We need to be honest about today's sexual politics
American conservatism is reeling from the revelation that John Weaver, a former aide to Senator John McCain and co-founder of the Republican Lincoln Project, has been offering career help in exchange for sexual favours to young conservative men.
The scandal has set off a tremor of pleasure among more Trumpy American conservatives and tribal Left-wingers alike, with hot debate about whether or not the Lincoln Project was aware of Weaver’s predatory behaviour. Some reports suggest it was an open secret.
Setting aside partisan point-scoring, one under-discussed feature of the story is what it implies about men, sex and power. When Weinstein’s exploitative treatment of aspiring actresses hit the press, it prompted the #MeToo outpouring about women’s experience of sexual harassment, and lamentations about the mountain of structural sexism women still have to climb. But what if Weinstein’s behaviour was less evidence of structural sexism as an effect of male libido combined with power and a lack of principle?
In 1972, biologist Robert Trivers argued that for a sexually dimorphic species, whichever sex takes most of the responsibility for raising young will be more picky about sexual partners. Among humans raising children isn’t exclusively a female activity, and men exercise some choosiness as well. But women gestate and breastfeed, and evolutionary psychologists have thus argued that this gap in investment levels helps account for the well-documented higher propensity among men than women for seeking casual sex. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to discover some men in positions of power exploit their power in pursuit of a shag.
But it follows from this that you could understand the harassment reported under the #MeToo hashtag less as evidence of women’s oppression as such, than as a numbers game. That is, attractive young women get perved on more than attractive young men because men are more pervy than women, and most men (including the pervy ones) are mainly or entirely attracted to women.
To say this isn’t to excuse the tendency of pervy men with power to abuse that power. But it does have implications for how we think about sexual politics on a larger scale. Currently we start from the premise that because everyone should be equal, and interactions between adults should be cleansed of sex and power, we must conduct ourselves on the basis that this is true or we’re patronising women and/or unfairly demonising men. Then when this turns out not to reflect reality we look horrified.
But we could (for example) teach young people of both sexes that power plus male-typical perviness (which really is a thing) plus a lack of principle can result in sometimes unpleasant dynamics. This kind of sexual-politics realism implies a need for young people (of either sex) to practise routine caution in their interactions with powerful and potentially pervy males. It also implies we should enforce a public expectation — especially on powerful men — of good character and self-discipline. And we should lower significantly the threshold at which such men are subjected to brutal public shaming for failing to control their baser impulses.