Sex, Lies and Power

A sordid world of exploitation

He was the favorite in the 1988 Democratic primary. According to observers, he would win comfortably, until the spring of 1987, when the media began looking into his suspected affairs. The candidate denied the allegations, which he described as a dirty Republican strategy, and challenged the press to “Follow me around.”

That’s exactly what they did. The photo of the candidate with his lover quickly made the headlines of all publications, from tabloids to well-respected newspapers. This was the story of Gary Hart, the protagonist of a historic event, a milestone that marked the entrance of private life into political life. Hart withdrew his candidacy a few days later.

A historic event, only because nobody was concerned about the Kennedys’ peccadillos back in the 1960s. But starting in the 1980s, the Republican Party’s strategy consisted of cultivating the support of religious institutions in the Deep South and enshrining their power within the party’s internal structure. Once religious fundamentalism was able to win elections, the moral integrity of a candidate had to be measured by religious standards.

The separation between church and state became weaker. It was the end of privacy even before the age of the internet. Curiously, traditional American Puritanism took on a certain perverseness through this new form of morality. Politicians’ bedrooms became a legitimate topic of public debate.

There were unintended consequences to this, however. According to some, it led to something positive: light being shed on gender dynamics in society in general. Fast forward to 2017, to the current flood of accusations of sexual harassment, abuse, aggression and crimes. Paradoxically, the end of privacy allowed a sordid world of exploitation to be uncovered. The women knew it; now they’re speaking out.

It’s a true epidemic, and not just in politics. It involves celebrities and minors; the worst crime of all is the abuse of minors. It happens in many places, including the workplace, in Hollywood, on TV, in the Alabama judiciary system and on the women’s Olympic gymnastics team, where hundreds of girls were exposed to abuse over the past 20 years, abuse that the gymnastics association itself covered up, as the victims testified.

So arose #MeToo, the social movement that encourages women to speak out. The Spanish equivalent, #YoTambién, is spreading across the Spanish-speaking world and joining #NiUnaMenos (Not One More) in those countries where the killing of women happens all too often.

What’s shockingly common is that all these stories involve a power relationship. That is, sex becomes a kind of currency in a relationship based on domination. Those who abuse do so because they can; in other words, because it establishes relationships that are by definition unequal, in which the powerless lack the institutional resources to defend themselves. It’s exploitation, pure and simple, underscored by the threat of unemployment and humiliation, not to mention physical damage.

The inequality, then, is a fundamental part of the exploitation. And so, as long as it continues, it will be difficult to stop the abuse. The main thesis of feminism is at stake: the oh-so-radical idea that men and women are equal, with the same rights. An idea that seems less radical if one considers that they’ve had the same obligations for a long time.

It’s about equality in several areas. Social rights and equal pay for equal work. Civil rights, marital property rights and reproductive rights. Cultural rights, those which are defined by the perspective of the actor, the woman. And above all, political rights; that is, quotas and representation; sharing power, tying it to womanhood, and making laws accordingly. These are the institutional means of fighting against this kind of exploitation.

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