For a bit of context, the #MeToo campaign is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Going viral in October 2017, the development of the hashtag, and its wider implications, was driven primarily by high-profile, successful actresses, such as Jennifer Lawrence and Uma Thurman, who describe themselves as feminists. This came soon after the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Harvey Weinstein. Unfortunately, there are some components of the movement with which I believe need to be changed.
Firstly, the purpose of the movement; the end-goal is not clear, despite the creator of the movement, actress Tarana Burke, explicitly identifying some goals (for example, better protection of children at school and updated sexual harassment policies). Furthermore, what specific actions will be taken in order to achieve this undefined objective. Is the aim to end sexual harassment? To inspire societal change? To encourage and empower women to be able to make allegations of sexual misconduct? The lack of clarity is evident and media coverage of the issue would be best used in setting and achieving some targets which actually solve some of the problems identified, rather than just highlighting the issue. As the leader of the British suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, would have said, “Deeds, not words”.
The second issue with the #MeToo campaign are the lines which have not been drawn. If we take an example to explain this problem. Many relationships begin with office workers who work together. The modern left has fought for decades against the traditional conservative views, suggesting that sexual freedom on a societal level and in the office is a good thing. Some people would take the argument that a man should never make a move on a girl (or vice versa) without their consent. The problem with this is that in practice, the majority of people do not say, “Is it ok if I kiss you?”, simply because it is possibly one of the least romantic things to say. There are times when a man will make a move on a woman, and they will both be completely fine with it. There will be times where the woman is not at all fine with it. The point is, where is this hard line drawn? Is the second scenario sexual harassment? The #MeToo movement fails to distinguish what is sexual misconduct and what is acceptable and what is not. This makes it difficult for men to judge what is deemed appropriate, as the hard lines needed have not been made clear by feminists and by #MeToo campaigners. Some lines are evident – being wolf-whistled at or being complimented by men may make some women uncomfortable, but it is evidently not on the same level as rape, a horrendous crime. However, the #MeToo campaign must make distinctions about what is right and what is wrong in order to make genuine reforms.
The third problem is the actresses who put on social media a vague description of their experiences. Whilst this may encourage others to come forward, it does not convict those guilty of sexual misconduct. An example is America Ferrera, who put her experience of being sexual assaulted as a nine-year old on both Instagram and Twitter. The horror of this situation at the time is understandable and thus so are the reasons why a nine-year old girl would not speak out. But as someone now at the age of 34, surely she has enough power, knowledge and influence to name the individual who is potentially still preying on children. It is important to give specific details of the person in order to pursue justice and put the individual in jail or to seek financial compensation from him. Without naming the individual, it makes it impossible to impeach the man against whom the allegations should be made.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, there has been a discussion that has arisen because of the #MeToo movement about the extent to which accusers should be believed. The US Department of Justice estimate that between 2% and 10% of all rape allegations are false, which is relatively low. The proponents of believing the accusers have cited these statistics in response to those who are concerned about the accused being punished without due process. These low statistics do not justify the replacement of the presumption of innocence before guilt, a key principle in any Western Democracy. Whilst this can make it difficult for judicial bodies to find the truth and make convict those who are guilty, it is a concept which cannot be eroded under any circumstances, as the protection of these legal principles are fundamental to any functioning democracy. This is a criticism of up-most importance of the #MeToo campaign.
Despite these criticisms, I am not anti-#MeToo. This is not a critique of the why the movement exists in any way, but rather, it is some of the improvements to the campaign that must be made in order to give it more force and push through some genuine legislative and societal reforms on the issues about which the campaigners feel most ardently.
Written by Rob White