I was not lonely when Portnoy’s Complaint came to mind, apparently. Out of fear of “The Goyim Know” set of anti-Semites, perhaps, we tend to back away to discussing our community’s problem with this, even amongst ourselves, and definitely not in public. I know when I’ve seen non-Jews express curiosity about the Jewish component of this, I’ve reflexively felt “oh no you don’t.” As my rabbi says about Zionism, “other people will make the case against Israel; I don’t need to help them do it.”
I hate Harvey Weinstein. I hate President Trump. I hate every dude who forces himself on women, especially those that can buy their way out of consequences. I hate all the moralizing from every man who has done it, too, like Al Franken. I hate everyone who knew or suspected and takes their money or votes for them anyway.
Because last year, my daughter came home very upset after a boy slapped her on the ass. It’s been a persistent problem, with debilitating and disturbing rumors being spread about my daughter and her best friend.
The response from so many parents and authorities is “boys being boys.” Sorry, but your future little rapist isn’t being a “boy.” He’s establishing a pattern of abusive behavior that will run roughshod over any number of women in his life from now to the day he’s once again reduced to pinching asses in the nursing home.
It may seem like a trivial thing, but it’s conditioning my daughter that this is the way it is, that this is the way it will be. And that dog ain’t gonna hunt.
It’s too easy to make the narrative just about male power, but this hits us where we live. Weinstein, Dreyfuss, Ratner, Toback, Hoffman…we have a problem in our own community. We’re overrepresented in the present state of harassment and assault j’accuse.
We’ve nibbled at the edges of this in other arenas, to comic effect at times, vis a vis Seinfeld’s “shiksa appeal.” The LA Times, 8 years ago, touched on this indirectly with “Why Hollywood’s Jewish guys fall in love with shiksas,” a treatment on why Jewish men routinely ignore Jewish women. It may have been inspired by Liel Leibovitz’s tablet article “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” around the same time.
…they watched as their sons and brothers and husbands became successful producers, directors, and impresarios, powerful men who then chose to populate their works with a parade of sexy, sultry shiksas who looked nothing like their female kin.
Liebovitz could practically have been writing the selection criteria for nearly all of the harassment and assault by powerful Jewish men.
Interestingly, because of our communal reluctance to acknowledge the preponderance of Jewish males involved in this, we get an added dimension to Mayim Bialik’s unfortunately tone deaf response to the spate of accusations. The hidden subtext was that perhaps Blossom was not harassed because while famous and attractive, it’s less about her modesty, and more about the complicated Jewish male relationship to (obviously) Jewish females. Casting choices and the crisis of single Jewish females and liberal movements’ high intermarriage rates (which still comes at the expense of Jewish women, mostly) say that there is perhaps a distinct dynamic at work with Jewish male power vs. male power. Jewish women are invisible as partners, and even as victims.
Is this the sole factor in sexual harassment by powerful Jewish men?
Two recent pieces (here and here) validate a recent survey about sexual harassment in Jewish communities suggest that there is more to it, and make a strong argument that this is indeed, absolutely, a Jewish problem.
Not to sour one of the net positives of Jewish communities, being the generosity of its members, secular or religious, but perhaps this is also as simple as what money and power can buy. The donor class in Jewish society is held in more reverence than clergy. They’re the ones that underwrite the beautiful new ark, the “education wing” at your shul, the big Jewish Federation or Zionist initiative. In the spheres of Jewish social and political work I engage in, and certainly my wife would say the same in her role as a Jewish educator, we have worked with donors who make our skin crawl, and we smile nod, and in some cases, take the pinch or disgusting comment, for that easy 5, 6, or 7 figure check.
And the survey hits this right on the nose:
And it’s not just staff. Too often donors are able to get away with touching, looks, squeezes because they write checks — while employees feel less and less supported and have to go back and continue making those asks, often off-site and alone.
There’s a better than average chance, in my opinion, that Jewish men are shaping their expectations when they obtain power in the non-Jewish world right here at home.
The fact that the majority of our Jewish institutions are liberal or secular, matched with this survey, tells us that your egalitarian communities and female rabbis do not immunize you from sexual harassment. It’s easy to look down your nose at the traditional Jewish establishment, with bifurcated roles for men and women—it’s always under scrutiny, and yes, we have our problems. We wrestle with many things, from the plight of agunot to the role of women as community leaders and scholars. On the other hand, it’s expected out of us, but your fights for parity at the Kotel only obfuscate that it’s your problem, too.
It does us no good to continue to wilfully ignore the fact that we have specific, Jewish vectors in sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Maybe it does just boil down to males in power abusing power, but in every other facet of human misbehavior, we look for the complex set of variables behind craven acts as part of problem solving. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by blinding ourselves to Jewish specific pathologies and communal tolerances. We produced these abusers. We clearly have a system that ignores victims and possibly rewards intransigence. We cannot and should not wave off our communal accountability.