Editorial: A convulsive year comes to a close with predators in high places unmasked

As we head into a new year, it is increasingly clear that Donald J. Trump’s policies foreshadow disastrous impacts on the poor and middle classes. He is at war with his people. His America-first protectionist and isolationist bent have disrupted relations with its major trading partners, introduced instability in foreign relations, and increased the likelihood of war with foreign nations.

Americans have an admitted sexual predator in the Oval Office who likes to “Grab Them by the P…y” and are coping with the current flood of sexual abuse in the workplace from Hollywood to the media and beyond. These high-profile cases dramatize a profound societal issue.

We in Canada are not immune to sexual predators such as CBC’s star radio host, Jian Ghomeshi.

For sure, as we all know, his was not an isolated case. We might ask where it all began and where and when it will end.

The loosening of sexual mores in the 1960s in the so-called sexual revolution certainly had a lot to do with shaking up notions surrounding human sexuality, confirming the legitimacy of sex outside the bonds of marriage and the drive for procreation. In 1967, Time Magazine put Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner on its then-coveted cover, in effect praising him for breaking old taboos. As a so-called style setter, he did a lot more than legitimize photos of bare bosoms. He established the Playboy Mansion in Chicago, a dream palace for male heterosexuals. There, Time reported almost breathlessly, men could enjoy “Bacchanalia with Pepsi. Orgies with popcorn. And 24 girls – count ’em, 24 – living right overhead! … Hugh Hefner is alive, American, modern, trustworthy, clean, respectful, and the country’s leading impresario of spectator sex.”

Hefner died in September, and the magazine, which in 1970 had a peak of 7 million readers, is down to a circulation of 800,000. While feminists denounced him as a male chauvinist, his impact, and that of his so-called Playboy Philosophy, were enormous.

What really happened in Hefner’s palace of manly pleasures? As quoted in The Guardian Oct. 6, former bunny Izabella St. James recalled, that every week the women had to go his room and “wait until he picked the dog poo off the carpet, and then ask for our allowance. A thousand dollars counted out in crisp hundred-dollar bills.”

The girls had to perform. No condoms could be used, Suzanne Moore reported. “Hefner …would lie there with, I guess, an iconic erection. Viagra-ed to the eyeballs. The main girlfriend would then be called to give him oral sex. There was no protection and no testing. He didn’t care, wrote former Playboy model Jill Ann Spaulding. Then the other women would take turns to get on top of him for two minutes while the girls in the background enacted lesbian scenarios to keep ‘Daddy’ excited. Is there no end to this glamour?”

Moore concludes: “You can dress it up with talk of glamour and bunny ears and fishnets, talk about his contribution to gonzo journalism, contextualize his drive to free up sex as part of the sexual revolution, But, strip it all back and he was a man who bought and sold women. Isn’t that the definition of a pimp?”

Hefner’s death, however, does not mean the end of that era, when men in positions of power were shaped in part by his ethos of male entitlement when it comes to sex, male-female domination, power and control. Those who are victimized can and should speak out, but at what price? How many of us in high-profile employment have the courage and strength to resist sexual advances and abusive behaviours and face the consequences in loss of jobs, work, advancement possibilities, and worse?

Sexual abuse can be even more pervasive among low-wage earners, so easy to overpower and dominate, such as in the hotel, restaurant, and other service industries. Their jobs are precarious and the risks of fighting back are even greater. That is why union protection and formal guarantees of working conditions spelled out in contracts, with complaint procedures enunciated, are so important in combatting workplace abuse.

In senior residences, long-term care facilities, and homes for those who have physical and mental incapacities, there is a pressing need for continued and sustained vigilance by senior staff.

But the essential point as the year comes to a close, is that all of us need to be aware of our surrounding environment and human frailty. We all have to question not only our own actions, but aware of how those around us can be and are being victimized, and how we must demand for all our institutions, private and public, the highest level of respect for human integrity. The evil of sexual assault and abuse must become a battleground for all of us, in the workplace, in institutions, in bars and restaurants, in our neighbourhoods, and at home. We all need to join that battle.

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