If you’ve spent any time on social media this week, you’ve probably been shocked and sad to see the incredible viral spread of the hashtag #MeToo. The campaign, originally created by activist Tarana Burke in 2007, caught fresh fire when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it to her followers in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted,” Milano suggested, “write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
The results have been stunning — and disturbing. “The hashtag was tweeted nearly a million times in 48 hours, according to Twitter,” CBS News reported. “On Facebook, there were more than 12 million posts, comments, and reactions in less than 24 hours, by 4.7 million users around the world, according to the company. In the U.S., Facebook said 45 percent of users have had friends who posted ‘me too.’”
The evil behavior of Harvey Weinstein, in other words, goes far beyond the Hollywood casting couch. For women, monsters are everywhere.
At least that’s how it feels in the social-media fog in the fall of 2017. In the hostile world that women face, we are now told, Weinsteins lurk around every corner. Writing in The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz noted a comment a friend of hers posted on Facebook: “Genuinely curious if there are women who have never been sexually harassed.” Schwartz doubted that could possibly be the case: “I’d be overjoyed, and shocked, if the answer to my friend’s question turned out to be anything but an unequivocal no.”
Well, get ready to be shocked: I cannot honestly say #MeToo.
That’s right: In a world stocked with predatory males, I have had good male teachers, good male professors, good male bosses, and good male friends who are actual normal human beings with operating empathy sensors and competent command of every basic human emotion. Sure, I’ve been catcalled a few times, and I once had to dart away from a clearly disturbed guy on the streets of New York City. Because I am big on gender equity, I should clarify that I darted away because he was clearly disturbed, not because he was a guy. And that, my friends, is life. Sometimes men get yelled at and have to dodge clearly disturbed people on the streets of New York City, too.
There it is, the whole weird truth. Perhaps I’m alone. Perhaps every American woman but me lives in fear every single day. But, then again, perhaps not.
Perhaps every American woman but me lives in fear every single day. But, then again, perhaps not.
My lack of bad experiences, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else’s experiences of harassment or abuse. When it comes to #MeToo, the numbers are alarming, and I wish nothing but love and support for the people speaking out. My experience does, however, have something to say to one particularly ridiculous and growing #MeToo narrative, mushrooming all over the Internet and expressed succinctly this week in the Huffington Post: “The social media campaign is, of course, intended as a wake-up call for men. If every woman you know has been harassed or assaulted, then every man you know has likely made a woman feel unsafe.”
Got that? “Every man you know has likely made a woman feel unsafe.” This is bonkers. It is nonsense. It’s quite simply untrue, and it’s also unjust. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the growing messaging strategy of some of the more vocal segments of the #MeToo movement.
“This is not an individual problem,” writes Carina Chocano at Rolling Stone. “This is a systemic problem. There are no two sides. ‘Personal responsibility’ doesn’t factor in.” What does factor in? I’ll give you three guesses. (Hint: It is not the inherent sinfulness and fallen nature of human beings.) She continues: “It’s patriarchy. It’s a system of oppression in action.” (You probably needed only one guess.)
“There’s truly no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guy,” writes Leah Fessler at Quartz. “This binary, which is inherently juvenile and oversimplified, evades the reality that our culture raises all men with toxic ideals about masculinity, and that we all share responsibility for ending the misogyny that makes so-called ‘bad’ guys do ‘bad’ things.” (Note: I do not know why the second “bad” is in scare quotes. Is she suggesting that bad behavior is not really bad? It’s so confusing, but I suppose most binaries are. Stay tuned!)
When it comes to helpful tips — like “Three things that decent men can do in response to #MeToo” — the Independent (U.K.) takes things up a notch, managing to insult both boys and girls at the same time. A girl hanging out with a boy, the article declares, “may well not know how to say no, or that she is allowed to say no.” Therefore, it continues — and I’m summarizing here — we should not focus on encouraging girls to speak up and say no, but rather teach boys that girls don’t really know how to say no. No, I am not making this up.
#MeToo has already received a fair share of criticism, for everything from trivializing sexual abuse — the blanket hashtag fails to discriminate between a “me too” for a catcall and a “me too” for sexual assault — and the standard complaint about social media, which is that it’s all talk and no action. In an ideal world, I would hope that #MeToo helps people speak up and fight back. I would hope that it encourages both women and men to stand up and call out perpetrators by name.
Sadly, some people would rather cast stones at all men — and cast all women as victims. That sure is a lot easier, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it does the opposite of good.