All participated in some way in nurturing a triumphant masculinity that includes sexual power linked to economic power and social power: by omission, to say nothing, by turning a blind eye, by looking the other way, but also actively.
When the accusations of sexual harassment against Plácido Domingo jumped a few months ago, he defended himself in these terms “The rules and values by which we measure ourselves today, and we must measure ourselves, are very different from how they were in the past.” These statements, which gave many of us the creeps, points to an important question: the difference between ethics and morals. Ethics includes what you consider to be right and wrong, while morality points to what is allowed and what is not allowed. It is a set of social norms that, indeed, change with time and context.
AN ETHICAL OR MORAL ISSUE?
What the tenor was saying with these statements is that he adhered to the norms of the moment, the norms that he knew, because possibly the norms of the harassed were different, and he did not worry about anything else. What we reproach him for is that there was no ethics behind those norms that set him off alarms regarding his conduct, regardless of whether there were norms that fed it as correct.
But if there had been an ethic behind the conduct of Plácido Domingo, his explanations would have been different. Maybe just as creepy, but he would have told us why he did it beyond referring to social norms.
The series “The morning show” deals with the issue of sexual harassment at work from this perspective. The complaint leaps towards a television star in the times of me too and everyone screams in the sky when they discover that under that well-known character there was a sexual predator. But we are seeing through the chapters that the whole environment fed that behavior.
By omission, to say nothing, to turn a blind eye, to look the other way, but also actively, nurturing that triumphant masculinity that includes sexual power linked to economic power and social power.
An ethic that would attend to the damage it did to the harassed people, that would commit itself to the consequences of its own actions regardless of whether it was going to be socially sanctioned for it. And in that sanction, we cannot forget the position of power of some characters, which makes the sanction even more difficult, and of which they take full advantage. All this was already explained by Hannah Arendt when she spoke of the banality of evil. In the trial against the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, in charge of the deportation of Jewish people from Hungary to the death camps, all the press pointed to the character’s evil. Only Hannah Arendt pointed to ethics and morals. Eichman was a moralist, a legalist, without any ethics. He was just obeying orders. He was a good citizen, in his most dangerous form: that of uncritical obedience.
In the society we inhabit, which feeds us social success as the only horizon, which promotes “winning”, thus, in the abstract, as a synonym of happiness, of fulfillment, and where our own desire is understood as a form of our essence. and we, personal ethics can be very against the prevailing morality.
Maybe not directly (that too) but yes through a lot of attributes that are required of men to be socially successful. Competitiveness, hence the sportsmen are demigods, the cocky, hence the character of the bad boy stars in so many movies and stars in positive and, of course, the conquest of women as another attribute of conquest, of winning. And that generates a very low resistance to frustration, a very little acceptance of not being able to do everything, of not reaching everything, that there are desires that cannot be fulfilled and that it is okay if they are not fulfilled. Including, of course, the desire for other people.
HOW CAN WE ALL FIGHT BULLYING?
The center of the question is the subject who assumes that role. But the rest of society is not exempt from responsibility. And that’s good news, because it means that we are also part of the solution. On the one hand, we can move the rules of conduct. Not just on the surface, pointing out that sexual harassment in particular is unacceptable.
Also looking at the problem as a whole and understanding that this masculinity cannot be fed anymore. You can’t clap anymore. You cannot wish for more. Likewise, putting the focus on that difference between ethics and morals, and giving space to a critical construction of the ethics of care that does not derive in norms that we can follow without paying attention to anything else.
But we also need a reflection on success and its attributes. I have already written about the ethical values that we unconsciously attribute to standardized physical beauty. That is to say, when someone has a body in accordance with the beauty canons of the moment, something inside us attributes a certain “goodness” to it.
The bad guy in the movie is always handsome. That is why he has a girl in love who will act as a mother to him and will bring out what is good about him deep down. If the bad guy is ugly (socially ugly) you already know that the plot will go the other way. It will be evil incarnate, with nothing to rescue. And be careful, because this “ugliness” often has racist, class and empowering forms. The bad guy as a madman, the bad guy as a tramp, the bad guy as a black man or a gypsy, to give unfortunately typical examples.
In the same way, we attribute some forms of “goodness” to social success, and I use this word that I do not like very much to point to someone harmless, someone who does not harm, who does not intentionally harm. Someone with whom we can lower our defenses and trust that we are in good hands. Placido Domingo is someone who sings well, and who has had the financial resources to cultivate that quality.
No more no less. Everything else is a mirage of your social success. Being scandalized because he did not have an ethical conduct beyond the morality of triumphant masculinity is part of that mirage. This does not excuse him at all, but it should put our eyes and our confidence on guard.
The other side of the coin is the risk that we run of assuming a lack of ethics to those people who do not have social, labor, or economic success. The stigmatization of the popular classes and the fear of the poor, when rich people are more dangerous because they have the means to specify, in case of evil, their evil.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN INTERESTED IN THIS TOPIC.
Stand Up is a training program designed to help prevent street harassment and build safe and inclusive spaces for all, promoted by L’Oréal Paris in collaboration with the NGO Hollaback!