No one expects the #MeToo movement to rise and fall without criticism.
Nor should they.
I didn’t expect it to when I wrote a piece about Weinstein a month after the allegations of sexual misconduct were revealed in the New York Times. I wanted to, because I wanted to believe that we, as a species, are capable of change after a period of reflection, but as I learned when I was five, there’s a difference between what you want to happen and what the world provides.
Clouds of pushback were already swirling in the otherwise clear sky above our emancipation. Allegations against Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and Dustin Hoffman had emerged, prompting some to dismiss the movement as a ‘witch hunt’. But it was the rumours of sexual misconduct by British MPs in the Houses of Parliament that compelled Edwina Currie to express concern that the new rules of engagement would confound men to the point they would stop flirting with women and, presumably, the human race would die out.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can rationalise all that as a bit #HotTake though. When a cultural schism opens unexpectedly it takes time for people to find their angle. The Golden Globes was the first opportunity proffered by the Hollywood machine for some to prepare and present their collective support of the movement, and the opposition to unpick it.
Which they did. For while the black dress code, Time’s Up pins, female activists as plus ones and beautifully timed barbs from the stage evoked a swell of pride and optimism in supporters of people’s right not to be sexually assaulted or abused in the workplace, others variously found fault.
Natalie Portman’s pointed addition of ‘all-male’ to her introduction of the nominees for Best Director category was dismissed as irrelevant because she worked with Woody Allen in 1996. Greta Gerwig’s failure to directly condemn Allen in a backstage interview was perceived as ‘mealymouthed‘ in some quarters. Men in the auditorium were criticised for failing to express their support. Then, earlier this week, that letter signed by one hundred women to Le Monde. #MeToo is a witch-hunt AND the sad destruction of ‘the right to ‘hit on someone’.
While it would give me indescribable joy to spend the next two hundred words explaining what else Edwina Currie and Catherine Deneuve have in common, it’ll have to wait. The similarities are not between the two women particularly, they’re more about our culture’s way of dealing with threats to its structural integrity.
Take ‘witch hunt’, for example. It’s a term frequently associated with mass hysteria, which itself is a condition frequently applied to women who show an emotional reaction to… well… anything, really. Hysteria, always been associated with female sexual energy and reproduction, has been traced back to Ancient Egypt, when it was believed that the uterus was an “animate creature”, wandering about in a woman’s body pressing on organs and causing all sorts of maladies.
Glorious though that is, it somehow informs our attitude to survivors of abuse to this day. They are criticised for coming forward ‘after so many years’. They’re criticised for not coming forward at the time of the alleged offence. People expressing support for #MeToo are subject to background checks; the validity of their support questioned if they’ve ever worked with, had a photograph with, or otherwise engaged with an offender.
#MeToo should not be above criticism. If anything, it should be a motivator towards a more thorough examination of what we as individuals do on a daily basis and how our behaviour, while potentially acceptable within our sphere of influence, may be damaging to others. One of social media’s unerring joys is its ability to take any statement, however egregious, and find evidence to discredit it, no matter how meta that evidence is. And while fun, this approach turns even the most coherent argument into an impenetrable mess that no one can make sense of. Once that happens, they will quietly go about restoring the status quo while the rest of us are shouting at each other about how we’re all going to die because men aren’t allowed to make passes at women anymore.
In order for things to change and us to grow, we must resist the temptation to fall into traditional patterns of behaviour that silently reinforce stereotypes. Let’s support Greta Gerwig, Natalie Portman, Rose McGowan and Meryl Streep instead of ripping them to shreds. Failing to condemn abuse, or working with someone known to have committed abuse is uncomfortable but it’s not the moral equivalent of ‘grabbing a pussy’ or corralling a women in a hotel room and asking for a massage.
Why are we insistent upon holding women up to those standards of conduct when the most we apparently require of men is not to be a sexual predator? Mark my words, if we carry on like this, the winners of this particular war will be the generously rounded, cigar smoking gentleman dressed in bathrobe.
Same as it ever was.