Let us briefly consider the concepts of rights, privilege, and responsibility, and how they relate to one another. To make things more interesting, let’s discuss these notions in the context of a man making extremely unsavory comments about reproductive rights and gender equality.
Director Roman Polanski has taken a break from making films to remind us that these three social phenomena are inextricably intertwined. For his part, Polanski has demonstrated that all rights are not doled out equally. He has shown, both in his past history and his behavior as of late, that persons of privilege, social, economic and otherwise, may have greater access to certain freedoms than less fortunate individuals. And he has made a fine example of what happens when rights are wielded recklessly, with a complete and utter lack of responsibility.
Polanski, who admittedly had unlawful sex with a teenager and subsequently fled the country decades ago, traveled to Cannes over the weekend to premiere his new movie, Venus in Fur. The film stars his wife and deals extensively with sexuality and gender. In promoting the film, Polanski has found an ideal platform to further voice his views on these matters, and that he did. At a press conference he thought it was worth mentioning that birth control "masculinizes" women and “chases away the romance.” Oh, and gender equality, that’s “purely idiotic.”
Although his victim had asked for the charges to be dropped, Polanski has never shed the scorn of his actions, and rightfully so. Rape, and moreover the way it is treated in the media, is an enormous issue in this country, and the fact that he was able to hide from the repercussions of his crimes for so long demonstrates the extent to which social privilege distorts the realities of consequence. And that is why so many people are justifiably appalled by these comments. Shouldn’t a man who committed such a public crime know better than to make such offensive and, for lack of a better word, stupid comments? On the other hand, Polanski has the same rights as the rest of us to make incredibly uninformed statements, doesn’t he? And that, my friends, is where the role of responsibility comes into play.
Clearly, Polanski has a tenuous grasp on the concept of responsibility. But the thing is, in our own morbidly curious way, we’ve welcomed his sexist comments as an opportunity to criticize such sentiments. So the real question worth examining is, is that a bad thing? If people like Polanski weren’t saying heinously absurd things about women, would subtler, less insidious forms of sexism slip through the cracks of our critical brains? For many of us the answer is no. But I bet some people did need a reminder of the real attitudes that underpin gender inequality. So thank you, Mr. Polanski, for brazenly broadcasting your opinions. It was a welcome reminder that gender discrimination comes in many forms.