Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The depressing impasse of #MeToo


The #MeToo movement only started last October. On one hand, it feels like it has been around for much longer, perhaps because of the sheer volume of words written on it - and here I go, adding to those words, which will inevitably cause some eyes to roll, I am sure. But on the other hand, it feels like the #MeToo car, which was on an empowering ride, has crashed into a brick wall, like a prosaic and mundane alternative ending to Thelma and Louise.

We see progress with the arrest of Harvey Weinstein and one can only hope the wheels of justice turn surely and fairly. But while he is a grotesque warping of the leading man role, the one at whom we can all wave our pitchforks, it still feels like nothing much has changed. For the past seven months, the same arguments are going round and round on an eternally unconstructive hamster wheel.

When the men that we rather like are accused, we don't want to believe the allegations. Instead, we seek out alternative narratives, the accounts from those who thought he was delightful, a proper gentleman, when they met him. When eight women came forward to accuse Morgan Freeman of inappropriate touching and harassment and CNN ran a detailed report, nobody wanted to think about a man who has literally played God being the next one to fall by the wayside in a shameful pile along with Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey.

And so the same arguments keep breaking out ad infinitum. 

"Poor men! They're too scared to even ask a woman out now!" is a pretty common howl, as if all human relationships have suddenly ground to a halt since last October, as if some unseen force has caused Tinder to freeze and nobody is getting laid anymore. If a man wants to ask a woman out (or vice versa), all he has to do is politely ask. If she says yes, they can go on a date. If she says no, he should accept her rejection graciously and move on with his life. This is not hard or oppressive to men. 

The same goes for sex - why is striving for a world where consent is given freely and clearly, where men and women are comfortable and confident enough to say yes without fear of judgement or say no without fear of assault, such a terrible thing? Why are we instead setting the bar so low for men and women?

"Why was she in a hotel room with him in the first place?" is another common question. Hotel rooms are often used for meetings. I've conducted interviews in hotel rooms where I've been alone with a man. These interviews have never ended up in bed and I have never been harassed or propositioned in any professional situation in a hotel room. The closest shave happened in 2006 when a creepy guy on a press trip to Ireland called my room and asked if he could come in and give me a massage. I told him: "Good God, no!" and hung up the phone. 

I should not feel like I need to breathe a sigh of relief because this is how my life has panned out, that I have never been groped or harassed or raped in a hotel room in the line of duty - it is simply the way it should be. 

And even if every woman in the world refused to have professional meetings in hotel rooms, even if it was illegal to have meetings in hotel rooms, that wouldn't stop the problem of sexual abuse. The abuse would simply move to other locations, in much the same way that banning abortion in Ireland didn't stop Irish women having abortions. It merely moved the abortions to England. Sexual predators have an awful habit of finding a way to do what they do in all manner of places. It's just that "hotel room" has seedy connotations that "meeting at Costa" does not - but that doesn't mean women aren't harassed over coffee. Hell, Max Clifford allegedly groomed one of his victims at the Wimpy burger joint down the road from my place. He didn't need to book a suite at the Dorchester. 

Or there are the inevitable non-sequiturs - "Why are all the feminists making a fuss about this and not about female genital mutilation/the kidnapped girls in Nigeria/the raped Yazidi women/child marriage?" - except that "all the feminists" is not a homogenous blur. "All the feminists" covers a diverse group that transcends national borders, religion, ethnicity, body type, socio-economic status and so on. And plenty of feminists speak out about issues apart from #MeToo and do some incredible work with girls and women all over the world - women are capable of being angry about more than one thing at a time and taking action. We are pretty damn amazing in that regard.

The #MeToo movement does need to go beyond the world of celebrity so women who have been exploited, harassed, abused and raped in all industries can speak out and get justice. We should stand behind every actress who has been abused and equally we need to stand behind the waitress who is being groped by her boss on the promise of better shifts, the nurse who gets her arse pinched in the hospital corridor as she tries to do her job, the immigrant cleaner who is raped in exchange for her silence on illegal workers.  

And then there are those who worry about men's careers being ruined. If someone is found guilty of harassment, abuse or rape, his career is not going to be at the top of things I'm especially worried about. This plays into the narrative of false accusations - which are terrible but rare. Seriously, think it through, everyone - the shit women go through when they speak out or try to report such crimes is frequently horrific. If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this and there would be no need for a #MeToo movement.

Then there are those who claim that all these women are coming forward because they want to be famous. Here's a test - without Googling, tell me the name of the woman - first name and last name - who accused Bill Cosby in the court case that led him being found guilty of drugging and indecently assaulting her. Go on, it was just last month.

While all this is going on, guess what? Men are getting away with it. There have always been men who get away with it. A self-confessed pussy-grabber was elected president, for God's sake.

Roman Polanski may not be able to come back to the US any time soon without being arrested but that has not stopped him making award-winning films - and it certainly hasn't stopped plenty of celebrated actresses from working with him and singing his praises. Rob Lowe was caught out in a sex tape scandal in 1989 after he claimed to have no idea that one of the two participants in the threesome was actually 16 years old. But since then, he rehabilitated himself as slick Samuel Seaborn in The West Wing and too-good-to-be-true Chris Traeger in Parks and Recreation. Enough water seems to have passed under that particularly seedy bridge that he even made a parody of the sex tape in 2016. Hey, we should all be able to look back and laugh at the time we shagged a minor, right?

And Morgan Freeman? My prediction is that the worst thing that might happen to him is the reconsideration of a lifetime achievement award. He will still die a wealthy, multi-award-winning actor, and because he is one of the guys that nobody wants to think ill of, his films will be rewatched over and over again. He may be a sex pest, he may not be - but what I do know is that when people come forward with accusations, they need to be taken seriously. This is not the same as all accusations being automatically believed - but if #MeToo is going to mean anything, allegations require proper investigation. Sweeping it under the carpet may have been the way it used to be in the "good old days", but the more we learn about what used to go on, the more we realise that for many girls and women, the "good old days" were bloody horrific. 

Photography by stock.tookapic.com


  1. Excellent as ever. We have to keep speaking out and the naysayers need to bear in mind that we can care about multiple issues at the same time.