On the #MeToo backlash
The #MeToo movement has accomplished plenty in the past few months — from inspiring 1.7 million #MeToo posts across 85 countries, to calling out over a hundred prominent American actors, writers, politicians, and other public figures for sexual misconduct, to organizing the #TimesUp takeover of the Golden Globes and beyond. But with every successful movement inevitably comes backlash, and the #MeToo movement is no exception.
This backlash was first most notably evident in the aftermath of an accusation of misconduct made against comedian and actor Aziz Ansari. On January 14, the website Babe.net published a piece called “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” The piece, which recounted the story of an anonymous young photographer’s date with Ansari, went viral. Readers vociferously debated their polarized opinions about whether or not Ansari’s actions, which were explicitly described in the piece, constituted misconduct or amounted to little more than a “bad date.” No matter one’s specific opinion on the matter, however, the story undeniably reflected a growing backlash encroaching on the #MeToo movement as a whole.
Take CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield’s response to the Ansari controversy. Banfield addressed an “open letter” to Ansari’s alleged victim, in which she made statements like, “After protesting [Ansari’s] moves, you did not get up and leave right away … you should have just gone home.” The idea that the onus is on an alleged victim to physically distance themselves after someone makes unwanted advances is ludicrous and archaic. “[You sought] a public conviction and a career-ending sentence against him — is that truly what you thought he deserved?” Banfield added in the letter. “You have potentially destroyed this man’s career over it, right after he received an award for which he was worthy.”
Banfield’s letter, which reflected the opinions of many, exploits a fear that many victims of assault know all too well: fear that their abuser’s position of power will negate their experiences and that the only effect speaking out will have is, at best, to be a blemish on their record and, at worst, to make them a target of their revenge. It reinforces the idea that women only come forward to cause pain and inflict harm on their accusers, which is not only a sexist and dehumanizing way to regard female survivors, but also an ideology that precludes the idea that women come forward about sexual assault to create positive outcomes for women. This thinking perpetuates the idea that the only rational reason that men should not commit sexual assault is to avoid receiving this blemish on their record. It also doubly objectifies women, presenting them as sex objects for men or life ruiners inflicted on them, not as people whose lives have been hurt nor people whose lives seek to be repaired.
Of course, Banfield isn’t the only public figure questioning the legitimacy of either individual allegations aligned with the #MeToo movement or the movement itself. “To insist that women rely entirely upon the goodwill of others for their own safety is not only fantastically irresponsible, it borders on the reprehensible,” wrote one writer in a Quillette piece. “Those who stretch the definition of sexual assault to absolve themselves of responsibility for their own choices, or who wilfully ignore the self-evident facts of human nature whenever they conflict with the false rhetoric of their political doctrines, are doing the cause of women’s safety no favors at all.” Others defended accused men, such as one writer for the New York Daily News who stated, “Most of the sensational harassment cases in the media involved high-profile men working in unusual environments with little or no accountability. That suggests they are atypical.”
It’s important to remember that this iteration of the #MeToo movement was originally spurred by the reported accusations of abuse and assault made against Harvey Weinstein. His was a clear case in which a prominent man abused his power, and got away with doing so, for years because of his position of power. He was brought to justice because his alleged victims finally chose to band together and come forward against him. They reminded us that women should not hesitate to come forward just because doing so may put their abuser’s career in jeopardy. This movement won’t progress if we expect perfection from female victims, rather than expecting perfection, or even just decency, from men.
More articles by Category: Feminism
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Rape, Sexual harassment, Sexualized violence