Monday, 15 October 2018

#MeToo One Year On

One year on
According to Wikipedia:
On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged spreading the hashtag #MeToo, to attempt to draw attention to sexual assault and harassment. Milano later acknowledged earlier use of the phrase by Tarana Burke.

The phrase "Me too" was tweeted by Milano around noon on October 15, 2017, and had been used more than 200,000 times by the end of the day, and tweeted more than 500,000 times by October 16. On Facebook, the hashtag was used by more than 4.7 million people in 12 million posts during the first 24 hours. The platform reported that 45% of users in the United States had a friend who had posted using the term. 
Tens of thousands of people replied with #MeToo stories
The rest is, as they say, history.

I've yet to encounter a serious voice who didn't recognize the need to call out the sexual harassment and abuse of women, both in and out of professional contexts. As revelations surrounding the conduct of Harvey Weinstein emerged, the man proved impossible to feel sorry for. It wasn't long before many more Harvey Weinsteins were outed. The ugly underbelly of the entertainment industry, and indeed of many industries, and of many men even of progressive and feminist political sympathy (especially of such men, according to Sargon of Akkad) was revealed. Not that left leaning men were exclusively guilty, of course.

The list of casualties is long, and reaches as high as the US senate, wherein left leaning Democratic senator and comedian Al Franken eventually resigned amidst sexual misconduct allegations, and Republican Roy Moore lost his bid for the Alabama senate seat abandoned by Jeff Sessions in large part due to misconduct allegations made against him. In my own home country, it is Doug Ford and not Patrick Brown who won the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and subsequently went on to become Premier of Ontario because Brown was disgraced by sex misconduct allegations made against him. There's little doubt that Me Too and Time's Up have impacted the cultural and political landscape enormously, and ultimately (one would hope) for the better. Even right leaning populist Steve Bannon recently admitted this in a recent interview with Sargon of Akkad.

Me Too and Time's Up were, and still are needed. But while these movements have revealed a dark underbelly of sexual exploitation in many areas of western culture, these movements also have a dark underbelly of their own.

Most notably, the fact that they're embedded in a radical feminist paradigm that is itself, to borrow one of its own terms, problematic. A quick glance at twitter is all it takes to confirm this.

In this world view, there is no such thing as an innocent man. All men have fed at the trough of male privilege and rape culture. All men, we are told, even those who do not assault or even verbally accost women, walk the streets in safety and confidence while women live in fear due to the male proclivity to rape and sexual harassment, and though by no means all men are harassers and rapists, a sizeable majority of rapists and harassers are male. This can't be denied while still trying to claim any kind of intellectual credibility on the issue. Surely it is not unreasonable to suggest in light of this that there are pathologies within male subcultures and male socialization that result in an increased proclivity towards sexually predatory conduct that have no comparable female counterparts.

This idea dates back at least as far back as 1975, and radical feminist Susan Brownmiller's publication of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape.  So what, ask many women today, if men live in fear of a false accusation? Women live in fear of rape. One ill turn deserves another, right? Besides, false allegations are rare in comparison to the number of men who do rape and get away with it. So false allegations simply do not occur, or if they do occur, do so in numbers too insignificant to be of concern. It is in this idea of relative deprivation that problems begin to arise.

This radical feminist movement's take on the question of sexual misconduct is troubling. In keeping with its underlying standpoint theory, it would be left up to individual women (in a radicalized feminist zeitgeist) to decide for themselves whether or not they'd been harassed or even raped in a particular interaction with a male, and the allegation would be tantamount to guilt on the male's part.

There is little distinction to be made between forcible rape, sex between a sober male and clearly intoxicated or even drugged woman, sex between intoxicated partners, sex between a boss and a coworker, failure to obtain "enthusiastic consent" for "any stage of sexual activity", boorish comments and wolf-whistling, tactfully delivered compliments in the workplace, a non-consensual hand on a knee or invitation to a coffee date - men don't get to decide what's rape or harassment and what isn't, we are told. Men face an undefined yet very high burden of care, not merely for obtaining consent, but for women's comfort and enjoyment of the sex act itself. In light of patriarchy, male privilege and rape culture, regrets or discomfort on her part even if consent has nominally been given, can only mean that she's been violated, or at least unduly pressured somehow or another.

Legal theories long taken for granted and fundamental rights of the accused: presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, the right to impartial and fair trial, rights against self incrimination and even the idea that prosecutable offenses be clearly and objectively defined are handwaved away as being mere devices whereby the patriarchy maintains the availability of women's bodies for male sexual use with impunity. These lines of reasoning are seen not merely in the women's studies classroom or among the leftist twitterati. Such views are given serious exposure in academia and mainstream media, as was the case with female attorney Marie Henein faced accusations of "betraying women" after successfully representing Canadian media personality Jian Ghomeshi when he faced multiple counts of sexual assault.

Thus far, there haven't been (to my knowledge) any willfully falsified accusations of sexual misconduct made by a woman against a man following the proliferation of Me Too. Which isn't to say it hasn't happened. But denial even of the possibility of this occurring despite the fact that it does occur, along with denial of female on male sexual misconduct, which also occurs, is not uncommon among Me Too stalwarts. At the very least, male privilege vs female marginalization diminishes the moral gravity of male victimization when it does occur.

It's one thing to be honest about the gender ratios when it comes to who perpetrates and who is victimized by sexual misconduct. To say that men and women are statistically equally guilty for the sake of gender parity would be grossly dishonest. But to invisiblize male victims of sexual misconduct and of malicious false allegations so as to preserve a popular narrative of universal female victimhood and male privilege is likewise dishonest and ideologically driven.

Trial by social media and public opinion has been turned to because legal proceedings are long, expensive, complex and the numerous legal statues defending the rights of the accused are hard to overcome. This is intentionally so, and has no doubt allowed for many guilty men to go free, doubtlessly to the consternation of female victims. This consternation is understandable, but the substitute method of public shaming is notorious for its lack of objectivity and due process, and thus vulnerable to exploitation and misuse. Sure, one might object that since publicized allegations of misconduct on social media are not criminal trials, legal concepts like due process don't apply. But this treats due process as though it were a strictly legal convention and not a social and moral principle that a free society depends upon to remain free.

This troubling lack of procedure makes Me Too vulnerable to exploitation for political purposes. Want to remove a competitor for a job or a political opponent? Just dig up some salacious sexual goings-on in their past, and let the twitter pitch fork mob do the rest. The recent fiasco surrounding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States is but the latest example. The aforementioned Patrick Brown was taken down by sexual misconduct allegations from his distant past that just happened to arise at a politically opportune time. Other examples include the ousting of Cenk Uygur from the board of the Justice Democrats due to some "sexist" blog posts he'd made back in 2006 being dug up and publicized by conservatives.

Allegations, and defense against such allegations can be expected to take on a more partisan character as time goes on.  Going back to the Kavanaugh case, it's hard to determine who's harder to take seriously: the democrats, who circled the wagons when Clinton faced sexual misconduct allegations, or Kavanaugh, who was basically Kenneth Starr's right hand man during those same proceedings. We should not take the GOP's sudden and anomalous concern for due process and the rights of the accused as being anything other than rank opportunism. Kavanaugh was involved in the writing of the Patriot Act and its roll backs of civil liberties, after all. A Republican administration moves one step closer to a Court that could overturn Roe vs. Wade, and they'll be damned if they're going to lose that to some thirty plus year old sexual misconduct allegation against their court pick.

The real threat faced by the Me Too and Time's Up movements is less a backlash of civil libertarians concerned about due process or a men's rights counter-surge, but more an undermining of the cause's credibility due to partisan and political exploitation.

One wonders what impact this is going to have on the future of romantic and sexual relationships between the sexes. Here again, one look at social media tells us that this is a low area of concern for women especially (but not exclusively), to put it mildly. Women have had little good to say for decades now about how men are holding up as romantic, marital and sexual partners. That men would refrain from pursuing women for romantic and sexual relationships out of fear of rape or harassment allegations would seem to be of little concern to women, and more than a few of them would see that as welcome relief from a status quo of apparently relentless pursuit by thirsty men.

Here too we are operating in a zeitgeist dominated by feminist views, and while these have retreated somewhat from the Dworkinite equation of intercourse with rape, attraction with objectification and so forth, the progressive consensus isn't in any big hurry to substantially define that which differentiates the romantic from the inappropriate and creepy either. The contexts wherein they use their terms would certainly seem to equate a man's unreciprocated attraction to a woman with something inappropriate at best, if not outrightly threatening, invasive and predatory.

The point of deterring male sexual interest in women - a point valued and sought after by women and their progressive male allies is better served by a muddiness and lack of definition than it is either by direct equation of male sexual interest with objectification, which would invite widespread backlash, or a clear definition of what differentiates the two, which would invite widespread legalistic exploitation. If nothing else, it gives women and progressive men much more room for plausible deniability when they decide that their implicit ideological code doesn't really apply to themselves and they do what humans naturally do, as these same progressives are very quick to point out in their denunciations of clerical celibacy or abstinence only sex education.

Not many women, and not all that many men either, have seen intimacy between the genders as worthy of anything resembling a spirited defense. Not merely in the Me Too era, but in the last three or so decades of feminist radicalization of women in cultural spaces leading up to it. I can't help but wonder if this will really be a good thing long term? Persons concerned about demographic meltdown due to low birth rates or mental health issues stemming from chronic loneliness, isolation and sexual/romantic frustration have reason to be concerned. We can probably expect more "incels" in the future.

All of that aside, the temptation among many in the broader reactionary idea space, including the alt-left, to simply dismiss Me Too and Time's Up as feminist hysteria is a temptation we should resist. Steve Bannon has the right of it in his interview with Sargon. The very real concerns of all too many women who have faced harassment and non-consensual sexual behavior from men can no more easily or rightly be dismissed than the concerns raised about Tiime's Up and Me Too by civil libertarians. Perhaps the best question we can ask is that which Emily Yoffe asked in a recent Atlantic Magazine article: Does Anyone Still Take Both Sexual Assault and Due Process Seriously?

Enthusiastic consent must certainly be sought as the answer to that question.

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