"Don't get your honey where you get your money." It's a simple rhyme — even a child could remember it. So simple, it’s hard to believe so many highly accomplished individuals, especially men, just can't seem to get the idea that when there is a significant power differential between self and others, crossing work with sex always results in a supremely un-level playing field.
Not a week seems to pass without a new story of some Army general hand-grenading his career, or a Bible-thumping politician thanking his God for forgiveness in the face of sexual shame — or in recent months, a business tycoon going bust morally and financially over sexual misconduct.
Family counselors have long noted that functional families focus on finding solutions to problems, while the dysfunctional ones are preoccupied with looking for someone to blame. These days our big American family seems caught up in the blame game.
While Harvey Weinstein and James Toback deserve all the responsibility for behaviors only they could control, too many social critics have focused their ire on those they deem to be codependents: women who knew but didn't speak up; liberals; men who spoke up (Ben Affleck) but didn't do it right (maybe because they'd done the same thing); liberals; Hollywood; our godless culture; liberals.
Turns out that the latest batch of sexual assault news is really just about us and not the undocumented immigrants of last year's presidential campaigns. Historically, both men and women blamed women, those devilishly clever seductresses. Alternately, we can blame men, those pigs.
But really, every time we go down this road, we manage to blame half the human race? What species survives by evolving one half to prey upon the other?
After a few rounds of the blame game, we start getting the idea that there isn't a neat, tidy group to whom we can assign blame. Yes, the accused men will head back to church or enter rehab ("Sniff. I have a sickness.") But every one of these men started life as innocent and as good as any other baby boy. What went wrong?
Sure, we usually told our boys what not to do, but we hardly ever explained to them what to do when they become too tempted, too lonely, too horny or too entitled. Not just, "Don't do that," but, "When you feel that way, we should figure out what you can do that will work for you."
There will be no unringing of the bell for the victims. What we want to know, what we need to know, is how did these men come to such flawed decision-making, and how can we train them and our boys to do better?
Let’s take a lesson from the history of condom advertising. Always a forbidden subject for Madison Avenue, condoms only finally appeared on TV in the late 1980s, when AIDS was killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. So outdated standards were relaxed in the name of public health. Similarly, we need to now examine our own outdated standards as they relate to human decency. We need to talk to our boys (and girls) about managing their sexuality intelligently. Now.
And thanks, Harvey, and James, for your epic misbehavior. You've inspired us to begin a conversation that has long been overdue.
Now let’s flip the script on the blame game and focus on the core of any good blockbuster: action and dialogue.
Author and speaker Steven Ing thinks the intelligent management of human sexuality should be a new story archetype in post-Weinstein Hollywood. And oh yes, he has screenplay ideas. Email email@example.com or tweet @steveningMFT with ideas for future columns.
Column originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.