Diversion speaks volumes. The current counter-wave to #MeToo is no different. Although originating during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, #HimToo has been present ever since #MeToo’s inception. It has been a persistent nuisance; muddying the waters and diverting attention.
#HimToo’s general shtick is raising awareness of innocent men (and only men) who have been falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault. The counter-movement sees the accusations springing forth from #MeToo as overly broad. This, in their opinion, has allowed the wholesale destruction of male careers, lives, and reputations. #HimToo rhetoric centers on a lack of evidence, due process, and nuance. #MeToo is an indiscriminate wrecking ball, they say. It is a witch hunt.
The reactionism in #HimToo is inherent. From this, stems fear mongering and hysteria inducing literature that has been built up by the counter-movement’s influencers and base. I refer to #HimToo as a counter-movement because its existence followed #MeToo’s (the movement), and is aimed at counteracting its effects.
This counter-movement is a facet of the right-wing ecosystem. They have the most to gain by delegitimizing #MeToo; they are no fans of the inherent feminist elements at its core. To accept the premise of the movement is to accept this feminist doctrine. A doctrine, #HimToo advocates see as destructive to social standards and values. Accepting #MeToo’s premise would force the reconsideration of previously held preconceptions of male-female relations. The prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in all areas of the workplace indicate a deficiency in male perceptions of women, especially when men are holding the power.
Right-wing pundits like Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, Erick Erickson, and others have done their part in poking holes in #MeToo. Their opinions revolve around a big-name case (like Kavanaugh’s), adding in one or two other incidents of false accusations. It is a counter-opt meant to distort the reality of sexual assault and harassment. Instead of focusing on the systemic deficiencies that allowed men to continually harass and assault women for years, these pundits provide a red herring. They force activists and reformers to reassure that no innocent men are getting caught in the cross-hairs. It is a bad-faith argument because it fails to address the core issue #MeToo is addressing. The insincerity is compounded by the lack of interest in false-allegations on the part of right-wing pundits until #MeToo came onto the scene.
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This insincerity and bad-faith is reminiscent of how #AllLivesMatter shifted the discussion with #BlackLivesMatter. It moved from institutionalized injustices and abuse against the black community, to accusations that #BlackLivesMatter was seeking preferential treatment. Reactionism is a pervasive strategy because it shifts the overtone window, for the sole benefit of distraction.
By shifting the window of discussion, it positions the reactionary statement on equal footing with the original statement. There is no false-accusation epidemic among men. The statistics on false rape accusations are extremely low. For false sexual assault allegations, two to eight percent are believed to be false. They are not comparable in scope to the prevalence of men and women who are sexually assaulted. Data gathered by the CDC between 2010 and 2012 showed that one in three women, and one in six men experience some form of physical sexual violence. Two-thirds of rapes are never reported. Your son has a higher chance of being sexually assaulted and not receiving justice, than he does being falsely accused of sexually assault.
Additionally, not all false rape allegations are because someone maliciously blamed another. “Unfounded” rape cases are a sub-category of false rape allegations that make their way into the discussion. Arash Emamzadeh, in Psychology Today, describes an “unfounded” case as consisting of:
“The victim did not sustain any injuries, the perpetrator did not use physical force (or a weapon), the perpetrator and the victim had a previous sexual relationship, there is a lack of physical evidence, there are a large number of inconsistencies between existing evidence and the victim’s claim, etc.”
The subtleties of the makeup of what qualifies as a false rape allegation get left in the dark. The unrelenting focus on false sexual assault allegations by publications like Quillette, and their Intellectual Dark Web allies, distorts the reality of the situation. Their constant harping has created an environment of fear.
Reactionism stokes fear-mongering. As evidenced by a Pew Research Center poll that found 31 percent of Americans think false allegations against men are a major issue in the workforce (45 percent found it a minor issue). The reaction is positioned as defending the status quo against the maliciousness and danger of a new ecosystem. Potential change is a superb activator for inducing fear. Change is fearful. When the aim is to shatter the narrow perceptions of how society worked, expect significant backlash. Ironically enough, this fear-mongering provides an added benefit by illuminating the biases and erroneous conceptions of the reactionaries.
Change is also combated by linking it with the victimization of a specific group. The majority of the #HimToo language deals with the innocence of young men. These young men are usually described as successful, diligent, and friendly. References to these characteristics denote what most people perceive innocence as, and what it is not. Guilty men are not sweet young men working their way up. Upstanding men, in their eyes, cannot be rapists. To be materially successful and outwardly courteous is to be obviously innocent. #HimToo advocates, by communicating their worry, subconsciously communicate what they think it means to be an actual rapist. Rape is a despicable act committed by horribly evil people. This creates a bias toward who looks guilty, and who looks innocent. Someone’s manners, work ethic, and career success should not be qualifiers for whether they are innocent or not. Just like someone walking alone on the street at night in a black hoodie does not denote a lurking rapist.
This focus on innocent young men is an emotional signal. It is designed to instill worry in the minds of anyone who would quickly align themselves with #MeToo. “Sexual assault is horrible, and those men should be punished, but let’s not make this into a witch hunt. Let’s wait for the facts.” This stance is not neutral. It is disguised as cautionary. By clarifying they are on the side of justice with some caveats, they acknowledge their real motivations. Their clarifications are not based in the statistics. Their clarifications are reactionary statements cloaked in faux-sensibility. It is comparable to anti-immigration pundits pointing to the criminal nature (ironically including rapists) of illegal aliens and even legal immigrants. Objections to accepting Middle Eastern refugees tread this ground as well, spreading fear of potential terrorists hiding among them. Neither are based in statistics; they are reactionary, mixed with xenophobic and racism. Both pick and choose flukes and random stories to create a narrative that does not exist. #HimToo is no different.
The intensity of doubt over a survivor’s story also communicates the age-old slant to believe the man over the woman. #HimToo and their colleagues build on this prejudice by leveraging animosity against #MeToo and survivors. Christina Hoff Sommers, a member of the Intellectual Dark Web cohort and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has described Obama administration’s sexual assault policies as creating a “kind of sexual McCarthyism” on college campuses. Adding to the fear-mongering, Quillette published an article claiming #MeToo has provided a script for effective false-allegations. The entire premise was based on an unnamed Canadian sexual assault court case. No evidence was provided that women were utilizing #MeToo stories as scripts to falsely charge men with sexual assault. The author went so far as to accuse the woman of using similar language other victims have used to describe their abuser. University of Toronto Psychology Professor, Jordan Peterson, has muddied the waters too. In an interview with VICE, he claimed the deterioration in the workplace was because “we don’t know what the rules are.”
Statements like these only add to the environment of fear #HimToo generates. If the rules for male-female relations in the workplace are up in the air, the consequences are massive. What behavior is appropriate? Where is the line drawn? Can I tap my female coworker on the shoulder to get her attention? Will my son be hauled off campus halfway through his semester by a treacherous ex-lover? Peterson provides no basis for why the rules are unknown. In reality, #MeToo showed us how unenforced the rules are.
The repetitive sowing of doubt by right-wing and IDW outlets and figures reinforces people’s perceptions of women as malevolent disposers of male careers. It shifts the attention away from the underreported nature of rape, and moves the power to destroy from the rapist to the accuser. All of sudden the lessons of #MeToo vanish. The fear is no longer bureaucratic systems that give men at the top enormous power to hide their sins. Do not worry over how effective a company’s procedures for handling sexual harassment allegations are. It is now the powerful men who fear the subordinate women around them. They would have you believe that the interrelations of men and women in the workplace is a literal minefield.
In their attempts to legitimize this power reversal, #HimToo advocates have even tried to argue the perversion of the law. Again, they have very little facts to back up their fear-mongering. If the law was slanted to favor the accuser as much as they say, why is rape underreported? This is not supposed to be a broad dismissal of all critique. But #HimToo advocates dismiss (or conveniently forget) multiple facets of the conversation over sexual assault and harassment, to further their propaganda. They cherry pick incidents and statistics. They deceptively invert the power structure to benefit their reactionary position. All because they cannot stand the feminism underlining the #MeToo movement.
If #HimToo advocates wanted to help men, they should look to the hashtag’s origins: raising awareness for sexually assaulted men. Cultural biases still prove fatal to male victims of sexual assault. Men are seen as the leaders and instigators in sexual encounters, and men are expected to always want sex. In an interview with Vox, Seth Stewart, director of development and communications at 1in6 (a resource for male-identified survivors of unwanted sexual experiences), says men might describe sexual assault as hazing, physical abuse, or humiliation. “If they talk to someone,” Stewart said, “who says ‘it was abuse, it was rape,’ many men will psychologically go into hiding.”
Instead of helping this significant contingent of victimized men, #HimToo advocates make a mass movement out of a minuscule statistic. On top of that, they utilize this movement to counter much needed social change. Social change that could help more male sexual assault survivors come forward, receive justice, and healing.