Liberals have clucked their tongues at Judge Roy Moore, the “family values” conservative now dodging accusations of sexual contact with a minor. But Moore’s not a hypocrite; he’s an exemplar of the morality he preaches.
Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, has been accused of making unwanted sexual advances on three teenage girls in 1979 when he was a single man in his thirties. Two of the girls were of legal age, 16, but one was 14. She says he drove her home, took off her shirt, touched her bra and underwear, and guided her hand to his pants.
Moore has denied the incident with the 14-year-old, but has not denied dating teenagers when he was a thirty-something district attorney – “always with the permission of their parents,” he said.
While Moore has blamed the eruption of the scandal on Democrats, in fact it’s Republicans who would most like to see it bring him down. Some of this, of course, is because Moore is an anti-democratic theocrat who tarnishes the entire Republican brand with unreconstructed homophobia and contempt for the rule of law. Democrats would benefit if he actually stays in the race.
But a big reason conservatives are running from Moore is to make him into a scapegoat, which is why he has so often been described not as someone accused of statutory rape but with terms like rape, pedophile, sexual predator and child molester.
On Sunday, for example, Marc Short, the White House Director of Legislative Affairs, told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that “there’s a special place in hell” for pedophiles like Roy Moore. “There’s no Senate seat more important than the issue of child pedophilia,” he said.
But wait a minute. Whatever he did with that fourteen-year-old was reprehensible (if he did it) and grounds for disqualification from holding public office. But why the hyperbolic language of pedophilia and molestation?
Because that language turns Moore into a deviant scapegoat, and thus preserve the integrity of a system that is, itself, shot through with deep problems of power, sexism, and privilege.
For example, Moore’s brand of Christianity teaches that women must obey their husbands, that occasional corporal punishment of wives by their husbands is a good idea, that men are designed to have primacy over women by the decree of the Creator. It’s a worldview saturated with male power and privilege.
Indeed, Moore’s own defense is that courting a sixteen-year-old with her parent’s consent is perfectly acceptable – no word on what the girl thinks, or what she might be pressured into by her parents, or how she relates to a man twice her age who is a local prosecutor and military vet.
There’s no contradiction between Moore’s conduct and denying parental custody to a lesbian because, he ruled, “homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it.” They are two sides of the same patriarchal coin.
Of course, most conservative Christians don’t date sixteen-year-olds. But notice how many Alabama Republicans have defended Moore’s admitted liaisons, while denying his contested one.
Moore’s not a rotten apple; he’s the fruit of a rotten system.
Nor is this simply a conservative problem. As many women in the entertainment and news industries have said, Harvey Weinstein is not the exception; he’s the rule. Ours is a world in which 61% of female undergraduates report being sexually harassed, and 26% report experiencing sexual contact as a result of physical force or incapacitation, according to a 2015 report by the Association of American Universities. Just multiply that out for a second.
No wonder the #metoo campaign has spread so widely; the crisis is omnipresent. It’s convenient to throw stones at people like Moore and Weinstein, to call them deviants. But if they’re deviants, so are between a quarter and half of all men.
Which is the point. As long as we call individual offenders psychotic or deviant or criminal or whatever, we’re all discharged from looking at the systemic sexism and misogyny that is the default rule in both liberal and conservative cultures.
In an incisive analysis of the 2013 Steubenville rape case, critic JoAnn Wypijewski wrote that “straight culture teaches its children that sex is either of the jungle or the picket fence.” (I learned of this essay from an equally brilliant blog post by the queer theorist Lisa Duggan.) That is, sex is either wholesome, legal, and good – or, in the case of criminal deviants, the worst kind of disorder in the world. (This view, I would add, is not recent; it’s embedded in the Biblical understandings of right and wrong sexuality.)
Wypijewski notes that if those frat boys in Steubenville got some girls drunk, leveraged their social status and gender privilege to exert power, and maybe sort of kind of exploited women, well, boys will be boys. If they “crossed the line,” now they’re evil and the rest of us are good. They’re exceptions and we aren’t.
Except none of that is true. It’s easy to pretend that Moore and his ilk are deviants, aberrations from our societal norms. In fact, they are examples of them.