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Deplorable, but unsurprising

Last Tuesday, the New York Times released a shocking investigative report that implicated prominent film executive and producer, Harvey Weinstein, in countless instances of sexual abuse and harassment towards his female coworkers. Since the story broke, the list of women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct has grown steadily, including accusations from Angelina Jolie, Gwenyth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino. This latest disturbing incident of a powerful man using his position to harass women necessitates a reflection on the context surrounding such abuses of power. Considering the current culture of grossly unequal gender dynamics, this atrocious revelation is relatively unsurprising. It is thus paramount to recognize the societal framework and cultural norms that actively promote this type of violence against women and femmes in order to change them. 

First and foremost, although the public’s collective reaction to Weinstein’s loathsome actions should be outrage, it should not be one of shock. We exist in a culture that has normalized physical, sexual and emotional violence against women. From claims of sexual assault against the current president to recent revelations of Bill O’Reilly’s sexual misconduct, men in almost every arena have consistently shown themselves to be abusing their power to exploit women. However, it is worth noting that these unequal power dynamics do not only exist in high profile, high income industries. They develop before these prominent figures even enter these positions. By the time men such as Weinstein occupy such roles, they have long been taught that it is not only acceptable, but often required for career advancement to treat women with little respect. From early childhood, boys are implicitly taught that the best way to show girls affection is to push them on the playground or to pull at their braids. These lessons are internalized and when they manifest in assault or harassment when those boys grow into adults, little is done to hold them accountable.

Duke prides itself on the very special role it purports to play in educating the leaders of tomorrow. As an academic powerhouse that prides itself on producing such leaders, there is an obligation to realize the role every Duke community member has in making sure that such future leaders are ethical in their personal conduct. This means more than just refraining from blatant abuses of power such as Weinstein’s. Yes, everyone has a role in dismantling this deep-rooted system of violence against women, but it is also critical to recognize the very important role men need to play in this revamping of the current gender dynamic. Much of the hostile culture towards women takes place in all male spaces. Which, as Duke columnist, Ethan Ready, points out, will remain inhabited by men for the foreseeable future. As beneficiaries of current inequities, men are thus especially obligated to actively ensure that other genders—not just women—feel safe and unthreatened by abuses of male power. 

Tackling this issue means a number of things. It means going beyond the generic rhetoric of superficially supporting feminism that is so often seen on campus and in the media. It means supporting women not because they are your sisters, wives or daughters but because they are human beings entitled to dignity and basic human rights. To truly combat these prevalent forms of violence means risking social comfort by taking time to reflect on the other men in your life, because, statistically, you are likely to know someone who has committed sexual assault. Being a true ally is no easy task, but then again, not being a man in a society predicated on gendered violence isn’t easy either. 


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