" ...despite appearances to the contrary, the course of true love never does run smooth." (link to a BBC article)
Today's New York Times details accusations of male models that they were sexually abused by famous photographers. The article is meant as part of the Me Too movement to expose how much those in positions of power have exploited those who worked for them. The problem is pervasive, one experienced directly mostly by women in jobs and careers of all sorts. In more cases than most want to acknowledge, it has also happened to men, perpetrated by both male and female employers. The problem is really not about who and whom; it is about the objectification of some people by other people, the treatment of others as means, not ends. The problem is as old as the Golden rule, as studied as Kant's Ethics, as ingrained in our present society as cell phones.
("Handle so, dass du die Menschheit sowohl in deiner Person, als in der Person eines jeden anderen jederzeit zugleich als Zweck, niemals bloß als Mittel brauchst." - Immanuel Kant **)
One explanation is that it is a Darwinian example of survival. Males of the species are biologically predisposed to be sexually aggressive. Men butt heads with other men. The one who wins takes his reward. Overpowering the woman leads to survival of the species. Though no one in their right mind believes this literally, it is the symbolic backbone of a theory that males want to fuck females and females want to raise and protect babies. In its most reasonable form the theory is a polite Victorian view of human relations, not unlike Freud's, that people need to suppress their desires, their Id, in order to make for civilization. The good ego properly balances Id and Super-ego, raw instinct and the rules of good society.
Science has debunked this simplistic, deterministic view of the human psyche. Men are not born aggressive, much less sexually aggressive, any more than women are born wanting a protective family that includes children. It is education, upbringing, and society's norms that have shaped our behavior and produced these traits we now find so deplorable. The particular trait I find most egregious is objectification. Our materialistic, capitalistic country is responsible for the mistreatment and abuse we want so desperately to eliminate.
Take the Times article. Attractive young men go into a career of modeling. The magazines they dream of gracing do the very thing they now complain about, namely, treat them as objects of desire. No one cares who they are or what they feel and think. They are presented the way an expensive sports car is displayed, or a fine home. They are meant to be possessed, not respected. Our society is corrupt to its core. The photographer also sees the model as an object of desire and acts accordingly, perhaps trying to shift the boundary between desire and ethical behavior, but not interested in the person, only the body. This is the same with female models.
That is not to say that it is impossible for the artist and model to come to a more ethical relationship. History gives us many, many examples of relationships that began in objectification and ended in love. Once objectification becomes subjective, once empathy, compassion, communication, and all the other aspects of friendship and/or love develop, we attain a transcendence of materialism. The selfish need for things, the selfish need for power, the loneliness of separation from any other human being as essential to our lives, all dissolve. Humanistic values replace material ones; others become existentially real, rather than spokes in the capitalist machine.
The task at hand, the challenge facing us now, is to resist not only this objectification of others, but to resist as well the selfish need for revenge and treating the agents of objectification as themselves objects of scorn. Forgiveness is difficult. It is also more human, a higher understanding, as those who have forgiven atrocities know. To improve our situation, to eliminate abuse, we have to start with ourselves, our words and actions toward the young, our educational system, the way we talk and act toward others. We have to praise treating others kindly, with respect and compassion. Consider the woman a hospital "dumped" in the middle of the night on the subfreezing streets of Baltimore. How could anyone do this, to treat an ill, helpless, unprotected, almost undressed human being in such a way? This is the objectification I mean, failing to see the person and thinking of a patient as a glyph, a number only. Sexual abusers treat people as numbers also, hence the slang expression. Let's not make the same mistake in creating a solution to abuse, asking for written consent about specific acts. Is a kiss OK, may I kiss you? Those are not the words of love, they are the words of a materialistic negotiation. When there is compassion, empathy, love... one doesn't need a permission slip to give someone a kiss.
** Translation of the Kant quotation:
|“||Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.||”|
|— Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals|