Is this what men are supposed to aspire to?

Story after story plays out in the same tawdry way. A man becomes rich and influential, with a reputation and fans and a secure life. I try to imagine myself in that position, and it’s not too hard; I’m not rich or famous, but I’ve got reasonable income that means I don’t have to worry, children who’ve grown up and made me proud, and a stable, happy, long term relationship. What if I were an order of magnitude more wealthy? What if I was powerful enough to have clients who relied on me to further their career?

I like to think that if I were in such a position, I’d use it to help people who needed it, would use my greater influence to shape the world in ways I like, would be able to do more to help my family. There’d be a bit of selfishness, too, of course — I’d have more computer toys, more books, more nights out at fabulous restaurants with my wife. At least, I think that’s what I’d do with more luxury.

But apparently not. As a man, if I were wealthy and powerful, this is what I’m supposed to want.

Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.

There’s more. There are years of Weinstein using his abilities to play cheap sexual games with the women in his employ.

In 2014, Mr. Weinstein invited Emily Nestor, who had worked just one day as a temporary employee, to the same hotel and made another offer: If she accepted his sexual advances, he would boost her career, according to accounts she provided to colleagues who sent them to Weinstein Company executives. The following year, once again at the Peninsula, a female assistant said Mr. Weinstein badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked, leaving her “crying and very distraught,” wrote a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, in a searing memo asserting sexual harassment and other misconduct by their boss.

I don’t get it. It’s so pathetic — Weinstein is an otherwise normal man, wealthier than most, with a career that lets him fund (and profit from) the production of art, and this is how he uses his power, to play cheap, needy games with those with less power, to attempt to get momentary pleasures out of the suffering of others? To rise so high in one’s own domain and then to use it in such a shabby, contemptible way…why? And it happens so often, with recent examples of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. What disease lurks in men’s hearts that this kind of childish, cruel, pointless behavior emerges as they get older and richer?

At least it makes me happy that I’m unambitious enough that I don’t desire to rise out of my ordinary middle-class life — who knows what kind of monster I’d turn into if I had a million dollars? But it does suggest that we need to start a charity to save the poor pitiful Hollywood moguls and spoiled heirs and corporate big guns. We need to restore their humanity and rescue them from the emergence of the poisonous imago dwelling within them by taking most of their money away and distributing it to the poor. It’s the only decent thing to do.

I wonder what the threshold for spawning the horrible man-child incubating within us men-folk is? I don’t think it would be ethical to do the experiment to find out.

Or it could be that Harvey Weinstein is and always has been a terrible human being.


  1. lisslalissar says

    “What disease lurks in men’s hearts that this kind of childish, cruel, pointless behavior emerges as they get older and richer?”

    I feel like the answer here is obvious. Misogyny.

  2. says

    It also could be less a case that a certain amount of money would corrupt anyone and more that, as the last part suggests, they’re just terrible human beings and they’re motivated to get more money than is good for anyone in order to use it for their terrible, unchecked desires? Sure, money corrupts, but the corrupt moneys, too.

  3. says

    It isn’t about money, it’s about what money provides: power. Power goes straight to most people’s heads, and not in a good way.

  4. says

    Acton had it right “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”

    The only debate is whether it’s the mere power, or if it’s the personality traits that lead to power that also lead to being a right shit.

  5. says

    Oh, and over in the UK, ever since Jimmy Saville of foul memory, they have been investigating ‘famous men’ and discovering to their utter surprise that many many of them have been pretty vile in their sexual harassment and worse.

  6. says

    This is like finding out that Trump used the N word. Awful but not shocking.

    The number of horrific stories about Weinstein is legion. For quick example he apparently badgered Rob Marshall on the set of Chicago about the rushes being terrible until Marshall passed out.

    He’s a 30’s producer for good and ill who just happens to be alive now. It would be admirable if not for the human cost.

  7. cartomancer says

    I suspect there is something fundamental to our structures of hierarchy, power and authority that brings this out in people. Or, from a Marxian perspective, our structures of class.

    When we divide people up into groups and call one group the powerful and the other the powerless (or one the employer and the other the employee), we sanction a psychology that perceives some people as of lesser value. A Roman comparison is instructive here, I think.

    In ancient Rome there was a well developed system of patronage (patrocinium) and clientship (clientela). Wealthy, well-connected Romans gathered swarms of clients to assist them, vote for them in elections, stand up for their interests in court etc., and in return they dispensed largesse, gave protection, made introductions and so forth. It was a semi-formal way to forge productive social and business relationships outside of kin groups. There is little evidence that these relationships were ever exploitative in such a way as Mr. Weinstein demonstrates above. Why? Because wealthy Romans also had dozens of slaves that they could take advantage of sexually. Sexual availability was part and parcel of the lack of bodily autonomy that characterised the slave condition. You didn’t need to hit on your clients if you had slaves back home to take advantage of. Slaves were the established to-be-taken-advantage-of class, so the psychology developed that it was pretty much acceptable to abuse your slaves (even if some thought it cruel or tacky). In Medieval feudal societies the same sort of relationship developed – powerful lords generally didn’t abuse their vassals (the equivalent of clients in the feudal system), but they did take out their unpleasant designs on their serfs, who were under them.

    The capitalist system we see today is another example of this relationship. Employees are the slaves or the serfs of the modern age, and Weinstein is our modern Marcus Licinius Crassus or Vlad Tepes.

  8. Allison says

    I don’t think it has much to do with being rich and powerful, except that being rich and powerful makes it a lot easier.

    I think it has to do with how men are socialized in our culture. My experience growing up as a boy, was that whenever I was with other boys, you were either dominating others or getting treated like dirt. Crudely put, either you were fucking people over or you were getting fucked over. And this was, to put it mildly, encouraged by the adults — explicitly by men, and tacitly endorsed by the women. My experience of male “bonding rituals” has been that they’re about proving that all the men in the group are in the “fucking over” class and not in the “to be fucked over” class, so that even men who would just as soon opt out of this whole business feel compelled to pretend to go along with it. Boys who (like me) can’t or won’t go along with it get ostracized and bullied, men who don’t go along find themselves marginalized and more subtly bullied. And men who find that they like to abuse discover that most people will simply look the other way.

    I imagine that there are an enormous number of men (10%? 50%?) who secretly admire Weinstein for being able to get away with this stuff.

    BTW, you’ll notice that this sort of behavior, while not unheard of, is rare among women. I think it’s because they don’t get the same kind of social support for it.

  9. ParaLess says

    It goes deeper than just power, money misogyny or capitalism.

    I am in the lower middle class, sinking further financially. I am trying to earn more money after my day job (Data Analyst) with a shirt design business. (Ahem… It isn’t going so well so far.

    BUT, other people I know are doing very well? How? Stealing designs, copyright infringement, riding under the radar of legal things. What kind of people will these be when they make enough money to have authority?

    So, it isn’t just ‘when’ someone gets to the top, it is ‘how’.

    There are people telling me that I am a fool for ‘working with the system’ instead of against it by cheating it. The cause of this kind of problem is deep.

  10. mykroft says

    I suppose one long-running experiment on the effect of wealth on people is the lottery system. People become rich overnight, and have to deal with the changes in their status. I’ve heard that many crash and burn, i.e. they or family members get into drugs, families split because of arguments over what to spend the money on, etc. Lots of money does not solve all problems, and may create more.

    My sense is that wealth is like atheism, in that they are both labels that do not define individuals. Just because a person is an atheist, that does not preclude them from being an asshole. Likewise someone who is rich is not necessarily an asshole. People are people, and you can’t define them based on the box they fall into (white, black, Catholic, rich, etc.).

  11. Simple Desultory Philip says

    my (white, straight, cis) partner made several millions of dollars selling a tech startup over a decade ago. you’d never know it. hell, *i* didn’t know it until we had been dating many months. because he doesn’t feel the need to use it as a weapon of oppression or control, and didn’t want it to be in the mix as a reason somebody might want to date him. because he understands intersectionality and structural discrimination and, well, basically, he isn’t an asshole. i think wealth is a thing that enables people to indulge their basest impulses – *if* that’s a thing they want to do. and we have a society that teaches (especially white, straight, cis) men that they should both have those impulses and aspire to be able to indulge them. thankfully not everybody falls for it. but as a former sex worker, the majority of my experiences with men like my partner are…not as encouraging.

  12. richardemmanuel says

    Economic apartheid is worshipped openly as the psychologically transcendent rainbow engine for wealth creation. It is all a sad jar of atoms. If you can’t predict each individual path, you can yet know that a lower lid makes everything better. Put a lid on it perhaps.

  13. juliestahlhut says

    I don’t buy that money makes people terrible. I just think money makes terrible people more empowered to do terrible things.

  14. richardemmanuel says

    @13 – I doubt he made them. And they would be worthless if he didn’t exploit them. I doubt he buys anything unmade. A millionaire while people starve is an asshole. This is transcendent of gender-assholery. I appreciate this is not the American Dream. Which Mrs May attempted to cough up like a necrotic zombie-cat. I’ve no idea what cis means, I expect it is some stupid Americanism ephemerally required for something that already was, but is now ephermerally hot for some equally stupid reason. Who cares who had an honest trade like a sex worker? Who are the financial rapists? Let’s watch the Pimps of Spain. Banks or tanks? Is it Jews? lol. Could it be Jews and non-Jews? We need a Maxwell to unify. Who could it be? Will we see? when we watch it will we see?

  15. cjcolucci says

    who knows what kind of monster I’d turn into if I had a million dollars?
    Where is Dr. Evil when you need him, Baby?

  16. antigone10 says


    “Cis” is a shortened form of “cisgendered”. That is where a person’s gender identity corresponds to what identity was given to them at birth. The opposite would be “transgendered”.

    The rest of your comment appears to be nonsense.

  17. Dunc says

    What disease lurks in men’s hearts that this kind of childish, cruel, pointless behavior emerges as they get older and richer?

    The Shadow knows!

  18. Kreator says

    richardemmanuel @#16:

    I’ve no idea what cis means, I expect it is some stupid Americanism

    Yeah, those ancient Romans and their Americanisms were quite annoying indeed. (expanding what antigone10 said @#18, cis = “on the same side”, trans = “on the other side.” Practically all languages influenced by Latin use these prefixes.)

  19. says

    @Allison #10
    Do you mean my younger years of having no friends was beneficial to me? I knew it! It’s all been worth it!
    Actually maybe it was finding internet friends who weren’t terrible people. I wish I didn’t have to add those last four words.

  20. redwood says

    Many years ago when I was in college I attended a lecture by Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players ever. A comment he made then has stayed with me: “Money doesn’t change people. It just amplifies what they are.” In other words, if you’re an asshole, money makes you a bigger one.

  21. methuseus says

    I wonder what the threshold for spawning the horrible man-child incubating within us men-folk is? I don’t think it would be ethical to do the experiment to find out.

    How about you take someone who’s rich and an asshole, take half of their wealth, see what they try (and do) get away with, and then seize half again, etc. I guess it would still be bad because you would have to let him get away with stuff or the experiment would be too fixed and he’d not try anything. But it’s no worse than the status quo.

  22. starskeptic says

    lisslalissar @1
    Misogyny isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom…
    Allison @10 pretty much lays out the disease.

  23. Matt G says

    “Most men can handle adversity. If you want to know a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln

  24. drken says

    Well PZ,

    As recent posts have shown, you can be an abusive jerk given only the power and financial wherewithal of a college professor, so I think it’s safe to say the added money and prestige probably wouldn’t have gone to your head.

    With any luck, this is the beginning of the curtain being pulled back on the worst kept secret in entertainment. The sexual exploitation and/or harassment of women in the industry. The sooner we open that HUGE can of worms, the better. Just rip it off, like a band-aid. Of course, that’s easy for me to say as I don’t have to risk my career and reputation calling out somebody with actual power over me.

  25. Ronixis says

    The general standard today is ‘transgender’ (no ‘-ed’ suffix), and though it doesn’t come up as much, that’s presumably true for ‘cisgender’ as well. As I understand it, this is to avoid the idea that being trans is something that happens to or is done to a person.

  26. guido says

    My mental model for this phenomenon is that some people are motivated to success because they have deep-seated insecurities that wind up enabling them to be harmful to other people, once they acquire the power to do that. I do admire many people who have the drive to achieve things in life, for whatever reason; I think we all should. But … there is a subset of those people who are driven to succeed, but also damage other people along the way. I won’t name names, but people who read this can fill in that blank.