Over the past year, the outing of serial sexual abusers Roger Ailes, the former and now deceased CEO of the Fox News network, Bill O’Reilly, the most popular Fox News host until his firing in April 2017, and most prominently, Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film producer sacked from his own company in October 2017, inspired a revolution. Women stood up in unison and said enough is enough. No longer would men get away with using their physiques or positions of power in the workplace to sexually assault women without consequence.
In a sane and moral universe the only response to this would be relief and celebration. Unfortunately, something darker and more sinister has emerged. Something that in many ways seems to have already increased the distrust of men on the part of women, and that has the power to justify many of our worst fears; is this not just the bad guys? Are in fact a majority of men in some way complicit in this repulsive mess?
In the era of social media it was inevitable that this would be the arena for the revolt, and so it is that women across the world have been sharing their experiences and uniting around the hashtags #MeToo and #TimesUp. But almost immediately the rot set in. To begin with, the protests and excuses came from unsurprising sources such as Rod Liddle and Douglas Murray. We could probably have anticipated this without it shaking our confidence in humanity.
However, we have since had to endure the letter denouncing the #MeToo movement from French actress Catherine Deneuve, which was signed by 100 women and unbelievably claimed to want to defend men’s “freedom to pester.” This sickening piece was loudly endorsed on Twitter by none other than world famous physicist Lawrence Krauss, who has almost half a million followers. Hot on its track was an article in New York magazine by the most moderate of conservative commentators, Andrew Sullivan, entitled ‘It’s Time to Resist the Excesses of #MeToo.’ Then Condoleezza Rice begged us in an interview to “be careful” because we don’t men to stop wanting women around. Patriarchy it seems requires a new name.
Needless to say, these comments have been shared by various sympathetic public figures with large social media followings, and of course many of their fans have roundly applauded the backlash. So what the hell is going on?
I have neither the time nor the will to pick apart the articles individually, but there are common themes that run through all of them which must be discredited and exposed for the illogic and unforgiveable apologism that they are.
Firstly is the claim that placing a hand on a female colleague’s knee or thigh uninvited is just ‘clumsy flirting.’ The easiest way to dispel this is to entertain how likely it is that a man would do it to a woman far stronger and physically more capable than them – Ronda Rousey for example – or a male apprentice doing it to a female board member . Even the boldest of abusers would resist in these circumstances because they’d know that they’d likely be physically restrained in an embarrassing and painful manner, or they’d be immediately fired. The threat of these outcomes would bring into sharp focus the fact that they have not received anything close to a green light for such intimate behaviour. Thus they would act in accordance with what they know to a moral certainty to be true – that to touch would be wrong. Given these truths, we can say that there is nothing stopping men from always behaving appropriately – nothing except their consciences.
The corollary of this kind of behaviour is that, having abused a position of power, whether physical or within the workplace hierarchy, the sex abuser has also belittled and intimidated the victim. The abuser is knowingly bullying through the conduit of sex. This must never be forgotten and it is one of the reasons why the aforementioned articles are so toxic.
The groper is another type of sex attacker who those rallying against the #MeToo movement strangely wish to defend. This is the man who grabs women’s bottoms or breasts at social gatherings and then disappears into the night without further contact. It differs from workplace attacks in that there is usually no prior relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Remarkably, this too has been dismissed as merely poor judgement or ‘men just being men,’ and outrage has instead been reserved for the resulting resignations that the perpetrators have been pressured into.
I want you to imagine a few things. Roughly speaking, men are 20% heavier and 10% taller than women on average. So if you’re six foot and 90 kilos, imagine someone who’s 6’7” and weighing 108 kilos manoeuvring you about against your will, with their hands on intimate parts of your body. Just imagine how violated you would feel. Imagine how your agency as an adult human being would be corroded in that moment. Imagine how threatened and undermined you would feel. Sadly, although obviously entirely unnecessarily, these attacks also often result in feelings of shame in the victims mind for not having lashed out because they were too frightened or felt socially constrained. To make another person feel this way is to truly be the scum of the earth.
Those who insist that reputations do not deserve to be seriously compromised or careers derailed off the back of assaults like this have simply not grappled hard enough with the physical and psychological dynamics. Also, it goes without saying that if someone did these things to you or a loved one, the perpetrator would lose all of your trust and respect. By extension, it’s actually perfectly logical that everyone should feel this way towards them, which is why it is right that public servants should lose their jobs after committing these crimes.
Finally, I want to talk about the so-called ‘bad date.’ For the type of scenario that I’m going to write about this is an understatement of significant proportions, to the extent that the term is not fit for purpose and shouldn’t even be used. But again, depressingly, these are the very words that are regularly deployed to dismiss such assaults. I’m speaking of course about crimes along the lines of that allegedly committed by Aziz Ansari, which have been in the headlines this week. A seemingly non-threatening man invites a woman back to his apartment after a first date, and once the door is closed behind them he embarks upon a relentless campaign to gain sexual favours, regardless of the woman’s expressed wishes.
When these circumstances unfold, a woman is immediately faced with a multitude of questions and challenges. Presumably, she may initially wonder if perhaps she did mistakenly give off a wrong signal and so seek to get the evening back within her comfort zone. These efforts usually fail because sexual predators, once locked in on their prey, can rarely think of anything other than manipulating events to get what they want. The woman is no longer thought of as a sentient being worthy of concern.
For her part, the woman knows that after the initial attempts to repel a man’s advances are unsuccessful, there is no chance of having the evening that she desires and so she must escape, but this is never easy. Some are just crippled by social constraints and embarrassment – even wanting to avoid embarrassment for the man. The predator, of course, uses this commitment to good will to his advantage. Some physically and mentally freeze, purely out of shock at what is happening. More serious is the concern for women that to anger or frustrate a man at this point may result in a far more violent attack and rape.
Another obstacle is the physical presence of the man, who typically stalks the woman to every corner of the room as she seeks to put distance between herself and her assailant in order to temporarily cease the unwelcome sexual activity so that she can devise an exit strategy. Ultimately though, her options are limited. To end the assault the woman must become more assertive than the man, with the aim of shaking him out of his apparent trance so that she can leave peacefully – a terrifying prospect when faced with someone much bigger who is behaving aggressively. From this moment the evening can take many different turns, some far worse than others, but there is no mending the damage that has been done. A sexual assault has already occurred.
Whether the Aziz Ansari case happened as reported or not, we can be sure that many women do endure such a scenario. Make no mistake – these are life changing events. To be physically and psychologically manipulated in this manner, to be violated sexually, and to have had to experience that moment of raw panic, however fleeting, of being trapped with someone who seems unable to control themselves, is thank goodness, beyond my comprehension.
At the very least I can say it sounds like a nightmare come true, yet my Twitter timeline appears to inform me that perhaps as many as 50% believe that the Aziz Ansari depicted in the reports did nothing wrong. They say the victim shouldn’t have been there if she didn’t want sexual activity to occur (apparently denying her the option, among other things, of changing her mind), that she should have left sooner, that ‘bad sex’ doesn’t constitute assault or most troubling, that once turned on, men can’t possibly be expected to stop and so calling it assault essentially means that men will in future have to carry around consent forms. Some people have even declared the end of dating and eroticism altogether. Pure insanity, obviously.
One thing that I have already alluded to must be reiterated. Men know when they really do have consent. Evolution has actually equipped us with pretty good instincts for the feelings of others and this is evidenced in the description of the alleged assault by Aziz Ansari when he agrees to ‘chill’ before immediately continuing to molest and pressure as soon as he can get close enough. This does not describe a good guy who is unsure of his ground. They are the actions of a sexual predator.
Many people have been commenting that coercion is not consent. This is true of course, but men know this. We mustn’t be tempted to treat men like babies. If they proceed via coercive methods then there is no belief that they actually have permission – the act of coercing wouldn’t be required if they did. They are choosing to sexually assault at this point. This is the reality that we must face. The situation is not, as some would have you believe, that it’s so difficult to know when it’s ok that men deserve a get out of jail card. No, we must not allow this to be the narrative. The issue is that far too many men either don’t wait for clear signals of consent or won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
It’s hard to know what explains the level of offence that the #MeToo movement seems to have inspired. It’s just too awful to contemplate a world where so many men want the right to sexually abuse women. One might hope it’s just political partisanship playing out rhetorically, and I think this does explain some of it, but many liberal leaning people also seem to believe that anything short of rape should be swept under the carpet. What has become obvious if it wasn’t already, is that the fight for women’s liberation, far from being over, is still in its infancy, and it may in the end turn out to be our greatest struggle.