Following a weekend crammed with ever more salacious revelations about Harvey Weinstein, hundreds of thousands of women have now taken to social media to share their own experiences of sexual harassment. This is called the ‘#MeToo’ movement, and it’s gone viral, in the way that these things do.
According to Twitter, this reveals ‘the magnitude of sexual assault’. In reality, it does nothing of the sort. #MeToo tells us far more about the desire of some women to reach for victimhood status.
The accusations against Weinstein include charges of rape; as such, they deserve to be taken seriously and tried in courts of law rather than by public opinion. At this moment Hollywood’s leading ladies don’t just have the public’s attention but widespread sympathy too. But it doesn’t stop there. We live in a fame-obsessed culture, and just as many women might emulate a star’s diet or dress sense, they also want in on the sympathy too. #MeToo is an unedifying clamour to be included in celebrity suffering.
The #MeToo social media revelations blur the boundary between sexual assault and sexual harassment. 140 character reports of having been raped are placed on a par with tweets about name calling, whistling and groping. The #MeToo process helps create a false impression that all men are sexually abusive and simply waiting for an opportunity to assault innocent and defenceless women.
Worse, serious crimes are trivialised as the #MeToo tweeters who recount some relatively minor (albeit discomforting) experience are equally blessed with retweets, likes and public endorsements praising their bravery. Blurring the boundaries between rape and ever-broader definitions of sexual harassment doesn’t just trivialise serious offences, it further inflames a climate of hysteria in which the sexual harassment of women comes to be presented as a routine part of life. Life for women is presented as a battleground where we are all only one bad joke, one wolf whistle or one stare away from being assaulted.
It also creates an impression that being a woman in the 21st century is a living hell. Not only is this false, it is destructive. In 2015, Girl Guiding UK found that seventy-five per cent of girls and young women said anxiety about potentially experiencing sexual harassment affects their lives in some way. A 2016 survey suggested that 41 per cent of young women expect to face discrimination at work. These young women had not faced harassment or discrimination: their anxiety was around what might, potentially, happen to them in the future. It may be the fear of sexual harassment, more than the reality, that is holding women back today.
Twitter is by default a narcissistic platform: users must assume the world wants public updates on their thoughts and feelings. But yesterday’s #MeToo Twitter-trend only shows us the sorry state of feminism today.
Joanna Williams is the author of the newly releasedWomen vs Feminism: Why we all need liberating from the gender wars.