Sex and power: How an old relationship is changing—Anita Hill to Harvey Weinstein

Sex Therapist, Author, and Podcast Host
December 21, 2017

In 1991, U.S. attorney Anita Hill testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment, and nevertheless, the United States Senate confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court. In 2017, after many women broke the silence on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein with a horrifying number of allegations of sexual abuse, Weinstein was fired from his own company. Actor Kevin Spacey was fired from various productions after allegations of his transgressions surfaced. The same for comedian Louis C.K. And so on and so on in this monumental landslide. So what's changed between 1991 and 2017? Why are institutions no longer protecting accused abusers? Psychotherapist Esther Perel believes it's not the accused who have changed over time—they are not worse today or more prevalent than they were then—but rather it's the accuser who has changed. In the past women did not speak out against sexual abuse because of the fear that they would not be believed. It was "part of the deal" of life as a woman, says Perel. Women today, however, finally have enough social power to withstand the forces of denial. "And so the system, for the first time, has to reckon and has to act with consequence to the allegations that are being made," says Perel. The old dynamic between men and women is shifting, and there is rising proof that women will no longer tolerate having to ignore or manage sexually violent or unwarranted interactions. So where do we go from here? Perel champions increased understanding between men and women, rather than demonization, and recommends a shift in gender socialization that begins in childhood—meaning no more pink for girls and blue for boys. No more divisive constructs that make men and women feel as though they are from different planets. Esther Perel is the author of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. See more at