Ask Linda 2— Backlash to Burke’s MeToo Movement
Beatrice Linda Louis is a long-time friend and colleague. She is an Indian and a trained lawyer who is the Business Editor for Uncommon Ground Media Ltd. and an activist against sexual violence and exploitation. Louis can be found on Twitter with the caption quote by Mariane Wright Edelman, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you can change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”
Here we talk about the backlash to the #MeToo movement.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the backlash to the #MeToo movement?
Linda Louis: Right, so, as you know, the MeToo movement started with people sharing their experiences. It started with Harvey Weinstein. Although, there was a woman who started the movement herself, Tarana Burke. The MeToo movement, itself, is largely self-driven. It is driven by social media. It is driven by people talking about their experiences.
That has to be understood first. It was not started by a particular group of people or an organization. It picked up steam. The reason that it became so powerful was because the momentum it picked up was a surprise, because normal people — guys especially — were surprised to see their friends and childhood friends come out with all these traumatizing experiences saying, “Me too, I experienced this too.” It became clear.
Because there were almost no women who had not been harassed. The backlash, I would say, started in the English-speaking world with publications like Spiked & Quillette, which talked about the MeToo movement being too big. Before that, Peter Hitchens wrote a piece talking about how if this is considered sexual harassment then women need to be in burkas.
That is because there was a sub-wave of the MeToo movement happening in the UK. Several members of parliament were accused of harassment. There was this piece by Peter Hitchens. There was another by Douglas Murray, which I cannot recall at the moment. It was an acidic publication. It is saying, “Oh my God, what are you guys talking about? It is just flirtation. It is just men showing their appreciation. If you do not like this, basically, you’re insisting on dragging us back to an age of puritanism.”
One allegation in the UK related to someone placing a hand on the knee of a junior writer. This is how it started. Then Quillette, you have this whole antifeminist wave. Primarily, it is spearheaded by Christina Hoff Sommers, Helen Pluckrose, Kathy Young, Lionel Shriver at times. So, what they came out and said was three things: 1) MeToo started out with Harvey Weinstein level crimes was starting to become too broad and include flirtation as harassment, 2) the effect of this movement would be to shove women into the homes again, and 3) this was a demonstration of what they thought of as victimhood.
Women in the West — they said — with this current wave of feminism have been trained or conditioned to see themselves as victims, which is why they complain about all these nasty little problems. They said, “In our times, we brushed it off. We put down our hand and said, ‘No, this is not how things are going to be.’” You have to remember. Sexual harassment in the workplace, since it started in Hollywood. It all came out, “He did not force himself on you. You consented at the time. You did have consent. You do have agency. That was their argument.”
This was the backlash. From there, it picked up. Spiked, especially, came out with almost a dozen articles. They had an article almost every second day with MeToo becoming a witch hunt or not focusing on the right victims. For example, in the UK at the time, I believe the Telford case of grooming gangs broke. So, Brendan O’Neill would write a lot of pieces asking, “What does MeToo do for the Telford girls?” On the face of it, it is unreasonable.
We will get to that. The point was MeToo was about high-class elite urban women fussing about small things and ignoring the real victims. That was another criticism. What the backlash escalated into was saying, “MeToo is a witch hunt. Due process was not followed. Men having their rights ruined over their allegations. Women are unnecessarily stretching the concept of sexual harassment to anything they didn’t like.”
As you know, it picked up quite a bit of traction. Areo Magazine picked up several articles critical of it. National Review and the regular rightwing press were like “Oh my God, these feminists.” I think there were a lot of these articles accusing MeToo as being a witch hunt without due process.
Jacobsen: What demographics of Indian society are pushing back against it?
Louis: In India, MeToo has taken off. Some allegations have been made against prominent figures in the media. The pushback is of the same type: “How are we supposed to believe these things? This is not sexual harassment. Why are these women coming out with this now? I would say the backlash has been of the same nature but not as much as the West.
Primarily, India is, obviously, a very patriarchal society. Women are extremely unsafe. The levels of sexual harassment and rape are very high. They cannot push back too much. It is too incredible. But they can push back, but it is of the same variety.
Jacobsen: What are the reasons for pushing back against it? What have been other reasons surmised as to the reasons for the pushback? In other words, the ones explicitly given and the ones you can infer.
Louis: I would not go as far as to say that they have an ulterior motive. This is the difference between feminists and people on the outside. When you know even a little bit of the history of misogyny and female oppression, you start to realize society, as it exists, has a trend. The trend is to want to keep things undisturbed. This is not entirely unnatural. Systems scientists speak a lot about this.
When a system is disturbed, it will try to reach equilibrium. Historically, most of our societies, not just East and the West, almost all societies have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge rape or sexual harassment because it is so endemic, so widespread. What if we treated it with the censure that we should; that would stain a ridiculously high number of men in society.
Of course, society cannot have that. Human nature, human fear, the fact that we have brothers, fathers, and sons. Society or, rather, the flow of human society has never allowed us to treat this problem to its fullest extent. I would say with the backlash. It is rooted in very well-known reasons. There is a tendency to want to disbelieve women, whether people admit it or not.
There is a tendency when a woman comes up and says something happened to her to respond, “Are you sure? What occurred?” Because, at some level, we know this is a vile crime. So, society has tried to blame the woman who is complaining. As late as the 90s, in many jurisdictions in the world, a word of a rape victim was not treated as the equivalent of other crime victims.
This tells you this resistance is so deeply embedded in society. Secondly, it is popular to be anti-feminist. If you are anti-feminist, you are a hero, you are popular, and you are a contrarian because you went against the feminist monsters. Many of these women: Joanna Williams, Ella Wheelen. Their online profile has risen almost exclusively on being antifeminists.
If you are a woman and antifeminist, you are beloved. Men love you, obviously. Also, many women are disillusioned with what is known in the West as Third Wave Feminism. Again, it comes down to the fact that, as humans, we want to believe our species is good. We want to believe the men in our lives are great. That is always something feminism needs to fight against, the shattering of the illusion. People cling desperately to the illusion.
A lot of it has been that resistance. Take, for example, the case with Spiked. They had an article lamenting MeToo every two to three days. Why should a publication focus so much on one movement? It was almost as if people felt threatened. I would say, “Yes, a lot of the men felt threatened.” Maybe, they had a history of inappropriate behaviour. Maybe, it would catch up with them. The women who came out against it are women who are part of the standard human nature thing.
Women who have been through harsh lives and who are proud of themselves for having come through it. Who tell themselves, “I went through a man’s world and made it,” they are often very harsh towards younger women because “I did this. I suffered. Things were difficult for me. Why can’t you?” So, some of the backlashes of women were also because of it.
They felt since women were driving the movement should not complain about it, but simply handle it or brush it off. The idea: no, we should not have to handle it. It is, apparently, too much to ask for. To run that out, there is a backlash. One is this deep-set resistance to believing women or to dealing with compassion towards them. There is a resistance to treating any sexually inappropriate behaviour with disgust and censure.
Because there is a realization that many, many men would fall in that net. Thirdly, some of it is women who have not felt harassed but who have enjoyed the uninvited attention. They feel as if they need to defend the actions of those people, “Oh, some of it is complimentary. It is not that big of a deal. There is a competition among women to not be man-haters. That is also part of it.”
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Linda.