“And so castles made of sand, fall in the sea…eventually.”
When Harvey Weinstein’s story broke, a chink in the armor of the rich and the powerful of Hollywood’s elite was exposed. Thankfully (in this case), the media and the nation at large jumped at an opportunity to expose moral corruption in the ranks of the culture-makers who move and shape using the power of visual arts. It wasn’t long before the long, sharp blade of scrutiny pierced through this particular armor and began to wound a system of abuse. A list of the accused* has steadily grown. The authorities have mobilized,vowing justice.
The problem is, reputations carry weight. How we have conducted and do conduct ourselves matters and the things we do don’t go away or disappear with time. I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t change – they can, they do. And I don’t want to imply that there is no room for repentance and forgiveness. But that’s not what we’re talking about, here. We’re talking about people leveraging status and power to do things they knew they shouldn’t have been doing and now find themselves “caught.”
I’d like to say I was shocked at all the accusations – but I wasn’t. I wanted to be. It just seemed all too plausible to me. I’m not claiming some kind of special insight or inside knowledge here; I felt like these accusations confirmed a hunch I already had about hig. As if the ghosts of the morally bankrupt stories these directors and actors tell came around full circle and started their dreadful hauntings. As if the bones of the skeletons in long locked-away closets got to rattling a bit too loudly. And somebody heard.
The Haves v. The Have-Nots
Perhaps the narrative of those with money and power abusing those without it is simply too familiar in history. With the 20th century rise of mega corporations and powerful CEOs with multimillion dollar salaries it becomes easy to vilify a certain kind of person or entity. Maybe I see these same overarching tendencies in microexamples of my own power broking, however feeble my status and resources might be in comparison. That last one’s harder to wrestle with.
As a student of the Bible, I can attest that this struggle of the haves and the have-nots is nothing new. The person that I think exemplifies this struggle is David and his narrative is found primarily in 1 & 2 Samuel with the story in question taking place in 2 Samuel 11. During a time when kings are supposed to be going to war, David is at home. Alone. And he’s bored.
Wealthy, powerful, bored people are scary.
David lays his eyes on another man’s wife (named Bathsheba) and acquires her. They have a fling and it turns out the unfortunate happens – she gets pregnant. This sets off a chain of events that leads to more than one death and a whole lot of mourning. At this time in history there wasn’t a HuffPost or NY Times to speak of, so the scandal doesn’t hit the public eye like maybe it would today. But the story is the same: rich and powerful man takes advantage of young and beautiful woman and then covers his tracks.
Where is the agency?
What stands out about this story aside from the obvious is Bathsheba’s complete lack of agency. Now we can assign some blame for this into a few pertinent corners. The first is that Bathsheba is a woman in a culturally-patriarchal power system. So naturally her voice is not officially counted among the decision-makers. The second is that David is the king. The king does what he wants to do. Both Samuel and God warned Israel about kings and yet they still wanted one. If you ask for a king, you get a king.
It strikes me that – looking past the obvious breaking of the 10th commandment…and the 6th…and 7th…well, at least 6 or 7 out of ten! – one of David’s biggest missteps here is bypassing Bathsheba’s agency. The king treats her as an object and spends much more time fussing over Uriah, her husband, than he does her. She is a thing, a discovered treasure that is exploited and then added to the collection when she’s used up.
I’ve seen a lot of people turn the sexual harassment allegations back against the victims with snide social media posts and harsh, misplaced criticisms of feminism. I think, though, if we’re going to slay this giant of objectification and over sexualization of women and men, we have to start by repaying victims in equal measure with agency.
It’s time to listen – to listen a lot. Intentionally. Excruciatingly, painstakingly, hanging on the details. If we don’t, these earthly king(s) win.
* Some accounts of alleged abuse might be disturbing to some readers. Exercise caution when following links outside of the blog.