Zeus, Harvey Weinstein, and Me
Maybe you’ve seen it. All over social media, ever since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, victims of sexual assault have been posting the phrase “Me too.” It’s a chilling reminder that sexual assault, abuse, and harassment is far more common than we are comfortably willing to admit. Yeah, well, fuck comfort. I’ll take truth over comfort any day.
Harvey Weinstein was a powerful Hollywood producer who used his position to craft an elaborate system of entrapment for young starlets. It largely worked. His naked boorishness and inhumanity disgusts us all.
But we’ve seen it all before.
In fact, it’s a pattern as old as the hills.
In my work as a professor of philosophy, comparative religion, and mythology, as the story of Weinstein broke, I immediately thought of Zeus. And Uranos. And Purusha. And Kronos. And on and on and on. Throughout world mythology forceful, non-consensual sex – in other words, rape – is the norm. That the confluence of sex and violence is so deeply rooted in the collective psyche of humanity should be a powerful clue to this current wave of abuse – there is a darkness in us that goes down so deep no one can see the bottom.
In the Greek myth, every night the sky god Uranos descended and raped his wife Gaia, the earth goddess. His son Kronos turned out the same way – like father, like son. Zeus, the son of Kronos, was also a serial rapist, collecting victims and generating offspring with impunity – he was after all too powerful to topple. Until he wasn’t. In the Indian myth Purusha, the creator, splits himself into two (lots of primal gods do this) and raped his other half. In her disgust, she disguised herself as a variety of other animals – he changed into those animals too and raped her again. His raping never stopped until all the animals were created. The whole world, in many of the creation stories, is the fruit of rape.
Mythology is not causal – these stories don’t make us the way we are. They are only a mirror held up to our own flaws, foibles, and triumphs. They reveal something of our nature. They encapsulate in narrative form what is best and worst in us.
When we look to evolutionary biology, we see deep and powerful adaptive modes of consciousness in play. The sole impulse of our genes is to produce more genes – to survive. Patterns of consciousness like competition, aggression, cruelty, and violence serve this end. The thing is, so do empathy, compassion, altruism, and care. We really are a mess.
Recognizing these deeply ingrained tendencies toward sexual aggression doesn’t excuse them – it contextualizes them. There will always be creeps like Harvey Weinstein and your leering, drunken step-dad. But it isn’t hopeless.
When nearly every woman you know – talk to them, they’ll tell you – has been the victim of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment, you know it’s finally time to face the truth. We all carry within us drives that on our best days are kept in check. All of these legions and legions of female victims were not all assaulted by the same three guys. Sexual assaulters, abusers, and harassers are all around us. Even within us. Take a look around boys. We are the perpetrators.
I’m a nice guy. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone or abused my power or position to harass anyone. But then again, that’s what Harvey Weinstein says. Damn. Gives a whole ‘nother meaning to “Me too.”
How do you undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary consciousness? How do you root out the horribly destructive cruelty of sexual predation? I don’t know. But I do know the first step – drag it out of the darkness and into the light. Stop pretending it isn’t a thing.
It’s a thing.
And when the women you know and love have the courage to say “Me too,” listen, deeply. Our loving-kindness and compassion can overcome this. In fact, nothing else can.