Let's be clear about this from the start: The underlying reason that so many men have rushed to the defense of film director Roman Polanski now that he's fighting extradition on former rape charges is misogyny -- the hatred of women, or at least a hearty indifference to them.
It's not about how much time has passed since he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl in 1978, and it's not about what a great film director he is. It's not about the libertarian French and moralistic Americans. It's about how little women and girls really matter in most societies.
If females mattered more there wouldn't be over a half million of them dying of preventable causes related to childbearing in the developing world despite 20 years of Safe Motherhood rhetoric. Sexual slavery, rape as a weapon of war, dowry deaths and other gender-based atrocities wouldn't be flourishing. There wouldn't be a Clothesline Project commemorating women who've died of sexual violence. Health insurance companies in this country wouldn't be denying women diagnostic procedures for early cancer detection nor would they make them have drive-through mastectomies. David Letterman, John Edwards, and a host of others of that ilk wouldn't be sleeping with a slew of women because they're powerful men and sex is fun. Bill Maher would stop using words like "p*ssy" and "t*tty bars." (I swear if he doesn't stop it, I'm going to commit a crime.)
I once served on a jury in a stalking case. The evidence against the defendant was so compelling I thought we'd convict him in 15 minutes. But it took six hours of deliberation, and a lot of education from three women on the jury, to convince the male jurists that the victim was not being provocative and that she had clearly indicated she was terrified of her stalker. It's amazing to me how long it takes for men to get it. And how little they care when they do.
Which brings us back to Polanski. I listened to Bernard-Henri Levy, a French intellectual, when he tried to defend his fraternity brother on NPR recently. He was interesting and provocative -- and totally removed from the reality of what occurred 30 years ago. Levy described Polanski's crime as "a youthful error," even though Mr. Polanski was in his 40's at the time of the rape.
The American producer Harvey Weinstein has referred to the rape as a "so-called crime" and then had the chutzpah to claim that Hollywood has a great "moral compass."
Voices from abroad extolled Polanski's talent as if that had anything to do with rape. "A man of such talent," France's foreign minister clucked, "this just isn't nice." According to a piece in The New York Times, the president of the German Film Academy called for "solidarity among prominent people" -- in other words, for the Old Boys Network to circle the wagons.
History, ancient and modern, is rife with stories of men being exonerated for violence against women (while women who fight back end up in prison for life). All of the stories shine a bright light on the way that women are objectified and reveal how their pain is trivialized. Take, for example, the case of Louis Althusser, a French philosopher of note who killed his wife in 1980. He spent three years in a psychiatric hospital and then went about his business.
None of this explains why actresses like Tilda Swinton and Whoopi Goldberg, who said of Polanski's crime, "It wasn't a rape-rape," have come to Polanski's defense. Perhaps when you've made it into the big boys' inner circle, you start to think like them. It's been known to happen but it breaks my heart. These powerful women have access to the podium; if one of them had written an essay like this one, it might have made it into The New York Times, thus reaching a wider audience.
It remains to be seen what will happen in the Polanski case. Sadly, I think I can predict what will happen in the wider realm of violence against women: It will continue unabated, it will go largely unpunished, and it will be made fun of by comedians who really ought to know better.