Like millions of women and men around the globe, I lamented, celebrated, swore, teared up, and pounded a fist or two as I watched the #MeToo movement rise and swell.
Never before have we seen so many women openly and publicly share their stories, their fears, their long-held secrets. The movement continued on for days, filling all of our Facebook feeds, I’m sure, with the shock, and then eventually not-shock, of story after story.
#MeToo represents a stunning shift in our culture, one that promises to change the way sexual assault is handled whenever and wherever it is brought to light in the future. Women, silenced for years, maybe feel a bit safer. Perhaps now, women’s stories will be believed and honored. Perhaps men who violate another’s person, dignity, or rights, will be held accountable. It might be too much to imagine that we can do away with sexual assault altogether, but perhaps our children and their children will, thanks to our courage, be able to talk about this more openly without the fear. Perhaps we can diminish the number of incidents. Surely, we can reduce the shame.
As each story entered the conversation, our collective courage grew. This collective courage, like a net being woven around the world, invited more stories to drop into it. Whether we each, as women, chose to add our story(ies) or not, most of us, it seemed, felt a sense of solidarity, relief, and hope through the healing wave that this movement initiated.
But, just as the dust was beginning to settle, the criticism began. Slowly at first, in small corners of blogs and posts, and then larger and louder. Surprisingly, much of the criticism wasn’t from men. It was from women.
The first complaint I saw was directed at the invitation itself, which read: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.”
The complaint? The invitation didn’t allow men to participate. Therefore, she would not participate.
It is true that this was a movement (sparked by Alyssa Milano) embraced by and speaking to women in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. And we all know that sexual abuse, being ultimately about power and control, extends to young boys and men, too. Corey Feldman has been speaking out about this for years. This issue must be addressed as well.
But I have two responses to the criticism: First, this movement, like any movement before or after it, was sparked by right intentions. Perhaps, instead of seeing it as a locked door, see it as an open door that leads to another door, and then another. Now that this first door has opened, all the others can be opened further in, giving any and all survivors of sexual abuse/misconduct/assault the room to speak up.
Secondly, no one would’ve excluded or ignored or in any way diminished a story offered up by a man. In fact, some men did take part. Their words were appreciated, acknowledged, honored, and embraced.
Next, I read a post from a mother who claimed that she would not participate in the movement because she was a mother of young, innocent boys, and would not make them somehow complicit in the process. Needless to say, these innocent young boys will one day grow to be men. Why not, as a responsible parent, use this as an opportunity (age-appropriately, of course) to share with them the importance of respecting all people, of never doing anything to anyone—not hitting, not touching, not kissing, not snapping bra straps, nothingnothingnothing—that you have not been invited to do?
I fear that without proper education and regular reminders, anyone, yes, even cute little boys, can succumb to the intoxicating entitlement of strength, power, wealth, or control if given the opportunity. Even if we think we are raising our children to be kind, respectful citizens, our culture has a way of whispering in young ears anyway through movies, video games, magazines, and other kids. Any opportunity we have to share our wisdom with our children so that this wisdom supersedes the pull of the most toxic parts of our culture in the most permeable and vulnerable times of young lives is an opportunity that should not be squandered. As a mother raising sons, ignoring this important issue as if her child could do no wrong might lead to her to one day becoming this mom, here, interviewed about her son who was accused of sexual misconduct:
Their sons may not have been falsely accused, the mothers said, but they had been wrongly accused. They made a distinction.
One mother, Judith, said her son had been expelled after having sex with a student who said she had been too intoxicated to give consent.
“In my generation, what these girls are going through was never considered assault,” Judith said. “It was considered, ‘I was stupid and I got embarrassed.’”
And finally, there was this interview on Meet the Press.
All right, you heard from those senators and I believe it was Senator Heitkamp who said, “It needs to be cultural change.” Are we in a culture, is this a major moment in our culture? Dani?
No. I have no doubt that sexual harassment is real and that many women suffer from it. But I have a strong suspicion that this is yet another one in a series of isms and complaints and grievances in our society that are used as wedged, that are used as bludgeons, that are part of, frankly, what many men feel is a war on men, certainly in universities.
So, you know, do we need a cultural change? If women want to stand up for themselves, women should stand up for themselves for equal treatment. And if that means that someone’s going to harass them, they should stand up and call them out. This whole “Me, too, I want to get on the gravy train, Harvey Weinstein looked at me meanly too but I didn’t have the guts, Gwyneth Paltrow, to stand up and do anything about it,” I’m not really into that.
This interview followed four US Senators—Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), Senator Heidi Heitcamp (ND), Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (HI) shakily sharing their #MeToo stories. Following the vulnerability of the senators with such a callous, flippant remark seemed to stun the panel for a moment. I think we all know that this idea of a “war on men” is as ridiculous as the war on Christmas. This movement is not about stripping men of power out of pure vindictiveness. This is about empowering those whom they victimize. For the first time, this is about giving voice to the voiceless.
It hit me that most of the backlash I saw against #MeToo was, surprisingly or not, from women. One could imagine that some men might push back (probably only the ones who have something to hide; men who treat women with respect would not feel that their masculinity was under attack). But to see and hear woman after woman, from both political aisles, push back against this first-if-imperfect step toward a safer world for women and men was maddening. It’s similar to the kind of pushback many difficult movements—including Black Lives Matter, the kneeling for the National anthem—receive for doing nothing more than attempting to draw awareness to important issues.
Yes, perhaps, #MeToo was a clumsy, imperfect first step. Or maybe not. Perhaps the invitation should have stated “men and women.” Or maybe it was just fine. Perhaps it should’ve made it clear that being a part of this movement does not mean that we hate men. Or maybe that should’ve been understood. We need men active in this movement too, because we understand we can’t do it alone. And we also understand that we don’t need to tear down others to heal. Any women’s movement that has ever existed was not founded on hating men but on empowering and equalizing women.
This movement was healing for many women and enlightening for countless “good” men. By sharing these stories, or simply reading others’ stories, we were all led to a place that felt less isolated and shameful. A place that offered empowerment, courage, and solidarity to anyone who sought it. It gave a voice to the voiceless against a patriarchy that is desperately trying to keep themselves in power and women on their knees—metaphorically and physically. It is this very patriarchy that is speaking against this movement—whether it speaks through a man or a woman is irrelevant. It is this very patriarchy that is desperate to not lose its grip on power.
Patriarchy’s “tells” are all over this one. Only patriarchy would make the case that because something that is imperfect and incomplete it should be rejected. Only patriarchy would suggest that feeling overwhelmed, frightened, and receiving less-than-perfect results make the case for pulling back or maintaining the status quo rather than moving forward.
Cultural protests and movements are designed to make us uncomfortable. No progress has ever been made in this country through comfortable means. Comfort keeps us right where we are–doing and saying the things we’ve always done. Only discomfort has the power to encourage people to reflect and change.
If a protest makes us uncomfortable, then we should seek into that discomfort within ourselves, rather than lashing out at the movement writ large. We should try to resist the urge to attack the movement, but seek deeper within ourselves.
But more than this: this might not be “your” movement. That’s fine. But please, don’t let that fact diminish the words from the women and men whom it served.