War of words: Has #MeToo gone too far?

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Has #MeToo gone too far?

No writes Claire Cohen, Women's Editor

Online, you will find Google’s visualisation of the #MeToo hashtag. A virtual globe spins, while fireworks explode to demonstrate its spread - from America to Hanoi to Hull.

Six characters that united women from all corners of the planet. That helped them share stories of sexual harassment. That showed the power of social media as a tool of activism.

Yet, some say #MeToo has ‘gone too far’. Not every woman wants, or needs, to speak out - must we all be ‘victims’ now?These critics have woefully missed the point (and there’s more than a little intellectual snobbery about a movement that was started online by Hollywood celebrities).

#MeToo has moved beyond the red carpet and had real world consequences in our homes and offices. It has galvanised women to form unions; tackle HR departments. Helplines have experienced unprecedented demand. The Time’s Up project has raised more than £15m to help ordinary women pay for legal assistance.

It has been healing, too: many - including the victims of Bill Cosby - saying the movement has made them feel less alone; less ashamed.

This is not about women seeking to be victims. It is not about flirting - or a ‘witch hunt’ that means a man can no longer risk being alone with a woman (if #MeToo gets in the way of your love life, you’re doing it wrong). It’s not about acts of everyday sexism, although those must be called out, too.

It’s about lies, touching, groping, not listening to ‘no’. It’s about an unequal power dynamic between some men and some women - and the abuse of that power.

Of course, this is a steep learning curve and any accusations must stand up to scrutiny. But women have, for too long, not been believed, if they felt able to speak out at all. Now we are listening. Now we are asking questions.

If the Harvey Weinstein scandal has shown us anything, it is the sheer number of women who were silenced through shame. Many remain silent still. Too far? #MeToo hasn’t gone too far enough.

Has #MeToo gone too far?

Yes writes Zoe Strimpel, columnist Sunday Telegraph

Has #MeToo gone too far? For me the first problem lies in the question. #MeToo both never went far enough and always went too far, right from the get-go. That’s why it’s such a flawed movement.

The #MeToo ‘movement’ began as a hashtag Tweeted by a celebrity (the actual term was coined by Tarana Burke in 1997). From here it picked up speed, offering – as hashtag politics inevitably do – an easy peg on which everyone and their dog could hang whatever  grievance or experience related to sex and men that they wanted to. Since we live in an era in which experience – the codpiece of identity – is king, and reason, argument or even law are outmoded, metoo unsurprisingly became a moving feast of outrage.

The distinctions that are so key to questions of sex and consent were lost. All men, so it seemed, were nasty predators. The corollary, of course, was that all women were victims.

The law of the mob is the kind you can expect from hashtag politics, and #MeToo was a prime example; male heads rolled one after the other in entertainment, politics, business. While some men had behaved badly, even criminally, not all had been so egregious.  

But it didn’t matter. The heads kept rolling. A verbal come-on, an unsolicited hand on the knee and much more serious accusations of assault all became melded into one, long, furious wrecking ball.

As #MeToo has gone on, I've watched with sympathy as the older generation of women, my mother’s lot, have scrunched their eyes up in bewilderment. They knew what it was to struggle against the patriarchy – they’d had to fight to even take out mortgages and credit cards in their own names, to get safe abortions, not to be rankly and openly discriminated against at work in ways my generation can barely imagine. Why then were young women making such a fuss about a man touching our bum? Why not just slap him and get on with it? Why not indeed.

And in the end, what has changed? When you’re alone on the street at night and a dodgy man starts following you, no amount of indignant hashtaggery will help you. #MeToo, then, has merely mobilised anger without providing solutions.

 

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