Accused versus Accountable: What Does the Future Hold for #MeToo?
What started as a hashtag has morphed into a permanent movement. In October 2017, 12 years after a woman named Tarana Burke coined the phrase that would become the rallying cry for survivors of sexual assault, #MeToo is crumbling the brick houses of some of the world's most powerful men.
The first collapse came in April with the conviction of America’s-favorite-Dad-turned-sexual-predator Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a sentence that carries up to 10 years in prison. A month later, another Goliath in the entertainment industry came face-to-face with justice as Harvey Weinstein turned himself into police to face countless accusations of sexual assault against a bevy of actresses.
Now that justice is being served to those who never thought they’d ever taste its flavor, people everywhere are looking at the world through a new pair of glasses, ones that force them to ask questions about their role in protecting everyone--cis men and women, gays and lesbians, non-binary, transgender, etc.--from sexual harassment and sexual abuse. But like other grass roots efforts that have faced similar challenges, the success of the #MeToo movement is not without controversy. Here are three key questions fueling a debate about the future of the #MeToo movement:
Does the #MeToo Movement Go Too Far?
Most of us are familiar with the concept of someone “playing the race card.” As #MeToo continues to gain strength, some allege that women who accuse men of sexual assault are using a similar tactic and attempting to use #MeToo to their advantage.
The recent Aziz Ansari controversy for example had plenty of men--and women--asking if the #MeToo movement sometimes goes too far. In an article by Babe in January 2018, a woman called “Grace” accuses Ansari of ignoring clear signals of her intention to not have sexual intercourse with him. “I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz,” she says. “I was not listened to and ignored. It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.”
Actor and comedian Aziz Ansari in 2012
But unlike the immediate support given by the public to accusers of Weinstein, Ansari’s situation seems less clear. A recent New York Times opinion piece--authored by a self-proclaimed female “proud feminist”--suggests that there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
The writer notes that “the solution to these problems does not begin with women torching men for failing to understand their ‘nonverbal cues.’ A recent survey by The Economist/YouGov found that approximately 25 percent of millennial-age American men think asking someone for a drink is harassment. More than a third of millennial men and women say that if a man compliments a woman’s looks it is harassment.”
“To judge from social media reaction,” she continues, “they also see a flagrant abuse of power in this sexual encounter. Yes, Mr. Ansari is a wealthy celebrity with a Netflix show. But he had no actual power over the woman — professionally or otherwise. Lumping him in with the same movement that brought down men who ran movie studios and forced themselves on actresses, or the factory-floor supervisors who demanded sex from female workers, trivializes what #MeToo first stood for.”
Is it Becoming Too Easy for Victims to Hide Behind the #Metoo Shield?
Until the #MeToo movement forced America to take a hard look at its workplace sexual harassment policies, it was commonplace to immediately question the integrity of a victim of sexual assault. Questions surrounded her motive--is she vying for attention? Is she making a false accusation solely to ruin the reputation of a person in power? And particularly for those in the entertainment industry, is she trying to “become famous” herself?
As in the Ansari case, these are questions with which many grapple whenever a sexual assault case is reported. And though it’s becoming more clear to the world that people with great power are in unique positions both socially and financially to fly under the radar in harassment situations, women are still having to defend their right to report being victimized.
Perhaps that’s why the person who brought down Bill Cosby is often hailed as a hero.
Andrea Constand’s win against Cosby underscored one of the biggest myths about sexual abuse--that women invite unwanted attention for their own gain. In the midst of fighting against her accuser, Constand confirmed publicly in 2015 that she is a lesbian woman, making a clear case against Cosby’s claims that he was able to “interpret the desires of women he assaulted.”
Photo of Andrea Constand by Lucas Jackson-Pool | Getty Images
Stormy Daniels, a former porn star who claims she was forced during the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about a 2006 affair with President Donald Trump, has also been accused of using #MeToo as a shield. Daniels was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article that claimed Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels over $100,000 in hush money. The story also claimed Daniels had been forced to sign an NDA just after the affair occurred.
While the larger story focused on the inappropriateness of the hush money and the timing of Daniel's report--Daniels did not come forward until 2018, after the Wall Street Journal picked up on the case--the question many are asking is if Daniels is using the wave of the #MeToo movement as a way to further her career. Others say her profession as an adult-film actress has unjustly cost her credibility and cast suspicion on her character: Why else would Daniels stay silent for over a decade about the affair, if not to wait for the opportune moment to expose President Trump as a man who lies and cheats on his wife?
But what many on this bandwagon forget is that in 2011 Daniels was violently threatened about the affair. While this isn’t a sexual assault case, the actions of the man in power--in this case, President Donald Trump--are those similar to a sexual predator. Manipulation, bribery and intimidation are all tactics used by powerful men to prey on women. Once Stormy Daniels' story became public the threats came in earnest, including her claim of an unidentified man saying to her in front of her infant daughter: “What a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her Mom.” She signed the NDA out of fear for her life.
WATCH: Stormy Daniels talks with Anderson Cooper about her affair with Donald Trump on 60 Minutes. Daniels says she was told that if she went public about the affair she would "regret it."
The point here is not to assume that all men are guilty of sexual misconduct, but rather to affirm that a woman’s accusations of sexual harassment in any form should not be dismissed. Statistically, the chances that a woman is making a false allegation is slim to none--studies show that false rape allegations account for between 2 and 6% of rapes reported. And keep in mind that these statistics only reflect reported sexual assaults; over 65% of sexual assaults go unreported. So while it’s not impossible that a rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment allegation is false, it is pretty close.
The #MeToo Movement Makes Interpersonal Relationships Harder to Navigate
The #MeToo movement is forcing people everywhere to examine their behavior. Questions like “have I made someone feel uncomfortable," or "Am I encroaching on someone else’s personal space" are abundant.
The truth is we can never ask enough questions--what makes one person uncomfortable may seem completely appropriate to another. We’re all familiar with larger stories of sexual intimidation in the workplace--national TV anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, both of whom were fired in early 2018 for using their powerful positions to sexually prey upon members of their female staff--are two of the latest responses to zero-tolerance workplace sexual harassment policies.
But for others, interaction with female colleagues at work creates a fear of motives being questioned. As a result women are becoming increasingly isolated--this decreases women's ability to connect with male mentors, blocks them from seeking professional advice from male colleagues, and limits their overall upward mobility. The reality is we’re all faced with having larger discussions about what’s appropriate and we need to examine what that means for everyone.
That said, it does beg the question about from where the fear of interacting with women stems: its seems logical that a non-predatory man would not be uncomfortable interacting with a female colleague in the workplace, yet research shows that “almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.”
A recent survey in GQ shows that “38% have changed their dating habits in response to the #MeToo movement, and almost ⅔ agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that ‘husbands are entitled to have sex with their wives and partners.’” Perhaps then issues regarding the interaction of men and women at work--or predatory people and non-predatory people--runs deeper than many are willing to admit. Perhaps those who claim to be non-predatory people are more prevalent in the workforce than we may realize.
Just ask Terry Crews, veteran actor of the series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and self-described “black man in America.” In a recent testimony for the US Senate, Crews described “violence” as his first reaction to being groped by “the head of the motion picture department at my own agency.” He told HuffPost in an interview last October about the attack that, “he just grinned like a jerk.” Crews explained that he chose to “hold back” because to respond violently against his predator might have cost him his career.
Actor Terry Crews
“240-pound-Black Man stomps out Hollywood Honcho would be the headline the next day,” he says. “I let it go because everyone I knew that worked with him” and Crews did not want to be “ostracized.”
“You only have one shot to be a viable member of the community--I’ve seen many young black men provoked into violence,” he added. “What happened to me has happened to many other men; when I came forward thousands of men said #MeToo.”
Men like actor Brendan Fraser, whose #MeToo story made headlines when he recounted his experience of being groped by Philip Berk, President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization that produces and presents the Golden Globe Awards. “I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry. He says the attack “made me retreat, it made me feel reclusive.”
Actor Brendan Fraser
Fraser even wondered if the HFPA had chosen to blacklist him, since following the attack he saw his invitations to the Globes quickly decline. Clearly, the need for watchdog sexual assault policies in the workplace is not overblown--people of all gender identities and backgrounds are still being victimized.
The #MeToo movement is forcing us all to ask questions; what’s important is to be sure we’re asking the right ones. That’s what some people are doing in an effort to ensure the #MeToo movement brings us closer together rather than further apart.
J-POP singer-songwriter Chris Hart believes that the way to bridge the gap between understanding the benefit of #MeToo and feeling threatened by its power is to accept that “almost all of us have contributed to a destructive, counterproductive and traumatic culture of abuse. ‘Those were the times,’ and most of us choose to conform to the norms of the times rather than stray from them. The intent is irrelevant. Being oblivious is irrelevant. We should accept that whether we knew or not, or whether we meant it or not, that countless people are hurt and traumatized by sexual harassment and abuse every single day.”
Others using #WeToo as a unification tool and bridge to understanding include Rutgers Magazine, whose Spring 2018 issue featured a story on how the recent Women’s Marches, #MeToo, and Time'sUp movements have reinforced the commitment to women's rights. “For decades, women scholars at Rutgers have been ardent advocates,” the publication writes. “They have seen the progress made—and the progress yet to come.”
Photo courtesy of Rutger's Magazine via Instagram
The point of the #MeToo movement is not to condemn every man accused of sexual assault. In fact, it’s not about the men at all.
The #MeToo movement exists to provide a platform on which to share stories in an open-minded community of those who have been through similar situations. The #MeToo movement is about everyone standing together in solidarity, defining themselves as sexual assault survivors, and refusing to be shamed into living lives hidden away as victims.
* She-Compass staff writers contributed to this article.
Sources: The Advocate, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, LeanIn.org, HuffPost, GQ, SheCompass.com, NBC News, The Wrap, TheConversation.com, The Guardian, Rainn.org, New Republic, StacialBrown.com, BBC, Vanity Fair, WeForum.org, Wikipedia.org, BBC