Quote of the Day:

Incidents of sexual abuse on this scale don’t randomly erupt. They grow from the complex climate of a nation’s culture. These guys aren’t blips or outliers. These men are a product of their times.

— Daniel Henninger in "The Death of Restraint" in the Wall Street Journal

As you undoubtedly know by now, the Time magazine Person of the Year for 2017 turns out to be "The Silence Breakers," members of the MeToo Movement who have now come forward, often after years of silence, to reveal that they have been victims of sexual harassment. This is one of the more dramatic phenomena of our time, and Time was right to single it out as such.

But Time's treatment leaves something to be desired. You will not be surprised to learn that Time frames this development exclusively in movement feminist terms, comparing the current moment to the publication, more than fifty years ago, of feminist trailblazer Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique:

Like the "problem that has no name," the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is borne of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn't have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.

Time situates the roots of the current unrest not in the mores of contemporary western society but in "years, decades, and centuries." I almost expected the Mother Goddess, so big with spiritual "second-wave" feminists, to put in an appearance. But feminist theory on oppression was nevertheless clear:

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.

Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose. They've had it with the code of going along to get along.

They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.

But in this Time overlooks something important: the reckoning that is happening now is a reflection of our particular culture–right here and now. It's time to take a look at our culture and maybe Betty Friedan and her malaise about something that she can't even name, are not the proper guides.

In a must read column in today's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes:

How have so many intelligent, accomplished adult men crashed across the boundaries of sex? Psychiatric explanations—reducing cause to a uniquely individual neurosis—are insufficient. This isn’t just “really weird stuff.”

Some may have a distant memory of the culture wars of the 1990s. This looks like a moment to revisit some of its battlefields.

Incidents of sexual abuse on this scale don’t randomly erupt. They grow from the complex climate of a nation’s culture. These guys aren’t blips or outliers. These men are a product of their times.

Their acts reveal a collapse of self-restraint. That in turn suggests a broader evaporation of conscience, the sense that doing something is wrong. We are seeing now how wrongs can hurt others when conscience is demoted as a civilizing instrument of personal behavior.

Intellectuals have played a big role in shaping arguments for loosening the traditions of self-restraint in the realm, as they would say, of eros.

Henninger points out that some intellectuals have been concerned about the loss of restraint in our society–but they are thinkers who very likely would not be palatable to Time magazine scribes. They are people such as Rochelle Gurstein, whose 1996 book was entitled “The Repeal of Reticence." In it, Gurstein lamented the rejection of restraint and personal propriety:

“They demanded,” [Gurstein] writes, “that the traditional union of moral and aesthetic judgment be dissolved; the functions of the body needed to be considered apart from the values of love, fidelity, chastity, modesty or shame.” The result, she says, was a culture’s slow but steady estrangement “from any coherent moral tradition.”  

Similarly, Canadian cultural historian Modris Eksteins has written about how European intellectuals rejected social and moral absolutes, making aesthetics paramount (supposedly this would lead to freedom). Henninger characterizes our all-too-contemporary harassers: 

So when one asks how these men could behave so boorishly and monstrously, one answer is that they . . . have . . . no . . . shame. They lived in a culture that had eliminated shame and behavioral boundaries.

Henninger is not optimistic:

Is there a road back from Weinsteinism? Once a society has crossed a Rubicon like this, can you ever cross back over? The possibility of return is not at all clear.

He adds:

In a recent homily I heard, a priest suggested that one of the purposes of confession wasn’t just to admit sin but to learn conscience. Maybe it’s time to ask if the long period of freedom from organized conscience formation simply isn’t working.

Mona Charen also had a brilliant take on the MeToo movement a few days ago. Mona's piece is headlined, "Is Feminism the Answer to Sexual Harassment?" Her answer it no:

Beyond partisanship, the feminist record is unhelpful. From the inception of “second wave” feminism in the 1960s, the movement embraced sexual “liberation” as part of women’s liberation. Feminists weren’t so much upset that some men behaved like pigs as they were that women couldn’t do the same without loss of reputation. It was the “double standard” they took aim at, not sexual license itself.
 . .

And so professional feminists actually helped midwife the loose sexual culture we have today. Arguably, this culture has permitted men to behave even more shabbily toward women than the old mores did. This may sound odd, but I think it’s true — even the sexual harassment has become grosser than it was a few decades ago.

I know of a few women who faced harassment in the 1970s and 1980s (myself included), but honestly, it was practically as polite as a Victorian drawing room compared with the stories we are hearing now about Louis C.K. or Harvey Weinstein or Mark Halperin. Womanizers used to at least make an effort at seduction. Now they seem to act out repellent narratives from porn movies.

Like Henninger, I don't know if there is a way out of this mess. But I know that this is a time when it is imperative to make a case for restraint and morality and even the innocence of young girls (and boys).

We should not let Time magazine and like-minded people frame this narrative.