Pepè Le Pew or Hugh Hefner? Who’s The Real Villain?
A cartoon skunk is now the face of the rape culture. Pepè Le Pew, the lovestruck, clueless, ostensibly French, romancing skunk has found himself in the crosshairs of New York Times columnist, Charles Blow. In a recent column, he said that the besotted skunk normalized the sordid culture of rape. In an otherwise thoughtful piece on how children experience racism, Mr. Blow’s toss-away condemnation of a cartoon skunk garnered him the most attention. In response to the outcry, he doubled-down. Unfortunately, blaming a cartoon character for the rape culture minimizes both the suffering of rape victims and the deepest roots of the problem.
A better cultural icon to cancel would be someone like Hugh Hefner. And the deep root of the rape culture problem is the Sexual Revolution itself.
Pepè Le Pew Normalized Rape Culture?
Mr. Blow defended himself on Twitter, expounding on the enamored pole-cat’s sexual misconduct. “1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o consent and against her will. 2. She struggles mightily to get away from him, but he won’t release her. 3. He locks a door to prevent her from escaping.”
Perhaps Charles Blow should re-watch those old Pepè Le Pew episodes (if they’re not canceled yet). He might see that Pepè is presented as someone the other characters avoid. He’d also see that even Pepè Le Pew doesn’t like when the tables are turned. The obvious comedy of the situation might be too nuanced for a grown up to get. But kids understand intuitively that the seductive skunk is not a role model, but a laughable character, whose antics should not be replicated.
Let’s Start With Hugh Hefner
If we are going to retroactively cancel cultural icons because of their encouragement of rape culture, let’s start with Hugh Hefner. Reflecting on his work in an interview in 2010 he said, “The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects.”
Printing a magazine that taught millions of boys that women are merely objects for sex does far more harm than a clueless skunk amorously chasing a cat. Hugh Hefner did incalculable harm to those millions of boys accidentally exposed to porn at a young age through his magazines.
Pornography and Sexual Violence
Pornography, though doesn’t merely degrade women in the eyes of the consumer. Pornography also tends to be an escalating behavior. Fight The New Drug (an anti-pornography website) puts it this way, “Because of porn’s addictive nature, porn consumers usually need an ever-increasing dosage over time in order to feel the same level of enjoyment. They often have to seek out more extreme and hard-core forms of porn.” For too many consumers, this more extreme and hard-core porn includes violence.
Dr. John Foubert, a leading expert on sexual violence, examined the link between pornography and sexual violence in a recent article. He found: “That 95% of the time when someone is violent with another person in porn, usually a man toward a woman, the recipient is shown as either liking that violence or having no objection…Pornography teaches boys to hit girls and shows girls that they should like it.”
In addition, Mr. Blow’s colleague at The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, wrote a blockbuster report on how Pornhub profits from sexual violence. Kristof’s article featured the terrible story of a woman, now 23, who was adopted from China. Her adoptive parents forced her to appear in violent pornographic videos uploaded to Pornhub, from the time she was 9 years old.
The same report from The New York Times quotes the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s statistics on how the exploitative content of minors has exploded. In the space of four years (2015 to 2019) there was a shocking 964% increase, going from 6.5 million reported exploitative images, to 69.2 million reported such images and videos. In the face of this type of data, it’s hard to blame the rape culture on a cartoon skunk kissing a painted cat.
The Pervasive Ideology of the Sexual Revolution
But underlying all of the rape culture is the pervasive ideology of the Sexual Revolution. The core tenant of the Sexual Revolution is that everyone deserves to have sex all the time with no consequences anywhere: sex is an entitlement. This ideology permeates society. Even Nicholas Kristof in his fine expose, couldn’t help but opine that “It should be possible to be sex positive and Pornhub negative.”
We’re not so sure. Writing in the National Catholic Register, one of us challenged the Sexual Revolutionary view. Evidently Kristof and Blow both accept the idea that lack of consent is the only possible basis for judging a sexual encounter as immoral. We think this places more weight on “consent” than it can bear.
The #MeToo movement bears this out. So do the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, or former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. While these three men operated in different sectors of society, they all operated according to the tenets of the Sexual Revolution. Weinstein promised his victims stardom through his wealth and influence. Epstein offered his victims the possibility of modeling careers. McCarrick gave advancement in the Catholic Clergy to his victims.
The power of these men enabled them to silence their victims and create a system of compromised individuals who helped enable the victimizers. Their heinous acts are really little different from the back-alley rapist, the sadomasochistic pornography producer, or the child sex abuser. All these predators embrace the idea that they are entitled to sex. Other people are objects for them to use in what is no more than a physical act.
Canceling a Skunk is a Cheap Shot
Focusing on a cartoon character, when the porn industry makes billions, is a cheap shot. The porn industry might actually fight back. Canceling a skunk when a cad like Hefner gets a pass, is unconscionable. The Ruth Institute stands by the ancient Catholic teaching that no one is entitled to sex. The only way to combat the rape culture is to diagnose it accurately, recognize where it comes from, and speak for the victims.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. and Matthew Maddox are President and Social Media Manager respectively of The Ruth Institute, which is an interfaith international coalition to defend the family.