Recently watching Alexis Bloom’s excellent 2018 documentary about Roger Ailes—Divide and Conquer—with my wife, Laurie, I wondered aloud what possible fulfillment he could have derived from such flatly transactional sex with his female subordinates.
“The sex isn’t about pleasure,” Laurie said. “It’s about humiliation.”
Ailes was a hemophiliac. His mother carried a gene for the disease, and he had an extraordinarily cold, aphysical relationship with her. She blamed herself; so did he. (Not so incidentally, Trump had an extremely distant relationship with his mother, who emotionally detached from the family after nearly dying when giving birth to Trump’s younger brother, Robert.)
Even in his early days as a producer for The Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia in the late 1960s, Ailes was accused of demanding sexual favors from female guests: “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.”
Hemophilia is a blood disease. A hemophiliac’s blood doesn’t clot, which makes it hard to staunch and which also means a hemophiliac’s slightest cut is potentially life-threatening. It’s nearly impossible to avoid concluding that, given his extreme vulnerability, Ailes constructed a mask of inviolable strength.
This—in my experience, observation, and opinion—is what men do. They’re wounded, and they turn their wound into a weapon. There are, as the sex columnist Dan Savage says in a recent podcast, a multitude of ways to understand what, for instance, Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK did to women, but a crucial aspect of the underlying motivation is clearly (if indirectly) self-abasement.
In Observing the Erotic Imagination, Robert Stoller writes, “The major traumas and frustrations of early life are reproduced in the fantasies and behaviors that make up adult eroticism, but the story now ends happily. This time, we win. In other words, the adult erotic behavior contains the early trauma. The two fit: the details of the adult script tell what happened to the child.”
The BTK killer wore a child’s Halloween mask when committing his sex crimes. The Green River killer wet his bed until he was thirteen; his mother washed his genitals every time he erred. He had conflicting feelings of attraction and anger toward her and fantasized about killing her. Charles Manson’s mother reportedly attempted to sell him for a pitcher of beer to a woman seeking to adopt a child. Ted Bundy may have been the product of incest between his grandfather and his grandfather’s daughter; Bundy was confused as to whether his mother was his mother or his sister. According to the FBI profile of serial rapists, they aren’t just punishing many women; inevitably, they’re punishing one woman.
. . . Alfred Hitchcock’s transformation of his imperial mother into “ice-cold blonde” villains . . . Anthony Weiner, mocked his entire life for his last name, making sure that he’s remembered forever for brandishing his last name . . . Louis CK masturbating in front of young female comedians beholden to him for their career advancement . . . At his Long Island estate, Charlie Rose telling an unpaid intern to unclog a toilet teeming with feces . . . Roy Moore’s violation of very young girls with hard-edged pouts. . .
As Laura Kipnis, discussing Dorothy Dinnerstein’s 1976 book, The Mermaid and the Minotaur, writes, “The problem for men is that they had mothers. Having once been children, at a time when women controlled their bodies in humiliating and disempowering ways, men seek to turn the situation around in adulthood. Mother-dominated child-rearing, thought Dinnerstein, is the reason behind men’s loathing of women and everything culturally inscribed as female. Both men and women remain semi-human and monstrous under such arrangements, and this is both our social situation and our personal tragedy: men can’t give up ruling the world until women cease to have a monopoly on ruling childhood.”
Where does this leave us—awaiting the utopian era when men are as fully engaged in child-rearing as women are? Encouraging men to face how and why they project their own self-loathing onto an imaginary, demonized, feminized other? Demanding that all men who have Mommy issues enroll in therapy?
Men almost always “fancy” a “type,” and this type almost always has to do with their relationship to their mothers. This is messy, icky, primitive stuff, and it’s difficult to talk about without sounding simplifying and deterministic, but there is value, I believe, in men confronting the harsh truth that, as the Argentinean aphorist Antonio Porchia says, “Man is weak, and when he makes strength his profession, he is weaker,” and there is further value in women knowing and acting on the knowledge that the harasser/bully/abuser/predator is almost always a mewling baby in drag.