Highlighting the ubiquity of sexual misconduct that targets women is one of the most important contributions of #MeToo. You would think that the mass disclosure of women’s painful experiences would automatically make men reflect deeply on our actions.
And sure enough, many men have been posting thoughtful, intelligent comments using #HowIWillChange in a show of solidarity. But if ever we feel optimistic about our potential to evolve, the dark underbelly of the internet throws up the type of gut-wrenching vitriol that should have long been compiled and chucked into an incinerator.
The disturbing logic of some of these viewpoints appears to be so deeply rooted in a misogynist worldview, it makes me think we are doomed as a species.
But there are people speaking out against #MeToo who seem to have legitimate concerns and who make ostensibly sophisticated arguments, and even find space for their worldview in mainstream media.
Some men – and women, but mostly men – say the movement paints all men as predators, as we are inundated with account after account of women speaking of men’s misbehaviour. After all, most men are not predators, they say. And what about the harassment and abuse directed at men?
According to the General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety, 636,000 cases of sexual assault were self-reported in 2014. The actual number is likely much higher. The overwhelming majority of victims — 87 per cent — were women. Most of the perpetrators were men.
Perhaps most men are not predators. But 636,000 cases. Assault. Not even harassment. That doesn’t include women being catcalled on streets, receiving unwanted comments on their appearance, or being sent unsolicited pictures of nude genitalia.
That is way too much sexual misconduct that women face at the hands of men, and the answer is not in dismissing movements that challenge the acceptance of this behaviour. This is the time for #AllMen to be self-reflective and more sensitive in our interactions with women.
Harassers or not, too many men, even when they are generally kind and warm, embody patriarchal attitudes. Recently, a friend said the female Hollywood stars shouldn’t be complaining because they were “playing the game,” as if the existing gender power imbalance didn’t need to be addressed.
And then we have the men who troll on social media, mocking “feminazis” and their destruction of everything decent about human existence.
Why would an assertion of women’s personhood make people so angry? Maybe because they had been socialized to view women as sexual objects, whose ultimate responsibilities were gratification of men and domestic work.
These views may not always manifest as outright sexual assault, but their prevalence is problematic enough. “Locker-room talk” in the form of jokes and ideas that degrade women, whether in subtle or overt ways, creates a fraternity of men who feel okay about dehumanizing women.
We shouldn’t be worrying about whether men are being unfairly painted as predators. We really need to make sure that women are safe. And that means we need to respect them when they voice their concerns, instead of being dismissive.