How Vulgarity Normalizes Predators

First Things | 10/13/2017 | Leah Libresco Sargeant
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Harvey Weinstein preyed on women for decades, and used his power to limit their ability to escape his assaults or bring him to justice. He mustered his legal team and press contacts to smear and threaten women who tried to take action. He conducted his despicable behavior with the same meticulous care he demonstrated in his Oscar campaigns, building a machine to hurt and humiliate women.

Weinstein is unusual in the amount of power and the number of people he was able to coopt in the service of his evil, but all sexual assailants and workplace harassers depend on structures of power and norms to help them harm others. We give them cover when we normalize behavior that is just shy of assault, allowing predators to pass as just a little too pushy or boisterous.

Sex - Harder - Victim - Bystander - Rapist

The more common rape-adjacent sex is, the harder it is for a potential victim or a bystander who might intervene to speak up. A determined rapist doesn’t look so different from a careless partygoer, and both of them have plausible deniability: The sex they’re about to have might not be experienced as rape.

In the office, vulgarity similarly functions as near-harassment, even when a raunchy joke is genuinely appreciated by its hearers. Every moment of crudity normalizes sex-as-assault, if only at the level of making someone else uncomfortable.

C - S - Lewis - Mere - Christianity

C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, distinguishes between raunchiness as a sin against chastity (when it is “in order to excite lust in themselves or others”) and as a sin against charity (“in order to shock or embarrass others”). I’d add that sometimes it is a sin against conscience, as when people engage in depravity to maintain a callus on their soul. Friends who play Cards Against Humanity (“a party game for terrible people”) will learn to dismiss the small still...
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