The Dangers of Self-Congratulatory 'Good Guys'

The Dangers of Self-Congratulatory 'Good Guys'
Harvey Weinstein leaves New York City Criminal Court after a bail hearing. Photo:Getty

In a bizarre interview published yesterday, Harvey Weinstein, accused sexual harasser and rapist, underscored all the good he said he’s done for women. He made movies directed by and starring women before it was in “vogue” to do so. (“I did it first! I pioneered it!”) He allegedly paid Gwyneth Paltrow a lot of money—more money than her male co-stars—to make a movie once. He bought the distribution rights to a movie about a transgender woman. Also? He’s donated to charities! Against the backdrop of an impending rape trial, Weinstein apparently felt it necessary to rattle off his vaguely liberal credentials.

Clearly, Weinstein is waiting for his “thank you” and, actually, I’m happy to give it—for this case study in the suspicious entitlement of self-congratulatory “good guys.” Thank you, Harvey, for this unfortunate reminder of how men’s progressivism is treated as cover for serially bad deeds.

The ill-advised interview with the New York Post took place next to his hospital bed, where Weinstein was recovering from spinal surgery. Per the Post, “Weinstein said he only agreed to the interview… to prove that he hasn’t been exaggerating about his ailments.” Currently, he faces rape and sexual assault charges and is expected to stand trial in Manhattan in January. Weinstein has also reportedly reached a secretive $25 million settlement with over 30 accusers. In total, more than 80 women have made allegations against him.

It appears Weinstein is worried that reality will become his legacy, as opposed to the public image that he fashioned for himself over decades, as the consummate progressive Hollywood liberal. “It all got eviscerated because of what happened,” Weinstein told the Post in the passive voice. “My work has been forgotten.” He added, “I want this city to recognize who I was instead of what I’ve become.” It’s hard to interpret this statement as meaning anything other than: I want to be who you thought I was before. Never mind that many of the allegations against Weinstein have been considered an open secret in Hollywood for years.

It used to be, though, that the allegations were successfully stifled by his overwhelming power and systematic silencing of accusers, along with a little help from his progressive credentials. (Let us recall, also, that Weinstein reportedly used his connections to liberal politicians for leverage.) Weinstein is far from alone in this: Progressivism (even when it’s not that progressive) works as effective cover, because it’s hard to hold that someone can do things both good and bad. For a recent example, please see: former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the liberal Democrat, “champion of women’s rights,” and MeToo supporter who took legal action against Weinstein himself. Last year, Schneiderman was accused of physical abuse by four women.

It’s an instant tell when a man sees his (even marginal) feminist beliefs or acts as cause for celebration.

Many men see the ground shifting under their feet amid MeToo and interpret it as a change in the “rules” as opposed to accountability. Joe Biden, accused of overstepping women’s physical boundaries, including hair sniffing hair, neck kissing, and thigh touching, notably defended himself this year by saying, “Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset.” He, too, emphasized all the good work he’s done for women: “I’ve worked my whole life to empower women,” he said in his “apology” video. “I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse.” Although the allegations against Biden are not comparable to those against Weinstein, their personal defenses are unavoidably similar. Not only is there the expressed sense of having been felled by changing times, but also: Look at the good I’ve done for women.

In the case of Weinstein the degree of that “good” is highly questionable. “I made more movies directed by women and about women than any filmmaker, and I’m talking about 30 years ago,” he exclaimed to the Post. “I’m not talking about now when it’s [in] vogue.” (How revealing that he apparently views
the valuing of women’s work as a trend.) He gave some specifics: “Gwyneth Paltrow in 2003 got $10 million to make a movie called ‘View from the Top,’” he said. Then he name dropped Transamerica, a film about a transgender woman (which doesn’t star a transgender woman). Employing women, paying them well, and treating their stories as worth telling is nothing deserving of a medal or hero’s parade. (That is especially true if you are also damaging the careers of women who have told you “no” or whom you have allegedly sexually harassed.) It’s just a convenient form of moral relativism: I’m good because I’m not as bad as the others.

This sense of entitlement to praise is not unrelated to the belief in the ground unexpectedly shifting under their feet. Men have gotten too much for too little for too long, and whatever limited correctives are now being dispensed apparently feel to some like an unjust re-writing of reality. Weinstein’s longing for “who [he] was,” counter to “what [he’s] become,” is really just the shock of someone belatedly being recognized for what they have truly always been.

What is always utterly revealing is the self-congratulation, whether it’s for championing women’s political causes or merely having moments in a career where one was not explicitly and excessively discriminatory. It’s an instant tell when a man sees his (even marginal) feminist beliefs or acts as cause for celebration, as opposed to the meeting of a bare moral minimum. The Post’s interview ran with the headline, “Harvey Weinstein: I deserve pat on back when it comes to women.” Those aren’t Weinstein’s words, but they are an accurate enough reflection of the point he was trying to make. Instead, he made another: Beware the man who thinks women owe him a pat on the back.

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