Accomplished men and women are no more likely to be beyond reproach than anyone else, especially when sex is involved; and when standards of acceptable behavior change, they are no more likely to be ahead of their time.
These obvious points are worth making explicit in light of the surge in credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault that have come to light since The New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story in October.
The perpetrators are mainly, but not only, powerful men; the victims are mainly, but not only, less powerful women. No surprise there; that story is as old as patriarchy itself.
And while standards of acceptable male behavior have changed for the better in recent decades – since, say, the heyday of Playboy and Penthouse — most of the charges now being made involve behaviors that would have been considered inappropriate, or even criminal, at any time in living memory. This is an old story too.
Indeed, sexual politics in circumstances where differential power relations are institutionalized — workplaces, schools and universities, religious institutions, and the like – has been part of the national conversation at least since the Ford Administration.
What exposing and shaming high visibility figures in the entertainment industry, journalism, and politics has done is bring widespread attention to that evolving discussion. It has also raised broader questions about sexual inequality and sexual predation, and about the cultural forces…