After I blogged about Hugh Hefner’s abuse and control of women, I got many comments about the positive contributions he made to the world. Whether you believe Hefner was truly an activist for some version of sexual liberation, gay rights, free speech, African-American journalists etc (and many don’t buy that, see comments on this blog, but some do, see Reel Girl’s FB page) or not: he still abused women. While Weinstein may have catapulted the careers of some actresses without harassing them and brought some great movies to fruition, he still abused women.
Most abusers don’t abuse all the time. If abusers were consistently and purely damaging, they would be much easier for victims to identify and liberate themselves from. But their abuse is much more manipulative than that.
Most abusers provide intermittent rewards. That means if we’re in an abusive relationship, with a parent, a partner, a boss, a “friend,” once in a while we hit the target. We get their praise, their love, admiration, attention, connection. The abuser’s inconsistent behavior towards us keeps us hooked, keeps us trying. We think to ourselves: “I know there’s a good person in there so if I’m being treated badly, it must be my fault. I must have done something wrong. I must be a bad person.” This false belief is helped along by the abuser’s blameshifting and projecting, telling us: You are bad, you are at fault.
Using experiments with rats and drugs, intermittent reward has been shown to elicit the most addictive behavior. Intermittent rewards makes us prone to gaslighting (when an abuser tells us our feelings aren’t real, our experience didn’t happen or is minimized, trivialized, or mocked, all to make us doubt ourselves, feel crazy and confused, thus vulnerable to more abuse.) We go through the evidence of the good things and think we’re supposed to ignore the bad things. We try to convince ourselves, they tried their best. Even if you believe Hugh Hefner and Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Woody Allen tried their best, women still suffered. Parents use this excuse as well: we tried our best, but they ignore the second half of the sentence: AND we suffered. In ignoring the suffering, in minimizing it, in refusing to acknowledge it, abusers get away with more abuse. They continue to perpetuate it, just finding new victims if we manage to escape.
You’re not a bad person for calling out abuse. In fact, if you don’t call out abuse, if you don’t, as an adult, take responsibility to look at your suffering, to use your resources to get help, you pass the abuse on to the next generation. You pass on the debt to your children and they pass it on to their children. So misogyny goes on, generation after generation.
Please don’t comment here about all the great contributions Weinstein made.