsibility do have an influence on the corporate culture and the psychological safety of all those present. So why wouldn’t they even talk about that?
I read a little further around Camille Kouchner’s book. in 1977, I read, appear in Le Monde two petitions from intellectuals who want to legalize pedosexuality: children aged 12 should be able to choose for themselves whether they have sexual relations with adults. One petition is signed by Bernard Kouchner, father of the then two-year-old Camille. The other petition is signed by Simone de Beauvoir. Yes, that of the feminist essay Le deuxième sexe.
In retrospect, many French revolutionaries admitted that in those years they had no time to think and that the children had become the victims. Apparently it is difficult to be revolutionary and keep your head at the same time. Still, it would be nice if we could keep thinking and prevent unwanted effects in times of #MeToo. I can think of a few themes that deserve more attention.
One: the difference between individual criminal rape cases and a general culture in which sexual boundaries are jointly determined and monitored. Two: the strange phenomenon that we welcome behaviors we despise. Three: no, I’ll be careful, I don’t feel that socially safe in this discussion.
Four: the unwise tendency to immediately call women ‘victims’. You see a popular scenario emerging in which women are by definition victims of their situation: they are pathetic and need to be saved. That’s not a healthy scenario for raising young people and it’s a very unfortunate effect of #MeToo.
Last week on the television program M, I saw how Kamala Harris was protected by three women against the accusation that she is too invisible as vice president. The most powerful woman in America was made a victim of her situation: she has broken through ‘three ceilings’ and now all criticism is nit-picking.
With more and more women in powerful positions, it does not seem wise to me to continue to judge that power from the female disadvantage. Putting people in positions of power and prestige with all their behavior out of order is generally a really bad idea.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 25, 2022