#MeToo: For Those Who Don’t Get It
CN: Discussion of rape culture, and a generous side order of sarcasm.
Since the #MeToo movement initially broke, I’ve had time to reflect on my own beliefs and behaviour, and those of the society that made the movement necessary. The sense of empathy and solidarity that the movement has generated has allowed me, and others, to speak up whereas before our voices were unheard. Together, we feel safe making some noise. But there are some who seem to not get it. Accompanying our cries of vindication is the predictable backlash, denying the issue, minimising our accounts, and defending the status quo. It’s horrible, and highlights all of the problems that made #MeToo necessary in the first place. I want the detractors to piss off and let us get on with improving society, but they’re not going anywhere — so let’s address their concerns. Don’t worry — I’m not going to sugarcoat a thing.
If you think about what they’re defending, its abhorrence becomes clearer. Why would anyone be in favour of continued abuse and harassment by powerful men? The rap sheet for even the minor offenders is stomach-churning, yet we have ordinary people, pillars of society and regular joes alike, defending the reputation of serial rapists and attacking the veracity of hundreds of corroborating testimonies. Aside from the cognitive dissonance needed to follow that logic, these defenders need to reckon with the fact that they are aligning themselves with repeat sexual offenders.
The reason is that they identify with the perpetrators. That sounds pretty gross, but we can see why if we acknowledge the way patriarchy has shaped all of our lives. It is undeniable that our culture is one that has allowed the ill-treatment of women to flourish and be accepted for centuries. We are presented with messages about men’s and women’s expected and accepted behaviour, status and roles, which send our lives down certain paths. These messages, and their effects, have gone unchallenged for so long and have become ingrained. Many of us accept this paradigm as Just The Way It Is. Even where attempts have been made to challenge it, and feminism has been working really bloody hard to do so, it has taken decades to even begin stripping away the layers of bullshit — and we have a long way to go yet.
Those who identify with the perpetrators do so partly because we have been tacitly informed that their behaviour is ok. We believed that they were entitled to behave in those ways, to take whatever they wanted and to have others do their bidding. This is the reward for success, or simply just for being a man. And like the temporarily-embarrassed millionaires who vote Tory, yet stand in line at the food bank, these men aspire to be powerful and wealthy. They imagine themselves needing to justify their harem of compliant subordinates, who should just see the provision of sexual favours as part of their job description.
Most of us will never be as famous as Harvey Weinstein or Lawrence Krauss. But most of us do find ourselves in positions of relative power, at least at some point in our lives. The biases and conditioning that we are exposed to, put more men in positions of increasing power than they do women. There is ample opportunity for that power to be abused along gender lines. We have all grown up understanding that these divisions and designations of power are just the natural order. Men take advantage; they are go-getters, breadwinners and leaders. Women get taken advantage of; they are people-pleasers, compliant and passive. As a result, there are many men, whom we call ‘good men’, that are actually not so good. There are men among us, in all echelons of society, that abuse their position to assault and harass their subordinates.
We struggle a great deal with challenging power structures. We are all complicit in upholding the dynamics that keep things as they are; that keep us where we are. We hold such reverence for the social hierarchy, some of us out of resignation, and some of us out of self-interest. These power structures have benefitted many people, who don’t want to lose those privileges. It’s easy to justify and rationalise bad behaviour if there’s an incentive to do so. #MeToo asks us to reflect upon, and change, our values and behaviour; and many men simply don’t want to. While most men are nowhere near as egregious as the Weinsteins and Spaceys of this world, there is a culture that approves of ‘laddish’ behaviour that still falls on the spectrum of poor treatment of women. And many quite like it that way, thank-you-very-much. They’ll claim that requests to rein it in are ‘PC gone mad’ or appeasing the snowflakes and feminazis. They’ll brush their behaviour aside as mere banter, or ‘just having a laugh’. It’s easy to see why they receive sympathy — who’d want to put an end to harmless fun? Don’t those silly women get the joke? They’re obviously too sensitive.
This is one of those moments where I catch myself questioning whether it really is All Men, and end up sighing and resigning myself to the reality that it is. Having heard other people’s accounts of shitty male behaviour, and having it recognised for what it is, I look back on my experiences and realise just how awful things were. I see how abusers were condoned, protected and lauded, and how their predatory behaviour was rewarded with the gift of even more power and success. I’m saddened by the low expectations we had for our men, and the low expectations we had of how we were to be treated. Above all, I detest that men are believed without question, yet women are assumed to be liars until proven otherwise.
What we considered ‘normal’ is certainly not acceptable. But we haven’t known any different. #MeToo is iconoclastic, provocative, and an inconvenience to those in power. Of course it has been met with opposition. Speaking truth to power is especially hard when those with the power deny it exists. But the scale of the problem is evident — for those on the receiving end. There are men who deny the status of their privilege, and there are those that travel through life unaware of the myriad ways that patriarchy benefits them. Whichever group needs convincing, we need to highlight the scale of the problem. For #MeToo is not just about behaviour that crosses the line into criminality. There is unpleasant, controlling and demeaning behaviour in many forms, and we have got to set a higher standard than ‘not technically illegal’ for our personal interactions. Extreme violations and minor ones are all part of the same issue, and no matter how bad an infraction is, it contributes to that bigger problem.
It’s not just rape, assault, or stalking that are the problem. It’s everything, from the President’s Club, to workplace sexism, to the systematic silencing and gaslighting of women. We want men to knock off all of that shit — there is no compromise. We’re beyond protecting men’s reputation and comfort — what about ours?
Just because one isn’t actually committing a crime (or leaving any evidence in their wake) it doesn’t mean that their behaviour is acceptable — but some men think that way, and are alarmed that #MeToo also challenges behaviour that falls into that ‘lesser’ category. Sometimes it’s because they engage in that sort of behaviour and don’t want to change, and sometimes it’s because fearmongers have convinced them that ordinary sexual conduct could be construed as inappropriate. Either way, behaviour can be harassing, inappropriate and coercive long before we get law enforcement involved, and we want that shit to stop as well. Men have been raised to believe that respect is something they are owed, and that women are to grant it without reciprocation. It’s part of our culture, and it means that all of us are complicit. It’s uncomfortable for us to admit that, especially if we are a beneficiary of such a culture, but that’s tough. Change is coming, and it’s coming for all of us.
I have heard men panicking that they will get caught out by this new era of accountability, or that something from their past will come back to bite them. Based on the history of actual consequences levied on perpetrators, the chances of that are slim. But if someone is worried about action being taken against them, or thinks #MeToo has ‘gone too far’, now is a good time to reflect upon it and consider if maybe they are on the wrong side of the divide. Because if you’re objecting to someone asking you to stop treating them a certain way, you have a serious problem. It’s not them; it’s you. There is a huge degree of resistance to the idea that one could be wrong and will need to change, apologise, or stay away. It’s not only from within; our society is presently judging those transgressors harshly (one might say rightly so), and nobody wants to be associated with that. There’s a lot of self-preservation going on, when what we need is self-reflection.
When considering a potential misdemeanour, some say that its severity is subjective, which is part of the underlying problem. Viewing harmful behaviour on a scale of least-bad to worst turns it into a negotiation, when there is no discussion to be had. If you don’t know it’s wrong, then listen to those who say it is. If you do know it’s wrong, then bloody well stop it. We hear that “boys will be boys” — well now we’re asking better of our boys and men. Predatory behaviour is not innate; it is learned. Now that we are deconstructing Rape Culture and its practical manifestations, many men can see that their actions have fallen short of the standards expected. Men are realising that they are in the wrong, and they want to wriggle out of it. Even those that acknowledge the problem have a vested interest in minimising their past behaviour to avoid shame.
We have heard from some quarters that #MeToo signifies the end of flirting, of hookup culture, even the end of sex itself. Apparently we’ll all need to sign contracts prior to intercourse, and consent is just “too complicated”. Well, it was complicated before, but many men chose not to engage with the process. It’s no longer optional, but we’ll only ask you to put it in writing if that’s your kink. There are a lot of strawman arguments going around, implying that everyone will be too scared to initiate sexual contact. It seems closer to reality that before, a scattergun approach was employed, with everyone in striking distance being subject to the ‘charms’ of certain individuals. #MeToo allows a more sophisticated approach, where only those who actually want those sexual advances are party to them. We don’t want to end sex, we want it to be better — for all involved. There is no War On Sex; There is a War On Rape Culture.
A common plea is for victims to be quiet and allow Due Process to occur. It’s something of a cop out, because we have plenty of evidence of the ineffectiveness of Due Process. Hell, we wouldn’t be here if Due Process actually worked. Aside from those who wish to avoid the re-victimisation of the justice system, those for whom the evidence would technically not hold muster, and those treated in a shoddy way that isn’t technically illegal; the courts are stacked in favour of perpetrators. Men who ask for Due Process know that it will be denied to victims. We talk about our experiences precisely because we have been let down, and will be let down, by Due Process.
And if we do circumvent Due Process, we are then put on trial in The Court Of Public Opinion. Many men say that this is bad, because of the importance of Due Process — even though the Court Of Public Opinion has even less ability to mete out justice. It’s a magical wonderland where a perpetrator’s character is a fragile specimen to be protected at all costs, and a victim’s testimony is made of heinous lies and salacious gossip. A place where women fabricate stories to smash the glass case of male infallibility. Despite men holding the floor for the last 50,000 years or so, it feels intimidating that women suddenly get to speak. In this fictional courtroom, even criminal acts of harassment and assault are dismissed as ‘sleazy behaviour’ and ‘being touchy-feely’. Everything is subjective, and you can’t take anyone’s word for it — unless they’re a man. Nobody is found innocent in The Court Of Public Opinion.
Even worse, before we can reach The Court Of Public Opinion, we need a Witch Hunt. Not a good old-fashioned witch-hunt where troublesome women were persecuted for their deviance from social convention, but a sort-of reverse witch-hunt in which men claim persecution yet somehow still manage to come after women that dare to hold them to account. Well, that’s not what a Witch Hunt entails, and no-one is going to be implicated by something that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to become bitter and speak facetiously (as I have neatly illustrated here), but it’s only because we are sick to death of the same nonsensical and hackneyed arguments being touted time and time again. Men have been sold a lie, that women are devious harlots masquerading as innocent, yet suggestive, victims. None of us want to be victims, and you only go on trial if you turn us into one.
I hope that’s covered most of the why and what of Those Who Don’t Get It. Am I being forthright in my response? Yes — collectively, men have got to change their behaviour. If you think it doesn’t apply to you — check again. And then if you’re sure, award yourself a gold star. A gold star for achieving… the bare minimum. Well done.
After having been told every day of your life that you are entitled to women’s time, labour, and bodies; it’s understandable that #MeToo feels like a threat. But we need to put it into perspective. Yes, we are demanding change. We will not back down on that. But if you can’t manage to practise decency and respect, or refrain from groping or wearing down a woman’s resistance; then you need to reassess where the threat lies. Because from where we’re standing, you look like a massive liability. And we won’t let you get away with it. But if you are able to recognise past wrongs, and commit to doing right; we’ll all have a lot more fun negotiating the complexities and delights of consent and fulfilment. And nobody needs to feel threatened anymore.