Harvey Weinstein, #metoo, And What’s Being Forgotten
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for women, sexual harassment, and feminism. First the internet exploded after The New York Times published an article detailing decades of sexual harassment and sexual assault committed by Harvey Weinstein, one of the most famous and successful producers in Hollywood. Then, perfectly timed with the break of the controversy, the #metoo hashtag came roaring out of the gate, covering every social media feed imaginable with women’s stories about their own harassment and abuse experiences.
There’s one thing I’ve noticed is missing in those #metoo posts: the names of the abusers. This is unbelievably ironic considering the Weinstein scandal.
I don’t have that many friends on Facebook (I like to populate my feed only with people I actually know) but I certainly saw a lot of #metoo posts. Several of them went into some deep detail of what specific harassment or abuse memory haunts them the most. But not one…not ONE…actually gave a name of the person who caused them such distress.
One woman in particular told a story that I’ve heard numerous times, because the perpetrator has used the same methodology on multiple women I know. This woman’s status update was a long description of that methodology, and her feelings about the damage it caused her. But she didn’t use the man in question’s name anywhere in the post, instead using quoted descriptors.
Why not use his name? Especially in this instance when there is a clear pattern of abuse? Wasn’t the fact that only very few people ever stepped forward to call out Weinstein’s abusive behavior the very reason he was able to get away with it for so long?
I have written extensively in the past about my concerns with false rape claims. For the record, I believe that there are more than a few high-profile rape cases that are false or grossly exaggerated claims, and that the male accused in those cases are the actual victims. However, these false or otherwise exaggerated rape claims are only a fraction of a percent of the actual rape claims made every year, and by all accounts the rape claims made each year are themselves only a small percentage of the rapes that go unreported. So to be clear, I am not a rape apologist; I am a rape realist, meaning I understand and accept that some false rape claims are made and the accused end up being the victim.
But there is a huge difference between saying “John Doe raped me,” and saying, “John Doe grabbed my ass at a wedding.” The former is an accusation of dangerous criminal behavior, and the latter is sexual harassment or maybe sexual assault, depending on your interpretation of the terms. But you’d be hard-pressed to find any sane person who thinks that rape and ass-grabbing are at all the same.
As far as I can tell, the #metoo tag is being used not as a “I was raped, and here’s my story” signifier, but as a way to show that virtually every woman you’ve ever met has, at some point, experienced harassment and inappropriate behavior towards their person. If that’s the case, these hashtagged posts should be filled with names. Maybe not every story needs a name but if the woman feels that their particular story involves someone who has a pattern of this kind of behavior then they should be called out publicly.
Because remember: not calling out names is what kept Weinstein immune from scrutiny for so long.
Imagine this hypothetical: a woman with several hundred Facebook friends tells a story about a man groping her at a bar. She gives the man’s name in the post. One of her friends sees this post, and recounts a remarkably similar story involving the same man, possibly even at the same bar. The news spreads, and before you know it you have dozens of women all coming forward to say that this same man did the same thing to them at the same bar over a period of years. The man in question would then have a lot of angry messages in his mailbox and a lot of friends would delete him from their lists. Now, a message has been sent: “Gee, I shouldn’t be a total creep anymore,” he says to himself.
It worked in the Cosby case…why can’t it work for John Q. Groper?
Coming back to the specific post I mentioned earlier, you may be wondering why I don’t call out the man in question right here, right now. I’ll be honest, I’m tempted. The guy’s a scumbag and he deserves what’s coming to him. But I haven’t been abused by him. I didn’t have to go through what he repeatedly puts women through. It is not my story, and thus it is not my place to step in and try to make it my story.
I see my role as a man in these situations as a silent partner. My job is to encourage women to stand up and make their voices heard. I will never, ever know what women go through on a daily basis because I am privileged to be a man, and thus don’t have to deal with any of the awful things women deal with. To make up for that privilege, I should…I must…stand in the background and do what I can to empower women and operate on their terms.
I am not perfect at this. In fact, it would not at all surprise me if there are #metoo stories out there about me. I am in my thirties now, but I was a dumb teen once, and I was an arrogant and stubborn twenty-something as well. If I found a #metoo post about me, I would apologize publicly in a comment to the post and reach out privately to the person to give my most sincere regrets. But I haven’t seen that post because it either hasn’t been written or my name hasn’t been used.
The #metoo trend will be over soon. Maybe something new will come along but here and now this is what we’ve got. Don’t squander it. Use names. Make it count. Don’t give abusers any wiggle room. Stamp their name on it and say, “Explain yourself.”