A Year On From #MeToo

Michele Theil reflects on the tumultuous year of #metoo.

In the last 525,600 minutes, a lot has happened. We’ve seen the release of Ariana Grande’s amazing new album, thousands of dog Instagram accounts, over 300 mass shootings in America and more – it’s been tumultuous and polarising. But, one of the most important things that have happened in the last year has been the immense cultural shift surrounding catcalling, sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct and sexual assault. In October 2017, Alyssa Milano drew attention to the hashtag #metoo, originally started by activist Tarana Burke, after numerous allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was published in The New York Times.

Since then, the movement has grown in leaps and bounds and has even made it to places like South Korea, Japan and the UK recently with allegations coming out against tycoon Sir Phillip Green. So much good has come out from #metoo, with one poignant example being the group ‘Time’s Up’, which was founded in early 2018 to give legal aid to survivors of sexual harassment, abuse and assault. The UK equivalent is called the Justice & Equality fund, which has the support of Emma Watson, Keira Knightley and Jodie Whittaker – when she’s not jetting around space and time of course. Additionally, female journalists in the UK have started The Second Source, a group aimed at helping young women who may feel intimidated, harassed or abused in a male-dominated industry.

But, while #metoo has done a lot of good, women are still being harassed, abused, intimidated and murdered all around the world. The response to #metoo was largely positive but it has also coincided with the heightened ‘Incel’ movement, which originally started on Reddit but has quickly moved into the mainstream. ‘Incel’ refers to those who identify as ‘involuntarily celibate’ – it is not by their choice that they don’t have sex, it is because women are “shallow” and “rude” and refuse to have sex with them for whatever reason. These are the type of guys who say they respect women but will call you a slut for sleeping with other people and call you a bitch for not wanting to sleep with them.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s recent investigation into Topshop owner Sir Phillip Green allowed those who work under his “climate of fear” to speak out against him, in a surge of a British #metoo movement, according to prominent journalists. However, the fact that it’s taken almost a year to the day for #metoo to come to our door says a lot about the patriarchal society we live in, where women are still afraid to speak up against abusers despite encouragement from other women who did it before them.

The journalists who investigated Green on behalf of The Telegraph were women. Those at the New York Times who first revealed Harvey Weinstein’s actions were also women. The top-tier celebrities supporting ‘Time’s Up’ and the Justice & Equality Fund are made up of mostly women. While it may seem fairly obvious that women would be supporting other women, it is wonderful to see that they are, in fact, believing and supporting the women around them. That cannot be said for all women, which is another thing we must reflect on from the past year and in the years to come. There were plenty of high-profile women who came to Harvey Weinstein’s defence, most notably fashion designer Donna Karan of DKNY and ‘Mean Girls’ actress Lindsay Lohan, while Big Bang Theory star Mayim Balik wrote an op-ed that was criticised by many for ‘victim-blaming’.

Brett Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation as a Supreme Court justice despite credible testimony about his despicable actions towards Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was shocking to many. But, it was shocking in particular to women who found themselves defending their belief in Ford against other women who supported Kavanaugh instead. Republican women across the United States were standing by President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, choosing to ignore the allegations. In fact, support of Kavanaugh rose to 69% among Republican women after testimonies from him and Ford in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee were broadcast. In the final confirmation vote, a handful of female senators voted to confirm him, including Joni Ernst, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Deb Fischer, Shelley Moore Capito and, most notably, moderate Republican Susan Collins. Collins, who is a supporter of abortion rights, was expected by many to vote against Kavanaugh due to his inherent threat to the landmark abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade – which is something that many Republicans want overturned – in addition to the sexual misconduct allegations that Ford had lobbied against him. But, Collins ultimately voted to confirm Kavanaugh, which was seen by many Americans to be a betrayal of her constituents, of the #metoo movement and of women in general.

Collins’ confirmation of Kavanaugh showed a lack of support for Ford and for women overall. And, sadly, it is reflective of a large number of women in the US, who see the #metoo movement not as something to be celebrated but as something to be feared. Social media has shown clearly that they fear for their sons, brothers, husbands etc., who might be “falsely accused” and have their lives ruined, more so than they would their daughters or sisters or themselves who might become victims of sexual misconduct in the future.

The problem with this narrative is that many men do not have their lives “ruined” because of sexual misconduct allegations. Donald Trump ascended to the Presidency with relative ease despite his claims of “grabbing her by the pussy” and almost nothing has been done regarding Stormy Daniels’ accusations against him. People will likely still continue to shop at Topshop and other Aracadia offshoots like Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and Burton. Louis C.K, a comedian accused of sexual misconduct months ago, recently did a comedy show, with the audience erupting into applause as soon as he walked onto the stage while there are calls for Kevin Spacey, the House of Cards actor, to return to the show despite those sever sexual assault allegations.

These ‘supportive’ women should tell us the truth; they just don’t care. Sure, they might fear for the men in their lives, or whatever, but it’s clear that there is no allegation big enough to get their attention.

As Amal Abdi wrote, it’s time for women to be angry at what’s happening and continue to fight for what’s right. We should we angry at other women as well as the men who continue to commit such horrific actions unencumbered, who say that all women are liars and hungry for fame. Hundreds of people, including President Trump, either implied or outrightly stated that Dr. Ford was a liar, arguing that she couldn’t possibly be remembering correctly and that it was suspicious timing for her to reveal the details of her traumatic rape at age 17.

This raises the following question: if someone like Dr. Ford, who has a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, won’t be believed then who will?! The allegations against Weinstein also came from prominent, trustworthy women, and yet many stood with Weinstein and defended him either by dismissing the allegations or by ignoring them altogether. And the women who are not supporting the #metoo movement and an overall change in the “climate of fear” are inherently part of the problem. We, as ordinary citizens, don’t stand a chance.

Society wasn’t ready for #metoo in 2017 and in 2018, just one year later, it isn’t any better. But, we have to work with the hand we’re dealt as #metoo is a cultural phenomenon that is here to stay. We’ve got to hustle hard and fight for an end to the harassment, abuse and assault we are subject to, to varying degrees, on a daily basis. And hopefully, one day no one will have to use #metoo ever again.