The movement has turned women into weaklings and men into monsters.
This month marks the second anniversary of #MeToo, a movement that began with accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein but rapidly morphed into a global phenomenon that has swept through every aspect of society. It has touched politics – from nominations to the US Supreme Court to members of the Welsh Assembly. And it has cast a shadow over film, theatre, journalism, academia, the law, medicine and – just last week – opera . It has encompassed allegations from the criminal to the trivial. But to what end? The #MeToo movement is long overdue a public reckoning. As a starting point, here are five things #MeToo has taught us.
Women are weak
Forget apocryphal stories of powerful women slowly stubbing cigarettes out on the back of groping male hands, twisting a carefully positioned stiletto heel in the middle of a lecherous man’s foot or administering a well-timed slap on the face. No, according to the leading proponents of the #MeToo movement, the correct response to wandering hands and unwanted advances is for women to smile passively and do nothing at all. Until, that is, a full 20 years later when they can safely describe the true extent of their trauma from a national newspaper column. #MeToo has told a generation of young women that nothing is too trivial to be reported to the authorities or broadcast to the world. A male colleague winks at you? Report it to your manager. Whistled at in the street? That’s a matter for the police.
Middle-class women are more deserving of sympathy than working-class girls
We have heard an awful lot about journalists’ knees over the past two years. Or, in the case of Charlotte Edwardes, her thighs. In fact, we have heard far more about the plight of middle-class knees in posh London restaurants than we have about working-class girls in Rotherham, Huddersfield and Telford. These girls, many under the age of 16, were sexually abused and exploited by now-convicted Muslim men. Yet alleged knee-touching warrants more headlines, column inches and Twitter hashtags than actual criminal convictions. Perhaps northern girls just don’t make for such attractive victims. Or perhaps Muslim men are ‘problematic’ perpetrators. If you really want your #MeToo story to garner sympathy, you need to point the finger at a politician. Even better, go for Boris Johnson or Donald Trump.
Redemption is overrated
How long do we need to wait before it is acceptable to laugh at Louis CK’s jokes again? The ‘disgraced’ comedian has been performing in Canada this week and journalists have been horrified to report that people queued to get in to see him and actually laughed at his show and then clapped at the end. Of course, the only explanation is that the audience was mostly white males. This notwithstanding, #MeToo teaches us there can be no forgiveness, still less redemption, for those accused of sexual misdemeanours. Apologies; loss of work, family, friends and livelihood; time spent in prison — nothing whatsoever can undo an error once made. By the same token, the old-fashioned concept of innocent until proven guilty has been tried and found wanting. Take Harvey Weinstein. The man has been found so obviously guilty in the eyes of the #MeToo movement that there seems little point going through the performance of an actual trial. As Harvard students argued, there’s certainly no need for him to have a lawyer acting in his defence.
Harassment is in the eye of the beholder
#MeToo began with serious accusations of rape. But as it cast its net ever-wider, the crimes became, well, less serious. Joe Biden kissed the top of a woman’s head. Morgan Freeman apparently touched a young woman’s back. Aziz Ansari reportedly poured his date a glass of red wine when, unknown to him, she really fancied white wine instead. This is, at the very worst, bad manners. But #MeToo teaches us that there is no objective definition of sexual harassment. If certain behaviour is unwanted and perceived by a woman to be sexual harassment, then it is sexual harassment. Context, intent, even a man’s actions count for nothing compared to a woman’s feelings.
Deplorables: Trump, Brexit and the Demonised Masses
The future is segregated
#MeToo teaches us, above all else, that all interactions between men and women are potentially problematic. In universities, students are taught that physical contact with another person requires explicit permission. Lecturers are advised to leave the office door open during tutorials to guard against false accusations. Codes of conduct proscribe relationships between staff and students. Many happy marriages may have begun with flirting in the office but now the human-resources department is likely to have just the policy necessary to nip any romance in the bud. Post-#MeToo, a majority of male bosses report feeling uncomfortable mentoring junior female colleagues. Way to go, feminism – a victory for women!
Two years on from the start of #MeToo and we are still waiting for Weinstein to face trial. His public downfall could have taught women to be more assertive and less naive. The powerful social-media community that sprang up could have shown women that they do not need to put up with sexual harassment and there will be people to support them when they stand up for themselves. Instead, right from the start, #MeToo became a celebration of female fragility. It’s time for it to be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. Her most recent book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.
Picture by: Getty.