#MeToo: Revolution or Revelation?

It began with the great feminist legal philosopher, Alyssa Milano, former child actress on “Who’s The Boss?” Following disclosures of the repulsive Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault, even rapes, by a few brave women, and subsequent confirmation by an array of female actresses who had been silent for years, even decades, while enjoying the benefits of stardom, it morphed by Chaos Theory into some version of all men are Harveys.

But how to prove it? Milano came up with the hashtag campaign, #metoo.

Heeding a call from actress Alyssa Milano, people have been tweeting ‘#MeToo’ in order to raise awareness about how many women have allegedly experienced sexual harassment. ‘It’s not just one monster’, Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote. ‘“Me too” reveals the ubiquity of sexual assault.’

As with all social-media trends, it’s hard to know what is true and what is exaggeration. #MeToo is particularly tricky to judge. Some have tweeted about actual experiences, ranging from being whistled at to being sexually assaulted. Others have simply said ‘me too’, leaving the rest to the imagination. Some have argued that they don’t need to say what happened to them, and insist that asking women to prove they were harassed is a kind of victim-blaming. One journalist tweeted: ‘Reminder that if a woman didn’t post #MeToo, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t sexually assaulted or harassed. Survivors don’t owe you their story.’

Did it serve to shame men? Did it serve to inform men how pervasive sexual harassment was in society? Did it prove that all men were Harveys, or at least, all women were victims?

There’s been an outpouring of #MeToo statuses on social media. Thousands of women are posting detailed testimonies of times when they were sexually harassed and assaulted.

As several women friends have noted, this outpouring has been met with a deafening silence by men.

How could this be? The “testimony” by the male ally Guardian writer, Tom Pessah, is instructive. In his shame, he gave up his story of the most horrific sexual assault he committed.

Once, when I was about 18, I had a good friend whom I was attracted to. One day she came round and was tired so she went to sleep on a mattress, and asked me to wake her up after half an hour. So I did. She slept on her back.

I could have touched her gently on her left-hand shoulder (closer to me) but I deliberately bent over and touched her on her right hand shoulder so that my elbow touched her chest. Of course this could have just been an “accident”, but it wasn’t. When she woke up she gave me a very strange look but didn’t say anything and I didn’t either, and we never talked about it. We stayed in contact for a few more years.

Granted, he’s a pig, but that’s it? Even Chuck Todd on Meet the Press got into the act. He asked all 21 female Senators to give “testimony” of their experience with sexual harassment. Four agreed: Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp and Mazie Hirono.

Taking for granted the truthfulness of their claims, despite nagging questions about Liz Warren (remember, this was a male academic, not a normal guy), it evokes questions rather than shame. Why didn’t Warren, who would be tough enough to be president, do nothing about it? Her career came first? So she made a choice that this attempted sexual assault was less important than her career. This smacks of a Weinstein moment, though not a brave one.

As to the other female senators, including the 17 who chose not to play #MeToo, their stories weren’t, how can this be said so as not to invoke shrieking, overwhelming. Everyone experiences possible unpleasantness in their lives. As that goes, this failed to make the cut of horrifying experiences. It was, well, quite trivial to anyone not otherwise inclined to feminist fantasy.

It’s time we clarified what sexual harassment really means. It’s not just the occasional offhand comment or unpleasant exchange. By labelling everything from shouts on the street to glances at the bar as sexual harassment, we denigrate the term. The panic about harassment and women’s safety is spinning out of control. Listening to some feminists, you’d be forgiven for thinking women are in danger every time they step into the street. And that we need more regulation and more law to protect women and control men. Cat-calling is now a hate crime in Nottinghamshire. Calling on the state to protect women from men smacks of a Victorian, patronising illiberalism.

It’s not particularly meaningful for someone to use the hashtag and demand that it be accepted as some amorphous horror because women don’t owe us their stories. No, they don’t, but then, they don’t get to demand men cry or self-flagellate over their unspoken horrors. Pessah described it as “detailed testimonies,” suggesting that use of every character Twitter allows constitutes “detailed” for the true believer. For the others, just believe the victim, even if you have no clue what the victim has to say, not to mention its veracity.

It’s time for some uncomfortable truths about the harassment panic. Feminists who peddle the idea that women are wallflowers – always at risk, requiring protection, and too damaged to talk seriously about the reality of our experience and therefore we need a caring Twitter leg-up – are doing a gross disservice to women.

Rape and sexual assault are crimes. Serious crimes. But that refers to actual rape and actual sexual assault, meaning conduct that violates law and not merely some vague post-hoc feeling or the dual-drunk dilemma that, only in the minds of the unduly woke, now constitutes some faux wrong. These words have meaning in law, and no meaning on social media. Using them contributes nothing to your argument, as we’re inundated with claims that fail miserably to bear out.

So did #MeToo do the trick? It got a response, but not the one that Alyssa Milano anticipated as she led the wave of social media slacktivism. The silence was deafening, but it did not mean what good ally Pessah felt it did. It meant that for all the gushing of emotion, there was no substance behind it. Silence is the sound of a shrug.

But feeding a moral panic that encourages women to feel more vulnerable, and which demonises men, is just destructive and wrong.

More to the point, if its purpose was to make men aware of the sexual suffering endured by women, it failed. If anything, it reinforced the belief that women are fragile, emotional and helpless. On the bright side, #NotAllWomen. Some prefer equality to fragility. #MeToo.

25 thoughts on “#MeToo: Revolution or Revelation?

    1. SHG Post author

      I suspect it never dawned on anyone that facts and definitions might actually matter when telling a sad story, if one felt compelled to tell the story at all and not just dare men to disbelieve them.

  1. Lee

    I wish “feminists” would just pick one description or the other: either women are the equals of men and capable of holding their own, or they are precious wallflowers who must be protected from the brutal males in their lives. Instead they want to have it both ways – act as independent actors but take no responsibility for the outcome. Bah. Humbug.

    1. phv3773

      I find that comment remarkably naive and ignorant. This blog has example after example of both men and women being bullied and abused because they were unable to “hold their own” in a particular situation.

      1. SHG Post author

        Are you comparing a hostile interaction with a police officer, armed and authorized to arrest if not kill, with the hearing of a suggestive joke that may or may not have vague sexual overtones?

        1. phv3773

          I’m suggesting that the trope of “holding one’s own” is bullshit, that both men and women can be wallflowers or bullies according to the situation, and that being strong and competent is not proof against abuse.

          1. SHG Post author

            So you’re dodging the issue entirely by conflating an unpleasant comment or, god forbid, stare rape with “abuse,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

      2. Lee

        Maybe I’m just a troglodyte, but I don’t see many men asking for protection from mean words, lingering gazes or suggestive comments.

        Sexual assault is already a crime (and men are victims, too). Concatenating sexual assault with ungentlemanly, but noncriminal, behavior doesn’t help anyone except to pander to their feelz, and it trivializes the suffering of victims of criminal sexual assault.

        1. phv3773

          Sure, every young woman in politics should be cool with comments like “Did you bring your knee pads?” No feelz necessary.

  2. Turk

    More to the point, if its purpose was to make men aware of the sexual suffering endured by women, it failed.

    Not so fast. I don’t think the power of #MeToo will lie with the famous coming out about assaults of varying types, but with the mothers, sisters and daughters coming out, and how it affects their male family and friends.

    Social change occurs when people see how it affects them personally. Thus, when gays started pouring out of the closet, the concept of gay marriage grew (very rapidly) in social acceptance. It wasn’t easy for regular folks to be dismissive / derisive if they saw friends and family who were gay.

    The same is true, I think, for those who’ve been assaulted/harassed in some fashion.

    You may be underestimating the impact of what is going on, and what may be said at the dinner tables, or Facebook, and what is heard by the males in the 8-18 year old age bracket.

    How this affects the men in their personal orbits may well be dependent on a more amorphous concept: Is the woman that is describing the conduct the type that complains about everything, or more powerfully, the type that rarely complains about anything?

    As Tip O’Neil once famously observed, all politics is local.

    I wouldn’t be too quick to condemn this as failed, as there may be some ears listening in places that don’t quickly register.

      1. Turk

        There have been a few “how to be a good ally with these 57 steps” posts. They’ve not been well received.

        Because they are all crap. Preaching to others about “this is how you should behave,” is a world away from, “This is what happened to me” when the “me” is your sister, friend, mother etc.

        The former is ineffective; the latter may well have an impact.

        1. SHG Post author

          Putting aside the question of whether the stories were truthful, few were stories of anything. Most were just conclusory condemnations of men for being horrible. Meh.

  3. kemn

    So, I started reading these stories coming out from my friends, acquaintances, perfect strangers, etc. and realized that I, as a male, let alone a white male, was a horrible creature, who only existed to sexually torture women, simply by thinking lewd thoughts, let alone, trying to look at a woman, and heaven forbid, I actually *say* something!!

    I now feel guilty for thinking about having sex with my wife, or even giving her a kiss, without a permission slip signed, dated, with an attached blood sample, as well as a notarized letter attesting to the fact that she was in no way coerced into accepting said kiss.

    I could go on and on, but I’m starting to get wrong thoughts in my head, and I’m sure those are oppressing a woman somewhere.

    I’d kill all men, but then some woman would have to clean that up, and I’d never hear the end of it.

  4. Matthew S Wideman

    Some of the things I read from my Facebook circle were just really shitty passes or come ons by losers. I don’t know if those situations rose to the level of being a hashtag or assault.

    I wasn’t that shocked at some of the hashtag stories because I assumed that bad shit happens to people all the time. Can there be a hashtag for males who have been beaten up or taken advantage of by older, stronger, and more aggressive kids/young adults/adults?

    1. Jay

      One of the popular link sharing sites posted a gallery of quotes from women with a title of ‘Women share their most embarrassing things they did while drunk’. From the girls, it’s all good. If a guy had those thoughts shared in that post, it would be criminal. The silence is deafening because males don’t get to call harassment when women play grab ass, and I would laugh at most of my male friends if they told me they got harassed. The same does not go for females. Perhaps because pops used the switch, I am a bit better trained in this area of respecting the ladies?

      1. Matthew S Wideman

        I know when they get wasted and steal a sign, they get funny looks. When males do it, it’s a felony and the parents let the males get “out of control”. I have lived a fairly normal middle class life filled with no death and gun violence. But, I could blow some of those #stories away with my tales of violence, deceit, and harassment. #malevmaleviolence

        1. SHG Post author

          Rather than make it a competition, question whether these #stories are as outrageous as their tellers seem to feel. If these are the worst things that ever happened to them, their lives are pretty normal.

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