As convenient as it might be for a movement as powerful as #MeToo to be simple, it, like humanity, is more nuanced and complex.
The primary thing the #MeToo movement has created is an awareness and disciplinary action of men in positions of power who, often in secret, harassed, assaulted, and raped women who were, in their minds, beneath them. This is progress, upending decades of secrecy, shame, and abuse these particular women have endured.
Yet the #MeToo movement has also created a secondary issue of allegations of abuse that now demonstrate natural dynamics between men and women, however awkward — a sloppy kiss, an unwanted wink, or a compliment that seems bumbling — with actual harassment, abuse, or assault. The attempt to roll all these instances together and declare them all equally harmful is disingenuous and will backfire: It creates a dynamic where all women are basically victims and all men are near-perpetrators.
In Texas, the Office of the Attorney General fired Deputy Attorney General Andrew D. Leonie last week after he posted an article on his Facebook page written by a friend and colleague, published at The Federalist, (where I am also a senior contributor). Denise McAllister wrote the article, entitled “Can We Be Honest About Women?”, looking at the natural sexual and relational dynamic between men and women following the explosive #MeToo movement. Alongside the article, Leonie added, “Aren't you also tired of all the pathetic 'me too' victim claims? If every woman is a 'victim', so is every man. If everyone is a victim, no one is. Victim means nothing anymore.”
Within hours, Leonie was fired and this statement accompanied the decision: “The views he expressed on social media do not reflect our values. The O.A.G. is committed to promoting and maintaining a workplace that is free from discrimination and harassment.”
While it’s certainly the O.A.G.’s right to fire whom they please, I’m not sure Leonie’s comments warranted such a definitive response. Leonie should have refrained from his ad hominem attack (victim-blaming is never a good look) but the rest of Leonie’s statement provides valuable context: He wasn’t calling the #MeToo movement pathetic, but he’s fed up with how it’s overcompensating and recognizing every woman who’s ever been touched, kissed, ogled, or winked at as some kind of passive victim and every man with a high libido as some kind of abuser.
What McAllister emphasizes in her piece is simply that women enjoy being desirable and flirting with men (thus the number of cleavage-baring selfies on the internet) yet she emphasizes that she does not condone violence or abuse toward women.
An example: Recently Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he would not seek re-election after nude photos of himself appeared online. Originally when the story broke, it appeared to blend in with the #MeToo movement: Here was another woman who had been wronged — receiving nude photos without consent — and he was the sexual pig. Yet the entire context of the story became clear a couple days later, when outlets reported the two had been in a consensual relationship, he broke up with her, and out of revenge, she posted the images. She was hardly a victim.
In observing that #MeToo women are unduly intimidated and harassed, even assaulted and raped, sympathetic women jumped on the bandwagon of distress and added a range of stupid, uncomfortable, and absurd but often consensual interactions they’ve had with men that seemed generally permissible in the moment but later through the lens of #MeToo borderline harassment or abusive. There isn’t a lot of daylight between these two sometimes, but we need to find out where that glimmer is and differentiate. Otherwise it does a great disservice to the real victims of the #MeToo movement who have experienced actual assault, perpetuates the myth that all women are simply sexual aggressors lying in wait, and discounts the often natural, consensual, flirtatious interplay between men and women.
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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