For many years Harvey Weinstein has been, with his brother, one of the top producers of successful films across the world. He has won a host of awards including an Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love”. He has worked to bring little-known Indi films to public attention as well as a list as long as your arm of good works including fundraising for causes as diverse as Amnesty International and research into MS and juvenile diabetes.
Since the 5th October 2017 when Jodie Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story of Weinstein’s behaviour in The New York Times, his name has become Mudd Allegations of his sexual predation, abuse and alleged rape of young women in the film industry have abounded. His accusers are diverse, many and by his own admission he is seeking “treatment” so there must be some truth out there.
No doubt he was not the first film executive to have behaved so, hopefully though he will be the last. Those who are making public comment on the scandal attribute the behaviour to power. But is there another factor here. Are men like Weinstein also narcissists?
What is the Link between Sexual Predation and Narcissism?
An alarming study in a feminist journal suggested that up to 20% of college men in a study of 234 male undergraduates in a US university had committed some kind of sexual assault and 4% of the same sample had raped someone. The study was trying to find if there was a link between types or degree of narcissism was linked to predatory sexual behaviour.
While healthy narcissistic regard (people who have a reasonable level of self-esteem) was negatively correlated with sexual assault, pathological narcissism was positively correlated with sexual predation and sexual violence. Emily Mouilso the lead author then developed a specific instrument to measure what she called “sexual narcissism”. She then conducted a second study with a larger sample of 378 found an even stronger correlation between sexual narcissism and predatory sexual acts.
So what is sexual narcissism?
Although they don’t use the terminology, in the book “Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators” the authors Katherine Ramsland and Patrick N. McGrain argue that the narcissist’s most prominent attitude is disdain and the use and dropping of people as they would a worn-out tissue. The second attribute is their role as a “stud” or “performer”. Nor do they feel any emotional connection or sympathy for their victims. Indeed, many consider they are doing the person a favour by noticing them and paying them attention.
Sexual predators too consider it their right to take what they want, be it a studio casting couch or an abduction and rape. The difference perhaps is only power and status and because they can. The mental attitude about power, control, disdain and discarding is probably the same. Ramsland and McGrain would probably argue (if they revised their book) that the difference between convicted sexual predators and Harvey Weinstein is power and the coerced silence of his victims.
What is the link to Teflon narcissism?
Teflon narcissism Is a form of criminal narcissism. A belief that nothing will stick to them. They see their power, reputation and may even be friends with those in the know and that even if they are found out, no action will be taken because they are too big. A further narcissistic trait on display in this behaviour is a belief that even if trouble did come they could charm their way out of it.
Look around Hollywood now and it seems to have been an open secret that Harvey Weinstein was coercing women. Indeed, at the 2013 Oscars. Seth Macfarlane had the job of announcing the five best actress nominees and he quipped:
“Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
Weinstein apparently operated as a sexual predator for years. Although he is not the first to have used the “casting couch” he is probably the first to have been caught, a symbol of the internet and social media age perhaps? But there were others with narcissistic tendencies. The case of Jimmy Savile, a former knight of the UK realm, DJ, TV host, buried with honours in 2011 and a patron of so many charities, was found to have been a serial sexual predator. The Teflon narcissism protected him to the grave.
It is estimated that he abused more than 500 vulnerable people including children and adults with physical and learning difficulties. He wore strange suits, was photographed with politicians and seemingly ruled the BBC. He believed he was invulnerable and he flaunted it. There have been many other celebrities who have tumbled in his wake. Similarly, the many cases of abuse in the Catholic church – men overwhelmed with their own power and invulnerability.
How can we use a knowledge of narcissism to help prevent sexual predation?
Whilst it is true that all sexual predators have an element of pathological narcissism, it is essential to point out that not all narcissists are sexual predators. Is it possible to use this knowledge proactively to prevent sexual exploitation?
Perhaps we need to pay attention to language and non-verbal behaviour because if you can’t see a narcissistic sexual predator by the way they look, perhaps you can hear them? How do they talk about their typical victim? What language do they use to describe a young woman/girl/boy? It is often easy to hide a behaviour but less so language. Even Freud noticed the slips in language we try to disguise. Similarly, how do they treat the space between them and another, is it respectful or designed to dominate?
Harvey Weinstein and his ilk may be narcissistic sexual predators but perhaps we as a society are to blame too for allowing it to continue. Narcissistic sexual predators don’t exist in a vacuum. We have a responsibility not to ignore the signs and to support their victims. Let there be no more excuses
- E. R. Mouilso, K. S. Calhoun (2015) Personality and Perpetration: Narcissism Among College Sexual Assault Perpetrators. Violence Against Women, 2015;
Katherine Ramsland & Patrick McGrain (2009) Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators pub: Preagar