Meet the women worried about #MeToo
Thirteen bold women on why we must reject victimhood.
Lionel Shriver says…
I am concerned that we are throwing knee-touching into the same basket as rape, which does a grievous disservice to mere knee-touchers and rape victims both. I am concerned that we are increasingly wont to confuse genuine abuse of power in the workplace with often distant memories of men who have made failed – ‘unwanted’ – passes. In the complicated dance of courtship, someone has to make a move, and the way one conventionally discovers if one’s attraction is returned is to brave some gentle physical contact and perhaps accept rebuff. Were I still a young woman looking for a partner, I would not wish to live in world where a man had to secure a countersigned contract in triplicate before he kissed me.
I am concerned that we are casting women as irremediably scarred by even minor, casual advances, and as incapable of competently and sensitively handling the commonplace instances in which men are drawn to them sexually and the feeling doesn’t happen to be mutual.
I am concerned that sex itself seems increasingly to be seen as dirty, and as a violation, a form of assault, so that we’re repackaging an old prudery in progressive wrapping paper. I am concerned that we are well on our way to demonising, if not criminalising, all male desire.
Turbocharged by social media, #MeToo may have gone too far. Rather than bringing the sexes together with improved mutual understanding, we are in danger of driving the sexes apart. If I were a man right now, I’d lock the door of my study with the intention of satisfying myself with internet porn for the indefinite future. Real women would not seem worth the risk of destroying my career. Is that what we want?
Lionel is an author, most recently of The Standing Chandelier, and winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction.
The #MeToo movement seems to be devolving into an anti-male grievance-fest. Veteran journalist Lucinda Franks now claims ‘gender degradation’ irreparably harmed her career, but it’s hard to see the impact that sexual harassment had on a decorated reporter, who was the youngest person ever to win a Pulitzer. A Glamour writer has described a ‘spectre of fear’ haunting all working women in ‘every interaction’.
Reality check: American women – especially those in the professional/managerial class – are among the freest and most self-determining human beings on the planet. They may run into the occasional troglodyte, but overall, they are not merely doing as well as men – they are starting to surpass them. According to a recent survey of hiring data, young women are starting to out-earn young men. Women now earn most of the advanced degrees – including doctorates. The women’s advocacy group Catalyst reports that as of 2015, ‘women held 51.5 per cent of all management, professional, and related occupations’.
Gender scholars don’t dispute these findings. But they maintain that the patriarchy, in a desperate effort to hold on to power, is acting out in lurid ways. The evidence suggests otherwise. The General Social Survey is one of the most trusted sources of data in the social sciences. In 2014, a random sample of Americans was asked a straightforward question: ‘In the last 12 months, were you sexually harassed by anyone while you were on the job?’ Only 3.6 per cent of women said yes. That is down from 6.1 per cent in 2002. The patriarchy is well past its prime.
Powerful men are falling left and right – but not because women are second-class citizens. Just the opposite. Girl Power is real. Instead of carrying on about how frightened and degraded we are, maybe it’s time to acknowledge the truth: in 2017, we can destroy almost any man by a single accusation.
With power comes responsibilities. As Wesley Yang said, in the best article yet on the #MeToo frenzy: ‘Feminists should remember something they know well from their own experiences with men: nobody is so dangerous, to themselves and others, as a person or collectivity that wields power without acknowledging it.’
Christina is an author, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and host of The Factual Feminist.
Nathalie Rothschild says…
Why is the #Metoo campaign worrying? It is hard to know where to begin.
I could discuss how it is normalising the kind of mob behaviour that is the most negative aspect of internet culture, and how it is eroding the presumption of innocence.
I could mention how the insistence that men are complicit in perpetuating a ‘rape culture’ characterised by a ‘continuum of abuse’ – running from lockerroom banter to gang rape – demonises half the world’s population and relativises, and therefore trivialises, sexual violence.
I could argue that it poisons relations between the sexes, turning everyday interactions into a social minefield.
I could focus on the censorious impulse behind #MeToo. ‘Outed’ celebrities and their work are denounced as ‘degenerate’ and erased, much like ‘unacceptable’ material was shoved down the memory hole in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
I could discuss how #MeToo marks a return to puritanism, and revives a Victorian view of women as actual or potential victims of sexual assault and therefore in need of shielding.
But perhaps the most disturbing element of #MeToo is how it has transmogrified into a kind of confession competition. The more gruesome a woman’s testimonial is, the more sympathy she is likely to get from the online sisterhood.
The idea that the moments in our lives when we felt power was exercised upon us should be those that mark us and define us forever runs counter to the view of women as active, autonomous agents. And it is that view which ought to define the experience of being a woman in the 21st century.
Nathalie is a print and broadcast journalist based in Stockholm, Sweden.
#MeToo is the unthinking woman’s anti-harassment crusade. It commands us to ‘believe the women’ unthinkingly, without considering the seriousness or plausibility of their claims. It calls every accuser a survivor, whether she alleges a sexual assault or a single, unsolicited advance. It ignores essential differences between work-related harassment that undermines women professionally and inconsequential social annoyances, threatening to police interpersonal relations outside the workplace. It celebrates conformity and demonises dissent, as you might expect from a movement based on proclamations of ‘me too’.
Thinking people make distinctions – between a hand on your knee and a grope up your skirt, between a sexual attack by a supervisor and a pat on the butt from a guy in a bar – just as they distinguish pickpockets from home invaders. #MeTooism condemns such distinctions as reflections of rape culture. At best, when we differentiate ‘sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, [we] are having the wrong conversation’, Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand asserts, while preparing to run for president as the self-appointed avenger of all self-identified female victims.
This dangerous nonsense denigrates women – we are not all traumatised by every fool who cops a feel – and questions our claim to equality.
Wendy is a lawyer, author and a former national board member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Julia Hartley-Brewer says…
The #MeToo campaign is very worrying and will achieve the opposite of what it pretends to want. The hashtag claims to be about empowering women to speak out when actually it is turning women into perpetual victims.
Women who put up with sexual harassment and keep quiet about it for years, protecting the perpetrators, are hailed as heroines and strong, powerful feminists. Yet, bizarrely, women who speak out and deal with sexual harassment forcefully at the time, and then happily move on with their lives as I and millions of other women have done over the years, are derided as ‘victim-blamers’ or even ‘rape apologists’. It’s almost as if a woman is only ‘the right kind of woman’ if she is willing to play the victim.
This is not what feminism was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about empowering women, not infantilising them. Any woman can now point the finger at any man and make any claim she wants about something that may – or may not – have happened to her 10 or 20 years ago. That allegation, whether there is any evidence to back it up or not, is enough to end a man’s reputation, his career or even his life. We are seeing an end to the principles of natural justice, innocence until proven guilty and fair trials.
Make no mistake – this is a witch-hunt, and to hell with any innocent men who accidentally get caught in the net of the #MeToo outrage.
Julia is a journalist, broadcaster and host at talkRADIO.
We should not tolerate sexual harassment. But I am worried that, with the growing consensus that there should be ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual harassment, we will make the same mistake regarding the workplace that we’ve made with other social problems in recent decades. (The concept of zero tolerance is itself problematic – to oppose it means being accused of tolerating whatever wrongdoing is under discussion.)
When we apply zero tolerance to a problem, we enlarge what the problem is and take away the ability of those charged with passing judgement and meting out fair punishments to weigh the entirety of the circumstances and tailor a response that brings justice. Instead, too often judges and school principals, for example, have become rubber stamps who impose the harshest possible penalties. We should pause before using this model for sexual harassment.
This is a rare moment in which women and men of good will can work together to fashion more equitable workplaces. That project is endangered if we unreasonably expand what we mean by sexual harassment and then make any accusation of it a trigger for potential career banishment.
Emily is a journalist and contributing editor at the Atlantic.
Mary Kenny says…
No woman should be coerced into sexual relations – let alone raped – and moral codes exist for a reason. Yet sexual relations are complex. Shakespeare wrote: ‘Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages.’ If we are honest with ourselves, we know how many layers of complexity there can be in jest, flirtation, a look, a sigh, a word. Women have often warmed to a touch, a joke, a comment which implies interest or pursuit. That is not harassment.
Feminism should mean taking responsibility for ourselves and also standing up for ourselves. Unwanted attention should be dealt with. As Camille Paglia points out, men are often quite frightened of what women will say to them – be bold and say it. What is dismaying about current trends is the tendency to return women to delicate, Victorian damsels who reach for the smelling salts if they hear a lewd joke. What next – chaperones?
The novelist Kingsley Amis used to say: ‘Women are trouble – keep them out of all institutions.’ He was a misogynist, but such notions will revive if women portray themselves as so fragile that they can’t deal with the small change of everyday life with robust common sense.
The #MeToo movement has exposed allegations of very serious sexual crimes and the degree to which women are simply fed up. This is healthy, up to a point. But we are way past that point.
It has now morphed into a mass hysteria. Men have been accused of transgressions no reasonable person would define as a crime. And this crime comes with a swift and terrifying penalty, but has no clear definition and no statute of limitations. This is juridically and morally absurd. Nulla poena sine lege.
This crime, it seems, may be committed through word, deed, or even facial expression. It rests entirely on discerning what a woman feels, or will feel, even decades later. But discerning this is actually quite difficult. ‘It’s payback time for men’ is not a reasonable definition. We must now together reason this out. Nullum crimen sine lege.
The names keep coming. The heads keep rolling. A charge of creepiness is a death sentence. (De minimis non curat lex.) Once the charge is made, employers race to purge the creep lest they too be stained by his dishonour. ‘We are deeply disappointed by the reports that Mister Absolutely Unacceptable in this day and age failed to live up to our company standards’, begins the ritual. And you know damned well Mister Absolutely Unacceptable will never get his job, or his life, back. Audacter caluminiare, semper aliquid haeret.
This is not good for men. But neither is it good for women. Newton’s third law is not just about physics. There will be a reaction. And women as a professional class will find themselves figuratively screwed – not an obvious improvement in the screwing scheme of things.
Claire is a novelist and journalist. Donate towards her new book: Stitch by Stitch.
Cathy Young says…
The post-Harvey Weinstein #MeToo momentum has ended the silence surrounding sexual abuse committed by a number of wealthy and powerful men, so it’s difficult not to see a positive side. But it is also increasingly clear that this cultural moment has turned into an orgy of female victimhood and the demonisation of men.
Some alleged abusers are being punished with very little evidence; the announced resignation of Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, has been a wake-up call for many. (One of the eight charges against Franken was squeezing a woman’s waist while posing for a photo.)
Women are being encouraged to scour their past for experiences that make them ‘survivors’ – such as a smarmy compliment or a drunken pass from a colleague. Men are being told to soul-search for past mistreatment of women. Yet the reality is that there are also male victims of sexual abuse and female abusers – and when it comes to low-level hurtful or obnoxious behaviour in the arena of sex and romance, the sexes are probably just about equal.
Telling women that their lives are a chamber of sexual horrors, and telling men that they are part of an evil oppressor class, is not the path to equality.
Due process and the presumption of innocence cannot be forgotten in our eagerness to embolden women coming forward with allegations of harassment and sexual assault. There must be a balance between believing women and ensuring that the lives of innocent people are not destroyed.
My greatest concern is that the #MeToo phenomenon creates a toxic narrative that casts every male as a potential predator and every female as a perpetual victim. This can be enormously damaging for women, particularly young girls who, despite having every advantage and legal protection in the West, grow up believing they face enormous, perhaps insurmountable, barriers.
In Australia, women have outnumbered men at university for the past three decades. But instead of this fact being celebrated, many in the media continue to portray empowered women as lifelong victims. As institutionalised forms of discrimination are eliminated, the obsession with supposed entrenched misogyny deepens – despite all evidence to the contrary.
Meanwhile, modern feminism all but ignores the plight of the most oppressed women around the world who are subjugated from the cradle to the grave.
Rita is a journalist and columnist for the Herald Sun, in Australia.
Joanna Williams says…
‘Sorry, I nearly touched your elbow. I forgot we can’t do that any more’, he said. ‘You have to ask my permission first’, I replied. We both laughed.
A social event at the university and, for once, I wasn’t counting the minutes until I could leave. I was talking to a professor I’d not met before and it turned out we shared the same views on academia, free speech and mutual colleagues. I relaxed.
And then the elbow non-incident happened, and an exchange among equals became a conversation between a woman and an older, more senior, male colleague. Even laughing about new rules of etiquette prompted self-consciousness.
One of the worst things about the #MeToo panic is the impact it has on informal workplace relations. Yes, people still socialise in mixed groups and colleagues still share confidences behind closed doors. But, at the same time, a new wariness has taken hold. A voice in our heads asks how our interactions might be interpreted by others. Is it best to leave the office door open? Invite a third party along to the lunch meeting? Under what circumstances can you hug a colleague? Or touch their elbow?
This self-consciousness robs workplaces of the spontaneous human warmth that makes having a job bearable. Worse, as colleagues are made suspicious of each other, we risk turning the clock back on hard-won sexual equality.
#MeToo has morphed into a campaign that brooks no dissent. Raise qualms and watch the insults roll. Critics are told they are suffering from internalised misogyny, are in denial, or are too old to understand the horrors of leering bosses.
One campaigning commentator, Rosamund Unwin, writes in the Evening Standard that reactions to harassment post-Weinstein have ‘exposed a generational divide’. Maybe she is right – I am one of those ‘older female journalists’ who is concerned at the YouGov survey revealing that two-thirds of women aged 18 to 24 view wolf-whistling as ‘always or usually’ being a form of sexual harassment. Twenty-eight per cent see winking in the same way. Yes, WINKING.
Unwin concludes that my failure ‘to cheer that our sex finally feels able to speak out’ is due to a ‘lack of empathy’ among the over-40s. She speculates that such indifference is because ‘some women perhaps feel they owe part of their success to being the female in the room who wasn’t difficult, who laughed at the boys’ “jokes”’.
These sorts of accusations are galling, especially for those of us who have spent years metaphorically kicking sex pests in the balls and fighting for women to be treated as equals in the workplace. I shouldn’t have to resort to personal anecdotes. However, as #MeToo confers credibility on those who declare themselves victims, I have felt pressure to reveal my own slew of nasty sexual experiences, as evidence that I’m not some traitor to the cause.
How ironic that #MeToo is fuelling its own bullying climate: women are told to conform, or else. This climate is a greater threat to real freedom than any pathetic groper.
Ella Whelan says…
#MeToo has been hailed as a revelatory moment. But the truth is, there’s little new about this obsession with phantom sexual-harassment epidemics. #MeToo might have been spurred on by news of a fat old perv in Hollywood, but the feminist narrative of victimised women has been around for a long time.
And screw it – I won’t say that there’s anything good about #MeToo. You don’t need to celebrate a hashtag to understand that sexual abuse and rape are wrong. Neither do you need a social-media movement to have the guts to stand up to any guy who crosses the line. I’m sick of women feeling that they have to caveat every political criticism of this victim culture with the line: ‘Of course I believe that rape and sexual assault is bad, but…’
#MeToo is a craven attack on women’s liberation, spurred on by middle-class journos, fame-hungry politicians and virtue-signalling celebrities. Normal, working-class women don’t get a look-in. We’re the wrong kind of women, you see, because we refuse to be patronised by such fainting-couch nonsense – and because most of us will know that being a ‘survivor’ takes more than having your knee touched.
I want to live in a world where women feel empowered to take life by the balls. So no, I won’t join in the #MeToo choir. This patronising, illiberal assault on sexual freedom is #NotMe.
Ella is assistant editor at spiked and author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.
Picture by: Getty Images.