It was just about two years ago that Alyssa Milano sent out her #MeToo tweet, setting off an avalanche of (mostly) women sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment. Many famous and influential men in both entertainment, banking and the media were brought down, while others were accused but either turned out to be innocent or were largely forgiven. (See Chris Hardwick for an example of the latter.) With some time to put all of this in perspective, was it all worth it?
That’s the question being tackled by Joanna Williams of the University of Kent, UK in the Daily Mail this week. While acknowledging that the movement has dragged legitimate abusers out into the light and made it easier for women to come forward, she argues that #MeToo also developed a dark side that can’t be ignored.
Two small words. That’s all it took to create a new religion — one that has sparked witch-hunts, ruined reputations and fostered a climate of suspicion that shows no signs of waning…
While it is true that the movement has made it easier for women — including Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Cara Delevingne, plus many thousands more worldwide — to speak out about sexual harassment, I firmly believe that its second birthday is not something to celebrate unquestioningly.
It may have made some men think twice before behaving like lecherous idiots, but I fear it has also had a ruinous impact on everyday relationships, undermined our centuries-old justice system and led to the suicide of a British politician.
Williams goes on to point out that what started with credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment sometimes veered off into rumor and hearsay. She points out that we witnessed a tidal shift in online debates where the only acceptable response to each allegation was “to believe, without question or criticism, the accuser.” In short, #MeToo set up a court with tens of millions of judges and jurors, but no defense attorneys, where everyone was guilty until proven innocent.
The author points out another negative consequence of all this in the form of the definition of sexual assault being undermined and eroded. Do you remember what happened to comedian Aziz Ansari? Williams summarizes it as follows:
In one of the most frivolous cases to go viral, comedian Aziz Ansari almost had his career ruined after a woman he once dated complained online she felt his pattern of behaviour was coercive.
Among her claims were that he left a restaurant too early, poured her red wine instead of white and tried to kiss her when her ‘non-verbal cues’ told him she wasn’t up for it.
Williams also tells the story of MP Damian Green, whose career was upended when a female journalist accused him of “fleetingly touching her knee” a decade earlier. The list goes on.
So as you reflect on the Me Too movement two years on, it’s certainly worth applauding all of the legitimate culprits have been brought to light (and in some cases prosecuted) and all of the women who were able to get some closure and realize they didn’t need to suffer in silence. But at the same time, we should remain aware that every rich meal can come with a few poison pills if we’re not careful. And #MeToo has had its fair share of those as well.