The torrent of sexual misconduct allegations that have overwhelmed us these past few weeks were a long time coming. This type of sin has existed in every culture and at every point in history. The gender revolution of the past few decades allowed us to believe that we as a society had put such things behind us: that women would be treated as equals, child abuse was no longer acceptable, and people would show each other a certain amount of respect. After all, we thought, we’re not barbarians.
I am sorry to inform you that we are, in fact, barbarians. There is no getting around the fact that powerful men still abuse less powerful women. In fact, it would be far more accurate to say that powerful people abuse less powerful people, because we see males abused by males, males abused by females, and females abused by females. While the greater number of complaints fit the standard powerful male/less powerful female model, I do not wish to minimize anyone’s suffering by pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Perhaps you are beginning to feel that when the man who’s been reading you the news for years, the beloved college football coach, the kindly priest, the president of the United States, and the actor waxing eloquently about social justice all have dirty hands, there is no one left for you to trust. Perhaps you are tempted to think that sexual harassment and abuse are simply par for the course, and those with power will always abuse it. You do not reach this conclusion because you believe it is morally right, but as a way of protecting yourself from further disappointment.
There is some truth in the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which was first coined by John Dalberg-Acton but had been expressed in slightly different ways much earlier. Power does not actually make us sinful, but it allows sin to become much more damaging…and excusable. Therefore, we might begin to assume that there is a kind of inevitability to this all: men with power will always take advantage of that power. They cannot do otherwise. They’re only human. Continue reading