‘It seems undeniable at this point that Hugh Hefner’s death broke open some sort of seal.” My former colleague at National Review magazine, Ian Tuttle, tweeted this the other day, capturing the avalanche of accusations and confessions, since around the death of Playboy’s founder, of men behaving badly in some of the highest echelons of power. A reckoning appears to be occurring in Hollywood, accompanied by a widespread acknowledgment that something has gone very wrong when it comes to men in power and to sex.
And, truth be told, any kind of power. As any woman who has ever taken a crowded subway or bus can attest.
Why is it that men would ever presume to take what is not theirs to take? What is it that women would be too afraid to speak up? Could it be that the expectations of the culture have forced both men and women into a desensitization against any kind of respect for the other? Could it be that we’ve been breathing an air that has us believing that the other exists for gratification rather than for awe and reverence?
Something in that infamous Donald Trump hot-mic incident, wherein he described this mindset of men in power, was clarifying and almost set the stage for all of these recent stories. The now–first lady dismissed it all as what boys do. One gets the impression that she’s trying to raise her son otherwise. So why would Melania Trump or anyone else tolerate it or otherwise explain it away?
When the U.S. Catholic bishops gathered in Baltimore for their annual meeting this past week, there was a presentation noting, among other things, the upcoming 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, a document that in 1968 seemed to do what my own magazine’s founder was inspired to do vis-à-vis the Cold War, among other things: “Stand athwart history, yelling Stop,” as it says in our 1955 mission statement.
Paul VI, the pope at the time, saw a radical revolution afoot that was going to make the world worse, and for women in particular. Speaking before his brother bishops, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan highlighted prophetic passages, including: “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
And so it happened. And so we live among the ruins.
While there are men who have come out to accuse prominent actors of assault and other boorish behavior, most of the #MeToo movement testifying to abuse of power has been women, talking about men. Some 30 or so years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote about the role of women in changing the world. He focused on two things in particular, as Mary Rice Hasson, founding director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, put it in a talk:
The first is to bring “full dignity” to the “conjugal life and to motherhood.” The second and related task is that women are called to “assure the moral dimension of culture, . . . a culture worthy of the person.”
Hasson issued a challenge to her sisters in the faith:
We Catholic women have a secret weapon: We don’t have to be like feminists pretending we’re doing it all by ourselves. We embrace complementarity. We value — and count on — the collaboration of men and women. And that is a secret weapon, because we need the voices and the talents of both men and women in order to make a difference in the culture. Women must be brought to the foreground — but not just for strategic reasons, that is, because women are half the population or because we need women speaking to women or because women can shape the most effective messaging for women.
Women must be front and center in evangelizing the culture because, as a Church, we must live that truth of complementarity. We believe that there’s something of value created when men and women work together, and we know that the Church needs us — men and women — to witness to the love of God in a powerful way, together. And the world needs that witness from us as much, if not more, than it needs the actual work that we do.
I’ll add this: Everyone is welcome to join in leading a way out of the immiseration of seeing others as means to an instant pleasure or other selfish gain.
Paul VI issued, besides Humanae Vitae, this message that has resurfaced in recent years from Rome:
Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender, and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.
With this light shining on the darkest places in Hollywood and elsewhere, there’s a tremendous opportunity to turn the ship around. Women can save the peace of the world, expecting better for themselves, their sisters, their daughters — and for the men who ought to love them (thank you, those who do!) for all the beauty we are.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.