Les and Sex

Leslie (“Les”) Moonves is Chairman of the Board of CBS Corporation. He is President of CBS Corporation. And he is the Chief Executive Officer of CBS Corporation. For his efforts he is paid $69.3 million a year.

By most measures Moonves has been an extraordinarily successful leader. He has been according to one observer, a rainmaker and a kingmaker, having transformed CBS television from last place to most watched, and having made for his employer fistfuls and fistfuls and fistfuls of money.

Les Moonves has also been accused, recently, in an article in The New Yorker written by Ronan Farrow, of sexual misconduct. Though the article is not gospel, it was carefully vetted and thoroughly documented. Six women testified that Moonves had sexually harassed them, and then retaliated when they rebuffed him. Another thirty current and former CBS employees described a workplace environment characterized by harassment and discrimination. As Bryce Covert summarized it, CBS was a place where “abusers were promoted, not investigated.”

Moonves responded to the charges with a statement saying that on his watch CBS had “promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees.” He did admit however that “there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances.” And he did go on to apologize. “These were mistakes and I regret them immensely.” But Moonves went on vehemently to deny that he had ever retaliated for rejection. “I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.” Which of course flies in the face of what is alleged by those who claim to be his victims.

Meantime CBS’s Board opted to give Moonves a pass, at least for now. During a meeting held shortly after the publication of Farrow’s article, the Board decided that Moonves should be investigated – but left in place. So, in spite of the publicly prominent and well-documented charges against him, Moonves remains for the time being king of all he surveys.

Moonves is only the most recent prominent example of leadership and sex twinned and tangled. To believe otherwise is to believe that the entirety of Farrow’s article was fabricated, and that Moonves himself manufactured his “mistakes.” Not bloody likely. Doubtless there was misconduct, though the quality and quantity thereof, remains unclear.

What remains equally unclear is why men in positions of power – leaders – use sex as a means of control. They do not need forced physicality to satisfy their sexual appetites. Power, is, after all, “the ultimate aphrodisiac.” It grants men easy access to sex whatever their faults,  foibles, and failings. There is no need then for men with power to sexually harass or assault women – no need if what they are after is, simply, sex. Which seems to mean that what they need, or at any rate want, is other than sex. Which seems to mean what they need, or at any rate want, is to dominate. Which seems to mean that what they need, or at any rate want, is to dominate not only in the workplace but everyplace else.

Manifestly not every leader is so afflicted. But many are. As most of us have come to know, based only on our own personal and professional experience,  the desire to dominate is more perversive and pervasive than we like to think. The desire to dominate takes different forms. And the desire to dominate is not confined to people with a penis.

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