Several years ago, I wrote an And column in response to one Victoria Coren Mitchell saying we needed to be more nuanced about Roman Polanski raping a thirteen-year-old instead of reducing cases like this “to mindless categories of good and bad.” Because he’s a great filmmaker. He’s a Holocaust survivor. And doesn’t the victim have to accept some responsibility for letting Polanski get her alone?
I, on the other hand, have no problem with reducing “rape of 13 year old” to “bad.” And I don’t think that’s mindless at all. Polanski is a rapist. He raped a 13-year-old. There’s no nuance to that. Being a rapist is not the sum total of Polanski’s existence but it is him, just like racist lawyer Aaron Schlossberg owns his racist rants [edited for clarity]
Apparently my incisive reasoning didn’t convince pundit Lee Siegel (come on, he couldn’t possibly not have read my column right? Right?). In an NYT op-ed, he argues that, as Mitchell found with Polanski, we’re suffering a lack of nuance when we judge Harvey Weinstein, and when we judge people who try to explain him: “If, in a spirit of free intellectual and imaginative inquiry, you dared to suggest that a man who masturbated in front of a woman he barely knew without her consent might have been acting out, in an attitude of aggressive contempt, his own shame and emasculation — if you tried to understand his actions, without justifying them — you would be shouted down and vilified … Could it be that Mr. Weinstein, who reportedly had often been mocked for his appearance, wanted to dehumanize these women as well, while at the same time turning himself into a person who is watched and admired, like a person of beauty?”
As noted at the link, Siegel postures as a daring truth-bomber unafraid of being shouted down and vilified, when he’s actually writing in one of the country’s most prominent newspapers. Pretending he’s handing out mimeographed Free Harvey Weinstein fliers, then rushing off before the cops bust him is just bullshit (much like the daring thinkers of the intellectual dark web). That said, it’s possible Siegel will be villified, but I’m okay with that. Because he’s kind of a chump.
As noted at the link, feminists have been discussing what drives men to rape and harass for decades. Nobody’s villifying them for bringing it up (plenty of people villify them for not slut-shaming rape victims). But their explanations are considerably less elaborate than Siegel’s: rape involves power, lust, patriarchy, male ego. Portraying Weinstein as wanting to be admired or acting out “his own shame and emasculation” seems almost like a plea for sympathy. Like Mitchell. Or like Camille Paglia portraying Bill Cosby as compensating for an emasculating wife. Maybe that’s unfair to Siegel, but he does seem very disturbed we’re more interested in punishing Weinstein than understanding him. Dude, if he did what he’s accused of, punishment is entirely appropriate. Understanding is optional. It doesn’t matter if he’s been mocked or humiliated or feels emasculated, if the accusations are true (and I’m inclined to believe them), he raped and abused a whole bunch of women and tried to destroy their careers if they resisted.
As with Polanski, I don’t think classifying Weinstein as “bad” indicates a lack of moral complexity on my part. Nor do I think we need more sympathy for incels. You know, the guys who think 10-year-old girls deserve to die?