‘Everything in the world is about sex. Except sex, which is about power’. The words of Oscar Wilde, spoken by Kevin Spacey, in the role of Frank Underwood.
Dramatic irony dictates that Spacey’s career now lies in ruin after a week of allegations have been made against him, ranging from intimidating behaviour to sexual assault. This followed more than 50 women making similar allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and a “sex scandal” emerging in Britain’s seat of parliamentary democracy, Westminster.
The abuse of power in all forms of life is immoral, and in the western constitutional tradition, illegal too. Rightly, these scandals are now being hailed as a turning point in gender relations. The correct outcome would be that all establishments hereon will implement codes of conduct that explicitly outline unacceptable behaviour, against men and women, and the penalties for it.
But reform alone will not alter human nature, which is almost impossible to regulate. Just look at the Catholic Church, which for centuries believed that it had successfully constrained mankind’s primal needs through a strict regulatory framework which outlawed sex outside of wedlock and homosexuality. Neither of these behaviours were or have been prevented. Meanwhile, many of its own priests have been exposed as child-abusers.
Unlike authority, which is accountable, revocable and legally conferred, power rests solely on physical force alone. This is why, as the saying goes, it is “a man’s world”. Castration aside, there may be no other way of altering this.
What can be enforced are right and wrong, and the boundaries between men and women. This should start in childhood, at home. Unsurprisingly, Kevin Spacey had a skewed idea of what this was because his father was both abusive and addicted to pornography. Given such cases, employers and legislators must also take all of the necessary steps to penalise the abuse of power.
The fact remains however that if we need to talk about Kevin, then we also need to talk about human nature too.