#MeToo started as a public solidarity movement to expose the widespread problem of sexual assault and harassment, and to provide support to people who have experienced it. I applauded that, because it’s (now, quite obviously) a serious problem. As both an assault survivor, and a longtime advocate for other survivors, I was very hopeful about seeing a level of exposure to this problem never seen before.
However, what I have seen as a growing trend – as a kind of tail wind to the movement, due to the strength it has commanded in numbers (primarily through social media) , is the weaponization of the power of #MeToo . And that is problematic on several levels.
I’m not referring to the type of stories we have heard about the Harvey Weinsteins of the world or other stories that have been certifiably backed up with facts, evidence, or at least enough widespread corroboration to make it very clear that these people were indeed culpable for heinous acts, abuse of power, and so forth. I’m talking about the much more insidious and for the most part, smaller stories, much less clear on context , intent and effect. These lie within a grey, foggy area that some of the rhetoric of MeToo has unintentionally allowed to flourish under its cover, and which capitalizes on the pain of thousands to wield as a weapon- particularly in the political game.
These particular stories – maybe only a sentence or two- “I felt uncomfortable when he touched my back/side/ arm/ too close to my behind” or “he took an offensive photograph” or “he gave me a kiss on the back of my head and I didn’t like it” – to wit, these accounts would not fall under the definition of violence in any way, shape or form –and they are placed strategically within the protection of the #MeToo movement in order to target an individual politically.
Kristin Gillibrand was being politically expedient by denigrating Al Franken and casting him aside with no opportunity for examination of the claims, let alone an opportunity to respond , or to learn, grow or change (if needed). At the end of the day, she wanted to clear the competition she faced from him as a potential Presidential candidate.
This is appalling on several levels and is highly problematic and distressing. To capitalize on any type of traumatic experience(s) for political gain as I have described, in and of itself, is morally untenable.
The stories I am hearing about Al Franken or Joe Biden are not part of any authentic MeToo narrative, which complicates things very quickly . Let me explain why. The individuals who came forward had not participated in MeToo beforehand, or even told these stories prior to these candidates taking forward steps with political goals, to my knowledge, or participated in any other aspects involving support or solidarity for trauma victims. They simply made public statements at suspiciously convenient times about vague incidents that made them uncomfortable.
Let me interject here that human life is pretty messy and complicated and when you live in a stew with seven billion of us there’s going to be a lot of really uncomfortable moments. Don’t mistake that as a dismissal or a normalization of violent acts against individuals, in fact quite the opposite.
So, I’m asking that we please put our critical thinking hats back on for a minute because I can already hear the strident voices from the comments section (or as it used to be known, the Peanut Gallery) telling me that we must “Believe survivors” and that “their feelings about (insert whatever happened here) define it”, or that I’m some kind of gender traitor because I’m not immediately behind these women and their claims.
When you say that your feelings are your truth, you are essentially making a religion out of your feelings and expecting others to accept it as reality in the same way. If you don’t have anything else to base it on, including context, intent, etc, there’s no way for other people to get the kind of 360 -or as close to as possible examination that we as humans need to form accurate perceptions of truth or of reality. I respect that whatever happened made you uncomfortable, but I will absolutely not put your statement into the same bucket as, for example, a story about a harassing boss who implies that sex will lead to promotions, a stalker whom the police will do nothing about because no overt or explicit threat has been made, or worse.
These women are, quite frankly, riding the coattails of women like me, who have endured quite a bit of pain and suffering and are weaponizing our pain to their own political ends. That is appalling. I do not accept it and I greatly resent my experiences being utilized, without my consent, to another’s gain.
And others are at fault – the public at large. Specifically, that ginormous #MeToo bandwagon , mostly online, has reached what I would call an unintentionally (and for the most part well-meant) fanatical application of this standard to every single situation, no matter how vague, unfounded or ridiculous it may be.
I’m asking everyone to please use critical thinking to examine each claim uniquely based on its unique circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all. No matter how well intentioned “Believe Women” is, and largely yes, it is true that women generally do not make up stories about horrible things that have happened to them, it’s not a standard of measure, it is a standard of SUPPORT, and that is a critical difference.
We must apply a standard of measure because what we are purportedly talking about, are crimes. It is a crime to assault or harass. Would I tell authorities that I feel strongly that someone stole a loaf of bread and expect them to be prosecuted it for it on the strength of my feelings? Of course not. So our discourse must be better, less reactive, less knee-jerk fall-in-line-ism. Because it’s dangerous. These online mobs are empowering those with less than pure intentions with regard to #MeToo and it’s powerful, authentic story telling (on the whole).
When you allow everyone to go to the party, you dilute it. So with whatever magnanimous virtue signaling you are projecting about #MeToo (and yes, I am being snarky because I am beyond incensed) , without adequate examination of facts, you are actively discrediting the authentic voices within the movement. So guess what? We lose our strength once again and possibly over time, the erosion of our credibility on the whole – again. How on earth is it possible that “I didn’t like it when he touched my arm” is held to the same standard as “he shoved me down between two cars in the parking garage with a knife to my throat and violently raped me, threatening to kill me the whole time”?
Yes, I know what the strident are thinking right now, “You cannot compare one trauma to another, all trauma is valid and should be treated the same”. I hear that all the time and it’s a misunderstood concept. You treat the individual, whatever they’ve experienced, with respect for their feelings, obviously. But beyond that, an analysis of the context, the intent, the weight of the incident as it pertains beyond the individual to the larger world and its impact, for instance, in the case of a claim weighed against a potentially good and effective politician, must be done.
Which brings me to my last and final point. Where are we going with all of this? Where does it lead? Humans are social creatures and our survival depends on , among other things, contact. Infants die if they aren’t held. Studies have shown that hugging is good for you. That doesn’t mean anyone gets a hug any time they want one. My point is that these strident voices, applying one band-aid to a bloody mess, are shaping the discourse around human behavior and human standards of behavior. There is a thread of virginal pearl clutching about human contact going on here and it’s quite honestly going to a place that I do not want to live.
Do we have to ask before we shake someone’s hand, or hug someone we haven’t seen in years? Do we have to start wearing color coded buttons on our jackets that indicate the level of boundary space we all need? Some of the austere directives I’ve heard from the #MeToo bandwagon aren’t going to solve any problems and they’re going to possibly take away a treasure of human life.
Affection, contact, intimacy. They are inherently good and that’s in danger of getting swept under the rug with the bad. We are in the process of exploring new concepts around acceptable behavior in this area (sadly, we haven’t figured this out as a species yet) but again, we need to think this through, and be thorough in our intentions, in order that we don’t accidentally do ourselves more harm than good.
Clearly, we need to address the problems in society that denigrate, belittle, and abuse people for their gender, orientation , or skin color. Clearly the ability to take advantage over others and wield class related power must change, and we can all be more sensitive, we can learn, and grow. But right now, I’m not seeing #MeToo as our savior, due to the problems I have outlined in this screed, or even a valid method to point us in the right direction, unless we start using the critical thinking we so often praise and so often fail to apply when it confronts our own biases.
- Shannon Alexander