The Unexceptional Jeffrey Epstein
The gap between Epstein and ‘normal’ men who see women’s bodies as their reward isn’t nearly as wide as we like to think
I recently wrote a novel about the impact of childhood sexual abuse. Earlier this week, an interviewer asked me why I don’t call it a novel about “pedophilia.” He also asked why I don’t like to call myself a “victim.” I’ve considered those questions a lot since the Jeffrey Epstein story broke (again) last week.
I keep wanting to call him Jeffrey Dahmer, don’t you? But although this latest monster’s behavior is indeed monstrous, it is not simply the foul act of an individual pedophile (a specific sort of creep we have long considered unspeakably vile) or even a disease of the plutocracy (another easily dismissed evil — how many of us are plutocrats?) What Epstein did, for years, was, by definition, normal — happening everywhere, all the time, in one form or another. Unremarkable. Tolerated.
That is why I have never felt comfortable calling myself a victim — the molestation, groping, humiliation, and friendly rape that I have experienced were not isolated incidents and have never felt like individual crimes to me, for that reason. They are just versions of what every woman experiences — this was the whole point of #MeToo, remember? I’m not saying there are no individual crimes or victims. On the contrary, they are everywhere. What I’m saying is that these acts are also part of a cultural fabric that even I, myself, am implicated in, as are you, dear reader.
Wake up: This is so much more than one man’s wealth or one man’s kink.
One of the things I wanted to look at in my novel, The Question Authority, was the effect of a sexual criminal on the members of his immediate family: his wife, children, parents. I had learned, in midlife, about a disturbing sexual behavior practiced by a member of my own family and that experience had upended me. We are certainly not “those” kind of people; my ancestors were mostly educators — Quakers, even: modest, thoughtful, hardworking. Except that apparently we are. My relative didn’t invent his behaviors from scratch; he learned them from the same world I grew up in — a world where misogyny…