In the United States, countless stories have been shared, vindicated, and celebrated. Heads have rightfully rolled. Womxn* and allies have dominated the social discourse over the past year, from social media to the streets. A cultural revolution has ignited.
People across the world have also shared experiences of sexual harassment and assault, gender-based violence, and discrimination. These revelations have catapulted into a global phenomenon, emanating from the voices of those speaking out, encapsulated in a simple hashtag – #MeToo. These voices breathed new life into the mantra, originally crafted by American activist Tarana Burke, and the movement has spawned an inconsolable wave of #MeToo-related tweets and tags across 85 countries in a single week. By the end of 2017, #MeToo was tagged over six million times. #MeToo’s success has been bolstered by intersections with other contemporary movements, like the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, and the greater struggle for gender equality.
#MeToo has revealed how the enduring epidemic of sexual abuse crosscuts all social strata. We have witnessed those in the highest echelons of society abuse their positions of power and enable abuse around them, beginning with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last October, followed by an overwhelming list of culpable public figures across the U.S. – from the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who abused over 265 girls, to the President of the United States, Donald Trump, who has an increasingly suspicious list of accusations piling up.
The mobilisation of this movement has even unearthed abuses by our own gatekeepers, those designated to protect us. 2018 has already seen scandals breaking across institutions and organisations like Oxfam, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, even widespread violations across various United Nations institutions. And we must not forget the Catholic Church.
However broad, the #MeToo movement has garnered due criticism for its lack of inclusivity. The majority of stories showcased thus far have emerged from a highly privileged societal domain – from Hollywood elite – and are not accurately illustrative of the insidious and ubiquitous forms of sexual violence experienced by most womxn in the U.S. today. Though in the wake of such criticism, long-awaited protests of ‘me too’ are arising from the most vulnerable among us, from domestic workers, farm workers, sex workers, and members of the LGBTQIA community, for those willing to listen.
And while many among us publicly raise their voices, we still privately contend with the ever-present personal stories of assault of our sisters, friends, colleagues, family, and even cope with those close to us who commit abuses. Some have struggled to find their voice, to say #MeToo, and to articulate frustrations with their male friends, fathers, brothers, bosses, and those in their lives who misplace the blame. Parents are endeavoring to engage in these difficult conversations with their children, like this poignant video by The Cut demonstrates. But through it all, womxn and allies everywhere have demonstrated the power of story-telling and solidarity.
And we at TNB want to join the conversation. I have interviewed** four of our resident contributors, Elle, E, James, and Samuel, to get their initial take on issues of sexual harassment and assault, consent, and their thoughts on the #MeToo movement. You can find their responses below:
Let’s start off with some ‘enthusiastic’ questions about consent! In light of #MeToo, the topic of consent has been become a prominent part of the discussion. But there has been some kickback on the issue, specifically how ‘consent ruins romance’. What are your thoughts?
E: Anyone who thinks that consent ‘ruins’ romance is coming at this from the wrong angle. Consent is not an optional add-on to your romantic encounter. Without consent there should be no encounter. I feel that part of this issue – and very much part of the wider discussion on this entire topic – stems from the many taboos surrounding sex. If we are still not comfortable talking about sex in general, it makes sense that we still struggle to have conversations regarding the ‘finer points’ of the act, like consent. We need to elevate the conversation.
James: [W]e’re fine tuning a concept that lots of people didn’t realize was even broken. A big feature of modern romance, in at least hetero[normative] relationships, has been the idea that girls need to be chased and pursued. Which when you pull the chord on that, we find it taps into the greatly entrenched traditional gender roles that define our society. It relates to the same patterns that kept women out of the voting booths and in the kitchen. It’s the man’s job to hunt, to work, to earn, to provide, to ask her out, to ask her to marry him. The woman is just a passive agent. Challenging the concept of consent forces us to question whether we have yet to purge ourselves of patterns of the thinking that led to the obvious sexism of the past.
E: The ideas of romance that our society perpetuates are not romantic at all – they’re predatory. Consent ‘ruining the moment’ comes from this idea that the ‘moment’ is tied up in a chase. That’s not enthusiastic consent. That’s at best coercion, and at worst, rape. It shouldn’t be a chase. Men are not hunters. Women are not prey. We are all human beings with an inherent and intrinsic right to dignity.
How would you address consent with someone who just. does. not. get. it.?
E: I think that the cup of tea analogy serves as a good example of just how basic the idea of consent is. I made you a cup of tea once, so I can always make you tea, right? You wanted tea five minutes ago but not anymore? Drink it anyway. You don’t like it? You have to finish it or you’ll hurt my feelings. This is obviously ridiculous.
Elle: I actually think that it’s more simple if you think about it from a perspective of ‘treat this human being with respect’ instead of ‘I want to have sex with this person’.
[T]here is an overwhelming lack of awareness that sex is supposed to be mutual, it is to be actually enjoyed by both parties rather than just miraculously achieved by one.
It is for this reason that idea of enthusiastic consent is very useful in clearing up those blurred lines. Men should ask themselves why would they want to have sex with someone who isn’t completely in to it?
Samuel: I would try to show that to be consistent with their own moral stance they would have to prioritise consent and that this means that they should be absolutely sure that the person they are with is 100% on board.
Many of the stories that arose in and around the movement were met with pause, further questions, and some confusion. We talked about ‘bad date’ culture, where social dating is often inherently accompanied by various levels of assault and harassment. What’s your take?
Elle: [A]s women we’re sometimes socialised to not voice our […] discomfort. And even when we do, men are taught not to take that seriously. And even we as women are taught to not take that as seriously. I don’t think we should accept [bad dates] as the norm.
Samuel: I think the article “The female price of male pleasure” puts it quite well, stating that there has to be a recognition of the different meanings attached to the term ‘bad date’ for men and women.
E: I keep coming back to Margaret Atwood’s quote here – “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” If a ‘bad date’ for a woman is one where she did not sign up for what happened, felt coerced, uncomfortable and unable to speak up, and a ‘bad date’ for a guy just wasn’t that fun… that’s an important distinction.
When straight women get together over coffee and lament the ‘bad date’ they had with a man the night before, …[w]e’ll roll our eyes and nod our heads and empathise and say things like ‘that’s so typical’ or ‘that’s happened to me’ or ‘that happened to a friend of mine’. Then we order another coffee and we pretty much forget about it. Because it’s all too familiar. And it’s normal. Yet when we share these stories with our guy friends, they’re surprised and sometimes horrified – they’ll ask ‘but why didn’t you say something?’ or ‘but did you really not want that to happen?’ and they’ll be confused by our responses. Until we are having these conversations across and between genders in an honest and non-judgmental way, we’re going to see this issue crop up again and again.
Can you elaborate your thoughts on the nuances between assault and coercion and why these may be important?
Samuel: Not all coercion is assault but every assault is coercion. While neither is acceptable I think that coercion is a much harder conversation to have. [U]nequal relations come to be seen as natural and their coercive nature is hidden so that it is hard to discuss them before doing the hard work of uncovering them first.
James: The parallels are in the perspective of the victim, and therein lies the problem. From the perspective of the man, coercion is perhaps nothing more than incessant seduction – the male teenage psychology of ‘if I just keep trying, I’ll get there eventually’. There is zero regard here for the female as a human being who has the right to decide whether she also wants to have sex; the consent is merely an obstacle blocking the trophy of sex.
In discussing human rights, it’s meaningful to contextualise issues, to expose the roots of problems. In considering pervasive sexual harassment and assault of womxn and the further oppression of their voices, how do current gender roles influence this issue? In what ways do you think misogyny shapes our current idea of masculinity? And how does it impact men’s interactions with women and their understanding of consent?
I think that making male sexuality a prerequisite for male social status – and the mindset of conquest that goes along with it – is hugely detrimental to the way men perceive and treat women, but also to men’s well-being.
It means that a man who may not have the natural inclination to pursue women may feel pressured to do so anyway or be perceived as inadequate. It means that, for men, women become a form of social capital rather than subjects in their own right. It means that men cannot focus on building meaningful relationships in their encounters with women, as their objective is conquest rather than connection. It means that success must be achieved by any means necessary.
James: It is easy to understand why men lay the responsibility at the feet of women – because they can. With this strategy, men are insuring themselves against any liability; their power in society releases them from the responsibility of power over their sexual desire, while for women, it is the opposite.
Misogyny has expertly crafted a deep fear of female desire. Take Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut – the mere description of his wife’s fantasy sent him on a wild sexual odyssey desperate to outmatch her, to recreate in real life what she had dreamed. It is this fear that leads men to regulate female sexuality and neutralise female desire, and it has worked. [O]nce boys understand that female desire exists in the same way male desire does, it will be demythologised.
Elle: They are still very much intertwined because of the social construct that we’ve had for so long, where women have been seen as men’s social, physical, and emotional property. That has obviously also gone into constructing how they [men] perceive their own identity as a man [and that’s] really hard to break down. [M]asculinity is still very much wrapped around a lot of the structures that make misogyny prevail.
Is there any idea or issue that’s come to your attention as a result of #MeToo and the greater women’s movement, one you hadn’t previously thought about?
E: I hadn’t thought much about ‘bad dates’ before, and when I first read Grace’s story, I struggled with the fact that she defined the experience as an assault. This has happened to every woman I know. Have they all been assaulted?
Elle: I didn’t realize that MeToo had been started by Tarana Burke before this new iteration of #MeToo had come around […] I didn’t know about it and that [the] movement had been previously silenced and […] it made me very much aware that race does play a role in some of these conversations and that we need to do a better job at being intersectional.
Samuel: While exposing the Weinsteins of the world may have at the start reconfirmed the mindset of “not all men”, I think that later revelations have shown to what extent men are ingrained with a misogynist mindset and how these, combined with even some modicum of power, can be a slippery slope to coercive and abusive behavior. I think the most valuable lesson for me, and hopefully for men generally, is a self-awareness that while we might not all be Harvey Weinsteins, we could have been James Franco or Aziz Anzari.
Where do you see the greater women’s movement going and what do you hope it will accomplish?
I hope and see different things here. There is a hopeful part of me which sees the movement today as more intersectional and inclusive than feminist movements have been historically. #MeToo has shown that this is not a moment, it’s a movement. So that’s what I see. But I also see only eleven female heads of state. I see the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies – only 6% are women. Women – especially women of color – in the film industry are horribly underrepresented behind the scenes and on the big screen. So that’s what I see now. Where do I hope this is going? This feels like a watershed moment. This feels like the point we don’t go back from.
James: [I]t is also a period of enlightenment. In that sense, I see the movement leaving a permanent mark on society as the next generation grows up and recognises its aims as nothing more than common sense.
Any last comments you’re burning to share on the topic?
E: In terms of the colour of the movement, I read an article […] about Gabrielle Union and her recent autobiography […] she articulates her feelings about the #MeToo movement far better than I could hope to – “I think the floodgates have opened for white women,…I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”
Elle: There’s this misconception that men are not welcome in the feminist movement […]
This isn’t just a gendered movement – it’s a movement that seeks to tackle all different aspects of the ways that our society is structured to oppress people.
You have to have an open mind, you have to be willing to work through your own guilt and your own experiences and also accept them. [G]ive other people the opportunity to tell you how to do that and to listen to them and to be ok with giving up an aspect of your ego…in favor of giving someone else a chance to express themselves too.
Many thanks to our Nasty Team for contributing their thoughts for this piece.
#MeToo and the greater struggle for gender equality and justice continues to evolve each day. A platform has arisen, melded and supported by the collective voice of womxn and allies speaking truth to power. Moving forward, it is essential for more people to engage in conversations about sexual harassment and assault, to believe and support womxn’s stories of sexual violence, and to question the utility of our gender norms. Equally crucial is the need to uplift the stories of those who have long suffered injustice and of those who are yet to experience the successes gained in the U.S. In countries where political instability is rife, sexual harassment, assault and violence manifests in its most extreme forms. Stories of gender-based violence in Mexico, of the sexual violence experienced by Rohingya women and children fleeing persecution in Myanmar, and most recently the devastating rape and murder of an eight year old girl in India, demonstrate the need for sweeping and sustained action to address the pervasiveness and normalisation of sexual violence.
In the meantime, we at The Nasty Blog will continue to be inspired by the strength and solidarity of those sharing their stories; we embrace that scars are finally being validated. We hope the current movement may act as a final catalyst to topple an enduring system of oppression. Until then, we will offer our voice and our support to all of those facing sexual violence and we will not hesitate to question the people in power who perpetuate abuse and to challenge the structures that facilitate violence. In solidarity.
*Womxn – “womxn” is used here to expand the identity of womanhood to be inclusive of trans women, women of color, and others who identify as women.
**Participant responses have been edited for length.