#MeToo Has Just Begun
I went to a TimesUp event this past week that discussed what TimesUp was accomplishing, where the movement was going, and some ways women could deal with both the trauma of assault and the stress of the movement. While a few specific famous cases of men who had committed assault were mentioned, most of the talk was centered on women. (The talk centered on cis women, trans women, trans men, gender non-binary people, and men who have been victims of assault) Supporting women’s voices, helping women deal with trauma, and things to do if one was assaulted or was dealing with a toxic work environment. Contrary to countless think pieces asking if the #MeToo movement had gone too far, no one in this room was focused on ruining men’s careers or taking men down. My experience of this movement has been supporting women and concrete changes that can be made going forward to change a culture that allows for harassment and assault. So why does even the #MeToo movement lead to the constant question of “What about the men?”
While many of the #MeToo stories in the news are focused on women accusing men like Harvey Weinstein, most of the stories on social media and the actual work being done is centered on women and people who have experienced sexual assault. The women telling their stories on social media using the hashtags usually don’t even name the men they’re discussing. Yet the predictable response to a movement run by women and centered on women’s voices is to worry about its effect on men.
After the Aziz Ansari story, I shared one of my many #MeToo stories about a sexually coercive experience I had. When I was in law school (23) there was a guy I had been flirting with a lot but I never expected it to go past that. He showed up at my apartment one night and asked to come up. I let him up. I lived in the kind of apartment where we had no place to hang out other than in my bedroom. The second we were in my room he pushed me against the bed and started aggressively making out with me. I was not into it but he was also very aggressive and much bigger than me. I didn't scream no or run out or violently push him away. The evening ended with us hooking up and my feeling gross after he left.
Would I ever call the cops about this kind of encounter? Absolutely not. I do not want to charge this guy with anything nor do I think he should be. However, it took me a long time to realize this was a coercive sexual encounter that I didn't really consent to. There are many reasons that I didn't scream no or run away. One is that when a man is being aggressive towards me and controls me physically I never know what will escalate the situation and what will get me out of it. Another is that I knew this guy. We were friends. I had flirted with him. What repercussions would I face in law school the next day if I was too hostile back to him? Also, I was surprised by his behavior and wasn't fully prepared to deal with it well. Also, I kind of liked him before that night and my mind didn't switch over immediately. And on and on.
After sharing it, someone quote tweeted my story on Twitter to demand I answer if I thought the man described deserved to lose his job; if it was fair to ruin a man’s career over this. Why was my personal discussion of sexual coercion - that I shared to lend context to what it looks like - reframed in terms of the unnamed man? When sharing this story I explicitly stated that this man shouldn’t go to jail, that most women understand sexual coercion, harassment, assault, and rape are a spectrum, not all of which require legal or criminal intervention. Yet many still responded more concerned about the consequences for the man than about me or understanding sexual coercion in general.
Most women who are sharing their #MeToo stories are sharing them to be supported, heard, or simply to feel free to tell their story. #MeToo is explicitly a women’s movement about women’s stories, yet the main cultural concern continues to be about the effects on men (and not men who are also the victims of sexual assault). In my mind #MeToo is much more about empowering and supporting women and other survivors of sexual assault than it is about punishing individual men. To change rape culture and fix any of these problems we must start by believing women. This doesn’t always require a man go to jail (however considering only 3% of rapists spend a day in jail the concern for men is part of the problem).
So much of #MeToo and #TimesUp is about believing women, supporting them in getting medical treatment, protecting their livelihoods in toxic work environments, and helping culture recognize its complicity in allowing harassment. The response is often to ask about the man’s career that is ruined but what about the woman’s career. Countless women have been driven out of jobs, fired, blacklisted, or badmouthed at work because of sexual harassment. Where is the concern for their careers and lives?
Problematic sexual interactions that aren’t criminal need not criminal solutions and a spectrum of remedies. To address this spectrum we must encourage uncomfortable conversations. The goal of the movement isn’t to “destroy” the lives of individual men but to substantively change the culture and improve it for women and men. To find solutions we must believe women and support their voices. As the speakers at the #TimesUp event stated, it is offensive to ask if the movement has gone too far because no other movement is asked that. The movement has not gone too far, it has only just begun.
Photo by Ross Findon