In Contention: Problems with the #MeToo Campaign

If you have not already, I advise you to read the article by Rob White that this is in response to – although you do not need to, to understand the content of my own writing, it will give you context to my debate.

As an Editor of this magazine, I relish in choosing the next issue topic, brainstorming my ideas for an article and debating over the arguments within it. Any issue, due to its political nature, excites me, but when we chose feminism for this issue, I was ecstatic. Feminism has, for a long time, been one of my biggest passions within the political sphere; when you scroll through my Instagram feed you cannot go three posts without seeing a lengthy caption relating to the failures of white women within the feminist movement, or why men should embrace feminism to combat toxic masculinity. I even joked with one of my editorial counterparts (in fact, the one who I will be debating today) about how I was going to write 17 articles for this issue as I have so much to say – yet, here I am, only starting my first nearly two weeks after the original deadline. Truthfully, whilst my passion for this topic is so strong, I have found it difficult to focus my thoughts into one article – even when I tried, I could barely get the words onto the page.

“Frankly, I would have enjoyed someone denouncing the whole movement more than reading the article that is the subject of this contention.”

Then, suddenly, as I was reading through our submissions, editing, hoping for some inspiration, I came across a piece of writing that I could not ignore. Petty Bourgeoisie prides itself on neutrality, publishing any view as long as it is well written and well founded, thus, in a feminist issue, of course we needed an anti-feminist viewpoint. Frankly, I would have enjoyed someone denouncing the whole movement more than reading the article that is the subject of this contention. Before anyone says I am quenching free speech or undermining the publication’s neutrality; this is a debate between two Editors, two friends, who have opposing views on many issues but publish them both. The reason for my choosing a ‘call-out’, of sorts, as my article is firstly that I was so roused by the view put forth in my counterpart’s article that my mother had to check on me, as I was bickering out loud at my computer screen. Secondly, the perhaps more selfish reason, is that if I don’t write this article now, I find it doubtful that I will write one at all.

 The #MeToo Movement, a term coined, and group set up by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, is currently at the forefront of the 2018 Feminist Movement. Gaining momentum through the sexual assault allegations of Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo was founded to empower sexual assault survivors, particularly women, and women of colour, and “find pathways to healing.” A criticism made of the Movement in White’s article is that it has no clear purpose and yet, in the whole page dedicated to ‘History & Vision’, on the #MeToo website, it declares they aim to help “those who need it to find entry points for individual healing” and to “expand the global conversation” around sexual assault, seemingly a quite obvious declaration of purpose. Now, to be fair to the author, White questions the “specific actions” that the Movement wishes to take, but the #MeToo Movement is not a policy or a piece of legislation, it doesn’t have bullet points of why, when, and how things must happen – in the end, that is the responsibility of politicians, not sexual assault survivors. Movements – BlackLivesMatter, the queer movement, veganism – are social waves in which broad issues are challenged, with aims to rework the culture of a society that often perpetrates harm or discrimination. And, if that isn’t enough for you, Tarana Burke stated how #MeToo is interpreted differently by anyone who needs it because first and foremost, it is to empower sexual assault survivors and break down the rape culture that still thrives in Western society.

One of the arguments that I am most at odds withinWhite’s article, and as a general criticism of #MeToo, is that asking for consent isn’t romantic, it ‘kills the mood’ so-to-speak. Firstly, this idea is inherently flawed as the majority of women like their partners asking for consent. For many women who have had negative sexual experiences, considering that 1 in 6 women have been sexual assaulted in America, having their partner check in on them is empowering, it makes them feel safe and leads to open communication during sex – something which is mutually beneficial. However, even if it isn’t romantic, even if it does kill the mood, I am pretty sure that every single sexual assault survivor would rather their attacker had asked them and it be a bit awkward, instead of proceeding to violate their bodily autonomy. Learning that romance is always secondary to consent is a fundamental campaign of the #MeToo Movement, as one of the reasons that the extent of sexual assault occurs, is that the prioritisation of saying yes is replaced by a self-conscious idea of romance. Ultimately you must have consent to have romance, as one cannot truly love someone if their love is not consensual. 

White states that “The #MeToo movement fails to distinguish what is sexual misconduct, and what is acceptable and what is not” suggesting the idea that the men who #MeToo is aimed towards do not understand what consent is. Personally, I would contend that this is a failure of the education system for not effectively teaching children the details of consent in platonic, familial and, later, sexual situations. Rather, to contend that this lack of understanding is a failure of the #MeToo Movement, the website of the campaign states that consent “doesn’t have to be verbal” and links two further articles that explain consensual situations in a more detailed manner. #MeToo explicitly shows what consent is and where the line is drawn between what is consensual and what is not. As someone who’s awareness of sexual assault and consent was inspired by the #MeToo Movement, it is the campaign that I attribute my understanding to.

“Consent is not the absence of NO. It’s the presence of YES”, explained in askmen, is one of the most intelligible definitions of consent in my personal opinion. White’s third paragraph shows a clear misunderstanding of this – to which I urge him to read the article I am referencing – as there has been a recent confusion over whether consent must always be verbal. In his favour, one could thus say this is a failing of the #MeTooMovement, and perhaps I would be inclined to agree, but one movement cannot be expected to be aware of every conversation of consent that occurs, so that they can personally explain what is and isn’t consent – the purpose of #MeToo is to raise awareness of the issues of sexual harassment and provide resources for individuals to educate themselves if they are unsure. As we are here, and on the topic, this is an opportunity for this education:

A fundamental idea of consent is that, when it has been given, there is no question in one’s mind about the intentions and boundaries of whatever activity is about to take place. Consent primarily comes in two broad forms, that often occur at the same time but can be separate:

  1. Explicit verbal consent. To use the example in White’s article, one participant asks, “Is it okay if I kiss you?”, the other(s) reply “Yes.” This is the simple, obvious form that many feel is unromantic or a turn off (as dismissed earlier) but is still the most safe and most clear form of consent.
  2. Active participation without being asked. For example, leaning in for said kiss. Physical signals are another form of consent but, like all, can be revoked or only be a yes for continuation, rather than a yes for everything you may have been expecting.

My final contention with the arguments of my co-Editor (who I still respect as a friend and political counterpart, I might add) is a misunderstanding of why so many sexual assault survivors, of all genders, have come forward using the hashtag to showcase their stories. #MeToo, as it says, is about “healing” meaning that many survivors have come forward to try and start their own process of restoration. White suggests that survivors’ sole purpose for coming forward should be to “convict those guilty of sexual misconduct.”Although, in some cases, such as that of Dr Blasey Ford – a prominentProfessor at Stanford who accused Brett Kavanaugh, a US Supreme Court nominee, of sexual assault but lost the case – the intention of survivors is in hope that perpetrators will not gain any more power and be sentenced for their crimes. But, the reality is that out of every 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will not be convicted. Thus, no matter how much “power, influence and knowledge” a survivor may have, the likelihood of their story being believed and their attacker being jailed, or even put on trial, is slim to none.

“The Movement was not just made to jail sexual assaulters, it was also made to create a community, in which, sexual assault survivors were believed.”

Further, those without any positions power have even less chance of successfully convicting their attackers, meaning that if they are specific and name the perpetrator (especially if they are in a position of power) there is chance that the survivor could be sued for defamation etc.Asking someone who has undergone sexual assault, a traumatic experience that can lead to PTSD, to specifically relive the details of their assault on the public stage when there is little chance of their attacker being convicted is ludicrous, if not cruel. Therefore, many survivors have come forward in solidarity, in bravery, to start their healing process with the support of others who have suffered also, not necessarily in the hope of a just result. Men, who although have much lower statistics of being victim to sexual assault, compared to women, are often also less likely to come forward about their experiences and seek solace. However, through the influence of #MeToo many male survivors have come forward and joined a community of assault survivors who can empower each other, support each other and, perhaps, heal the pain that has been caused by the prolific sexual harassment that occurs globally. The Movement was not just made to jail sexual assaulters, it was also made to create a community, a stronghold of support, in which, finally, sexual assault survivors were believed, not dismissed. Just like supportive communities of refugees, asylum seekers, children who have been trafficked, #MeToo provides comfort within a space where one can read others’ experiences and finally feel heard.

White’s last point is his most persuasive as, ultimately, as democrats we must all accept that innocence before proven guilty must be upheld. However, our current judicial system does not make provisions for sexual assault survivors and the statistics highlight that – rather than 6 incarcerations for every 1000 rapes, there should be 166 (founded on my own maths of stats previously mentioned). To change this, firstly, victims of sexual assault must be encouraged to report their attack, something that will occur through an attitudinal shift that #MeToo is contributing to. Conviction processes will also be reformed as survivors feel more confident, more compelled, to legally report their attack, something which is more likely if they have a support network that #MeToo has created. Dr Blasey Ford is testament to this, the liberal media support for her testimony was avid and, although she lost her case, the new hashtag of #IBelieveHer is creating a social change where victims are believed.

Now, I understand that this article is over double that of the article that I have been contending, but, as I mentioned, I am very passionate about this subject. Attitudes are shifting, the gender binary is being blurred and sexual assault is being exposed as systemic violence that is either against women who are silenced due to power imbalance, or against men who are silenced due to toxicity of hyper-masculinity. #MeToo should be commended, applauded and celebrated for the impact it has had and for the many, many survivors who came forward and told their stories; it is a movement that will be remembered as a turning point in Feminism and, hopefully, the suggestion of a future where sexual assault decreases in occurrence, increases in conviction and liberates society from a pandemic of brutal, sexual violence. Radical Feminism talks of sexual revolution, a complete reworking of social values to remove misogyny from society; sexual assault is (not always but often) a manifestation of misogyny and the power balance between masculinity and femininity. The #MeToo Movement is the first suggestion that, perhaps, the revolution feminists are looking for is occurring.

Written by Frankie Arren

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