The #MeToo backlash

By Bhushan
The Devil’s Advocate, serving you a cocktail of humour, wit and sarcasm

Currently, the #MeToo movement appears to be like an out-of-control, runaway truck that is mowing down everyone in its path. It has suffered a few setbacks in recent times and there is a backlash brewing against it.

The major blow landed on it when its most vocal cheerleader, Asia Argento, herself was accused by Jimmy Bennett, a young man, for raping him when he was a minor. Asia has denied this allegation but has conceded that her husband had paid Jimmy US$380,000 as some sort of settlement amount. This incident has ended in a public fall out between Asia and Rosie McGowan, another vocal #MeToo campaigner. “What was hard,” McGowan said of her reaction to the allegations, “was the shell shock of the realisation that everything the #MeToo movement stood for was about to be in jeopardy”.

Two other women who have had sexual harassment allegations made against them are: Cristina, California State assembly woman & Andrea Ramsey, candidate for US House seat in Kansas. In Australia, Western Sydney Labor MP Emma Husar had to resign after sexual harassment charges were made against her.

The other major blow was the result of the Brett Kavanaugh-Ford saga in the US senate, which was, for all practical purposes, a referendum on #MeToo. Kavanaugh came out, a bit bruised, when FBI found no corroboration for the 36-year-old sexual harassment allegation made by Ms Ford against Kavanaugh

The founder of #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, feels that the movement has lost its way. “We have to shift the narrative that it’s a gender war, that it’s anti-male, that it’s men against women,” says Tarana.

Australia’s most famous feminist, Germaine Greer, has challenged the values and efficacy of the movement and dismissed the #MeToo, arguing that “there hasn’t been a reckoning. It actually didn’t get anywhere. And it has a downside as well, which is presenting women as victims”.

The doyenne of French actresses, Catherine Deneuve and 100 other high profile French women, have written an open letter, criticising the #MeToo social-media campaign, saying that it had gone beyond exposing individual perpetrators, and had unleashed a torrent of “hatred against men and sex”.

#MeToo has had some unintended consequences as well. A survey found that senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman. Another survey found that that women were worried companies would “discriminate against females and start hiring only male employees since it creates a less problematic environment. Men could stop mentoring women or inviting them to social gatherings outside the office, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, lest they be accused of sexual harassment.

Some men are adopting the “Pence rule” named after Mike Pence, Vice President of USA, who never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and won’t attend events where alcohol is served except in her company. This may be a bit extreme move, though. But such are the times!

For the #MeToo movement not to lose its momentum and steam and fizzle out as a fad, it must assess the hazards/risks facing it and address them to become a game changer. Some of the risks the movement is challenged by are:

1. The perception that it is a movement serving only the rich, famous, privileged white women: Tarana Burke, the #MeToo founder, says that the movement is not “just for a certain type of person—for white, cisgender, heterosexual, famous women”. But #MeToo has not benefitted the thousands of poor, uneducated, under-privileged women in the world, working in sweat shops and low-paid jobs, and who have no voice. Only those with a Twitter account and a megaphone within easy reach.

2. Trial by social media: It is quite easy for anyone to jump onto the social media bandwagon, make an allegation against someone and watch all hell break loose. The accused will be automatically destroyed, irrespective of whether innocent or guilty. No proof or corroboration required. Guilt is determined by the court of social media.

3. False accusations: The movement can be used by some to make false accusations, to exact revenge or to benefit from it. The case of Aziz Ansari who was falsely accused by his date after consensual sex doesn’t do any favour to the success of #MeToo. Roxanne Pallett, on Celebrity Big Brother UK, accused her fellow actor of assaulting her and when video footage disproving it surfaced, she apologised profusely on TV. Benny Fredriksson, artistic director of Stockholm’s leading arts and culture centre, committed suicide when sexual allegations, which were later proven to be false, were levelled against him.

4. Definition of sexual harassment: A point has now been reached when sexual harassment needs to be clearly defined, in this era of #MeToo. The line between sexual harassment and harmless flirting has become blurred and has shifted into the grey area.

5. Every male is a potential predator and every woman a victim: This seems to be the message driven hard by #MeToo supporters. Says Julia Hartley, “The hashtag claims to be about empowering women when it is actually turning women into perpetual victims”. In retaliation, the #HimToo movement is gaining momentum to combat “false rape allegations”.

6. Playing into the hands of politicians, celebrities, media and radical feminists: The movement faces a serious threat of getting hijacked and misused by certain groups. Celebrities may misuse it to grow their fan base and get some mileage out of it for their own benefit as in the case with Taylor Swift who was on Time magazine’s cover “Person of the Year” and face of #MeToo, even though she contributed nothing much to the cause. People were outraged with this and one person commented, “I also think about Tarana Burke, who got #MeToo going, not being given her proper space, in my opinion. She’s not put on the cover of Time magazine for the movement she founded.”

7. Old allegations: In the case of Kavanaugh, a 36-year-old alleged incident, between two drunk teenagers, was used to characterise his personality as an adult and punish him for it. Could this have set a bad precedent? The schoolies, who go to the Gold Coast/Bali to celebrate their end of schooling, should now be made aware that any of their dalliances can be a ticking time bomb which can be timed to explode 40 years later.

We may see a changed world once the battle dust of #MeToo settles down. Until then, the atmosphere is charged with frenzy and hand-wringing drama.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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