Time Magazine unveiled its “Person of the Year” in December. Its choice is at once unconventional but not at all surprising.
In a tradition dating back to 1936, the publication has historically selected a person who makes significant news during the past year. As a result, winners have run the gamut from Adolf Hitler (1938), the Ayatollah Khomeini (1979) and The American Soldier (2003) to the Ebola Fighters (2014). President Donald Trump won last year, an acknowledgment of his surprising electoral victory.
This year, Time has named “The Silence Breakers”—women and men who have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment.
Like many of you, I’ve been following the news of the last few months with a mixture of shock and disgust. Each day has seemed to bring with it the downfall of another celebrity or high-profile individual. The shock hasn’t been so much the fact that this is happening, but that it’s as widespread as it is, and includes so many household names.
Recently, there have been questions about whether the #MeToo movement is overreaching by lumping together all bad behavior as deserving of equally harsh punishment, castigating with seemingly the same fury those men whose bad behavior could be seen as a serious lapse in judgment as those who frequently plumb the depths of predatory behavior. Many argue this is a problem of a different kind.
Even so, that doesn’t discount the truth that a much-needed reckoning is happening, with men who used their power and prestige as a license to sexually abuse other people finally being held to account.
But of the many difficult and glaring questions stemming from the burgeoning sexual harassment and assault scandals of 2017, one rises above the rest:
How can a culture horrified by sexual assault not also be horrified by its root cause?
The answer to that question lies at the heart of the current crisis.
Tapping the Root
To be sure, licentiousness, sexual perversion and abuse are not new phenomena. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun. For those of us of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, both the Old and New Testaments are replete with stark reminders of the dark consequences of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and other forms and degrees of personal violation. Man’s proclivity to exploit his position in exchange for his own sexual satisfaction has been a recurring and debilitating issue throughout world history.
Indeed, from the time of Moses to the Middle Ages, from the era of “Mad Men” right up to modern day, a compromised sexual ethic has always harmed both women and men, broken families, decimated childhoods, taken down leaders and left countless individuals in a dizzying state of despair.
Some have suggested the current revelations of abuse represent a watershed moment, the end of a time when abusers are protected and victims easily silenced. “Enough is enough,” they say. “No more!”
If only it was true. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as optimistic.
Because from the schoolhouse to the state house and especially the court houses of America, the powers that be have mocked, marginalized and sometimes even made it illegal to teach moral clarity to our children.
Instead, we’re told that morality is subjective. “What’s right to me may well be wrong to you. Back off, buster! Who are you to judge me?”
Interestingly, Harvey Weinstein was 11 years old in 1963 when the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional. In fact, many of the individuals who have been cited recently for harassment and assault came of age in the midst of the ongoing Sexual Revolution. At a time when a hormone-raging adolescent most needs to hear straight lessons about limits, culture was preaching liberation.
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” said a young Benjamin in The Graduate, the Academy Award-nominated 1967 film. In response, Anne Bancroft, the actress who plays the older seductress, just laughs off Dustin Hoffman’s rebuff.
So did everybody else.
But in the throes of a revolution that haunts victims of harassment in 2017, nobody is laughing anymore.
Am I suggesting that Harvey Weinstein and Dustin Hoffman (who has also been accused of harassment) and every other sexual predator in the news today wouldn’t have gone astray had they received daily school readings from the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament?
Absolutely not. If only it were that easy.
But by mocking, marginalizing or even criminalizing good and honorable principles in schools, by removing the building blocks of moral education, is it any wonder that we’ve produced morally deficient people? In fact, what we’ve done is deprive young people with the very tools (moral clarity, a commitment to respect others) that even secular sociologists suggest are most likely to lead to a healthy and thriving adulthood.
In essence, our children are being abused by omission.
Human sexuality is a beautiful and powerful thing, but it was designed to be practiced within the confines of a monogamous marital relationship. This belief may sound outdated today. Yet, in light of the cultural destruction and dysfunction we currently see, can a fair-minded person disagree that we are reaping the whirlwind sown during the Sexual Revolution?
The writer George Orwell once famously declared that to restate the obvious is a sign of intelligence. I thought about that timeless observation recently when Vice President Mike Pence was mocked for saying he won’t dine alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen. In doing so, he’s acknowledging the reality of his own human frailty. His practice attests to the obvious: Boundaries not only preserve and protect—they also liberate and empower.
If we want to live and work in a society of morally responsible adults who respect both women and men, we need to first equip the rising generation with morally clear principles. It is well beyond time to reconsider not only what we’re teaching our young people about sexuality, but what we’re not teaching them, too.
It is irresponsible to do any less.
Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Citizen magazine.