“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, referring to the avalanche of accusations and confessions of men behaving badly in some of the highest echelons of power that has occurred since the death of the Playboy founder. 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 sex.
Why is it that men would ever presume to take what is not theirs? Why is it that women have been too afraid to speak up? Could it be that the expectations of the culture have forced both men and women into untenable positions? Could it be that we’ve been breathing an air that has us believing the other gender exists for gratification rather than awe and reverence?
There was something in that Donald Trump infamous hot-mic incident -- where he described this profane mindset of men in power -- that was clarifying and almost set the stage for all 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-a-vis the Cold War, among other things: “Stand athwart history, yelling 'Stop,'” as it says in the 1955 National Review mission statement. Paul VI, the author of "Humanae," saw a radical revolution afoot that was going to make the world worse, for women in particular.
Speaking before his brother bishops, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan highlighted prophetic passages from Paul VI's letter, including: “(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, the majority 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:
"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 misery of seeing others merely as means to instant pleasure or another selfish gain.
Besides "Humanae Vitae," Paul VI also issued this message that has resurfaced in recent years:
"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, by expecting better for themselves, their sisters, their daughters -- and the men who ought to love them (thank you, those who do!) for all the beauty they bring to existence.