The Toxic Myth of Cultural Authority

I’ve been curious about the current explosion of sexual harassment scandals. Why now? Why all the high profile cases?

Some explanations occurred to me. One is that women are more vulnerable to sexual harassment now because they’re, rightly, more ambitious. In the old days locking down a good marriage prospect was enough for most women, not because that was all they were capable of, but because that was all the culture allowed.

Today, women are climbing into places previously forbidden to them. Those places are usually controlled by rich and powerful men. Many of those guys (they don’t deserve the honorific “gentlemen”) are trolls—in both senses of the word—and try to take liberties with young, ambitious women.

So why does it take so long for this horrible, unlawful behavior to see the light of day? Because there are only so many slots available at Fox News.

For any desirable job, competition is intense. People are dispensable, easily replaceable. So the boss tries to kiss you, maybe pressure you into more, and you keep quiet about it, not because, as a woman, you’re inherently powerless, but because you want something badly enough to let it pass and hope it goes away.

Until it hits the news, then it comes out in a Bill Cosby/Roger Ailes/Bill O’Reilly rush. Then you’ve got cover and maybe a big settlement for your silence. Who can blame those women? It’s hard out there for a female, especially one who is not already rich.

You have to be rich merely to live in the nicer cities of our nation. That’s a new thing, as is the huge numbers of women in the workforce. Sexual harassment is an old thing. Entire religions and cultures have been built upon it. But I’m not supposed to write about that.

Why? Because I’m not a woman, not a member of a religious denomination that has “cultural sensitivities” about a woman’s “rightful place.”

In short, I lack the cultural authority to speak on women’s issues. Or, under some academic theories, to speak about any issues that don’t directly involve old White men.

The same goes for Black Lives Matter. I’m White, what could I possibly know about the Black experience? Nothing of value, that’s for sure. Nothing that gives me the cultural authority to speak about it.

I could go on forever with this horridly misguided logic. I’m not gay, I don’t have the cultural authority to speak on gay issues, or to opine on who gets to use what bathroom. I’m a straight White male, a member of the patriarchy by definition (never mind that I don’t have any kids.)

This mode of thought, often propounded by progressives, who should know better, is toxic to democracy. It is the ultimate gift to the forces of reaction.

I’ll go further. It is only when those who are not directly oppressed by a society’s injustices become outraged about them that change can happen.

History bears this out, time and again. Most of us are not African-American, but, with activism by all races, legal discrimination was ended. Most of us are not gay, but, with activism by people of all genders, gay rights have come very far in recent years. Not far enough, but we’re a long way from gays in the closet and cops raiding bars.

People with no cultural authority have all the moral standing they needed to support those who are different than them. Because they have two things in common. One, they’re all human beings and human rights are the property of all.

But even more important is that African Americans, Gay Americans, White Americans and Straight Americans are all Americans.

American institutions make the laws that govern us all. American society makes the unwritten rules that govern our culture.

And that is where our cultural authority comes from. Letting anyone, even those we wish to support, take that away from us and we all lose.

Identity politics are inevitable. But, like any fundamentalism, they can go to destructive extremes.

Certain politicians (who shall go unnamed because I’m tired of writing about them, month after tedious month) play on our divisions to break us into easily managed fragments.

I want that to stop. And I won’t shut up, no matter who are today’s victims and scapegoats.

And I have all the cultural authority I need to say whatever I think needs saying. My cultural authority comes from a sacred source: I’m a citizen. And so are you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *