Another Look at #MeToo
By Jean Godden
Things move quickly in the age of internet. Ideas move so fast that no sooner does a worthy cause emerge than a backlash arises to question its validity. Such is the case with the #MeToo movement.
The hashtag MeToo was created 10 years ago by civil rights activist Tarana Burke. Her idea was to let a young victim of sexual assault know she was not alone. Burke thought of the hashtag as a way to empower black and brown women who had experienced sexual abuse.
The movement was not universally adopted at first. It languished for a decade. Then it was reborn following revelations of Harvey Weinstein's deplorable behavior. Actress Aylssa Milano responded, reviving the hashtag as an awareness campaign to help people realize the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and abuse.
The campaign has reemerged as an enlightened movement, designed to support those who speak out, as well as to censure those who misbehave. There is a long list of the latter, centering on political and entertainment arenas, but extending into academia, arts, the media, medicine, technology, journalism and the restaurant industry.
The MeToo movement swept the nation, taking off in October. It reached a high point at the end of the year with Time Magazine naming "the silence breakers," women who have spoken out, as persons of the year. MeToo has sparked a genuine cultural revolution, an upheaval of gigantic proportions. It aims to quell misogyny and inequality.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the backlash, which may have been predictable, arrived in January. Negative response surfaced within a mere four months.
One counter attack erupted after a woman called "Grace" -- not her real name -- told about a date gone awry with comedian Aziz Ansari. Grace's lament, detailed in Babe, a feminist website, alleged sexual misbehavior, but not an assault. Grace's account struck a nerve, partly because it tagged Ansari -- himself co-author of "Modern Romance," a book about dating in the digital age.
Writing in The Atlantic, social critic Caitlin Flanagan countered, wondering aloud why Grace, when faced with an awkward sexual encounter ("worst night of my life") had not simply left and headed home. A New York Times op-ed by staff writer Bari Weiss offered similar advice: "End it and walk out the door."
The backlash has led to charges that the Grace story was "fake feminism" and that the MeToo movement has "jumped the shark," meaning it has run out of steam.
That controversy has led some commentators -- obviously no fans of feminism -- to allege that MeToo overreach will become an emblem for female helplessness, leading women to think of themselves as victims. Fractures are rising along ideological, generational and political lines. And there is a diversionary tactic: concern over an area framed as "consent." How does one learn when and how to say "no"?
There also are others who have accused the MeToo movement of lumping together true sexual miscreants (the Harvey Weinsteins) and those who may be guilty of no more than boorish behavior. They argue that reputations have been heedlessly damaged and even destroyed.
Surely for those who do not support the MeToo movement, there is almost a fiendish delight in having a split between those who truly want to build a genuine women's movement and those who would undercut and dismiss it. Sadly there are women on both sides.
This rift is distressing to those of us who are sincere about the urgent need to combat sexual harassment and abuse. It is past time when we can ignore the magnitude of the problem. We need broad support, we need to persist in saying, "Enough already."
Many -- if not most of us -- can agree with comedian Samantha Bee. She argued that there is a vast difference between the workplace harasser and an Aziz Ansari. But Bee adds a timely caveat: "That doesn't mean that we that we are happy with any of them."