#MeToo took the world by storm this past autumn. Millions of women (as well as men) rushed to the internet to share their own stories of sexual assault and harassment and to act as a support system for others. #MeToo quickly extended beyond North America, with the French creating #balancetonporc, the Spanish using #YoTambien, the Chinese starting #WoYeShi and some Arab countries using وأنا_كمان# and وانا_ايضا#
Since the initial cyber outburst, #MeToo has become a powerful movement. The hashtag has begun a meaningful conversation on consent, violence against women, workplace harassment, and North America’s gender hierarchy.
While #MeToo began by focusing on Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and other serial predators, #MeToo expanded the boundaries of the movement in the new year, examining the sexual misconduct of celebrities like Aziz Ansari, James Franco and Dan Harmon. This year, #MeToo has forced the public at large to have a conversation about consent and how many of our past interactions have been deeply problematic.
We’re in an unprecedented moment in history. For the first time ever, we have the attention of not just devoted feminists and academics, but men; regular men that we meet at our neighbour’s dinner party or in our baseball league. It’s an incredible moment to witness and to live through, one that may even change the course of history.
But, as with all major movements, there has been push back.
I anticipated this backlash, and I presume most women did. When the story of Weinstein broke, my first thought was joy; that #MeToo had propelled this predator to face consequences for his actions. But then I realized a tornado was about to hit us. Countless men (and women) whirling with anger would wash over us and wipe away the sunshine.
After all, there is no success unchallenged.
Claire Berlinski, in her American Interest article, described #MeToo as a “classic moral panic” that harms both women and men. In New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan declared, “we are living in another age of the Scarlet Letter.”
On the bus or in a restaurant, it’s not uncommon to hear something like: “Weinstein is a monster, but how far is this thing going to go? If I compliment my coworker, you’re telling me I’ll be accused of sexual harassment?”
Every day, it seems, another perpetrator gets added to the proverbial list. Every day, another woman publicly shares her upsetting or horrifying encounter. Every day, the tides seem to turn a little more.
And as these tides turn, there’s a growing consensus that this whole thing that has gone too far. At the start, when a few truly disturbed men were to pay for their actions, we could swallow the pill. No one likes Harvey Weinstein anyways. But now, after countless women have come forward with their truths, it just doesn’t seem that great anymore. People have changed their minds: too many women are saying too many things and, frankly, it’s got to stop.
The concerns started barely a month after the birth of #MeToo. It began with The New Yorker asking, “When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?” as it warned readers that North America may be nearing a “war on sex.” Not long after, Salon posed the question, “Is This a ‘Sex Panic’ or a National Moment of Reckoning,” for all its readers to wrap their minds around.
If you say, #MeToo is a ‘sex panic,’ has ‘gone too far,’ or is a ‘witch hunt,’ I say two things.
First, your rejection of women’s worth and authority isn’t new.
As Caitlin Flanagan wrote in The Atlantic, “saying there’s a sex panic on the grounds that women don’t like having their asses grabbed is the 2017 way of calling women frigid."
For decades, women have tried to come forward to tell their truths, so to bring their perpetrator to justice, to warn other women, and/or to free themselves of that situation. In the 50s and 60s, a woman who slapped a man for unwanted touching was branded as being uptight. Today, that same woman may not be labelled ‘a prude’ but she is branded a spiteful woman who is overreacting and perpetuating this “witch hunt.” Yet, when you look at it throughout the decades, it’s all the same. Women stand up to assert their sexual autonomy and they are smacked down for making waves.
Describing the #MeToo movement as a ‘sex panic’ or a ‘witch hunt’ are just catch phrases that reinforce the fact that women aren’t afforded the same bodily autonomy as certain inanimate objects. If someone spray paints the side of a woman’s home, an insurance company will process the claim right away and pay for the repair. This woman owns her home, has the right to protect it, and is afforded institutional support when someone violates it. But if someone violates that woman – fondles her breasts without permission – what institutional support will she get? Normally, nothing more than a “lighten up, sweetie” and “you should take it as a compliment.”
At the end of the day, naysayers will say what they please about #MeToo and women coming forward, but just remember: we don’t buy your bullshit. It may have new packaging, but it’s the same inside.
Second, you haven’t seen nothing yet.
In reality, the #MeToo movement hasn’t gone nearly far enough. It is still a movement based in talking, slowly creeping away from the confines of the internet, with minimal institutional changes achieved. Yes, certain individuals are being held responsible for their actions, but individuals are not society.
There are two strands of protest: fighting the patriarchy and fighting the patriarchs. Yes, it’s easier to fight the demons we can point a finger at, but that doesn’t solve the underlying issue here. Individual men who have committed sexual assault or harassment are not automatically and inherently evil. Rather, it is our system - predicated on male entitlement and dominance - that allows so many men to do these evil things. It is our system that has normalized this abhorrent behaviour.
If the response borne out of #MeToo continues to only seek justice against individuals, then this movement won’t transcend the divide nor affect lasting change. As Susan Faludi wrote for the New York Times, “the #MeToo movement will continue to topple patriarchs, while allowing the patriarchy to rage on.”
To those who say the movement has gone too far, I ask, how? Only a handful of Hollywood celebrities have lost their companies and fan base or gone to trial. Beyond that, little has happened in terms of societal transformation. How is that too far? How is it that the jeopardizing of individual men’s careers is ‘too far’ but the sexual assault and harassment of millions of women has never been seen as ‘too much?’
Many people feel unnerved and uncomfortable about the conversation that the #MeToo movement has sparked. The simple act of bringing gender relations and consent to the forefront of our minds is too much for some people to handle. And for that, I do not apologize.
If you’re uncomfortable with this conversation, we’re speaking to you.