We are all #metoo
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Since then over a million people across the world have tweeted using the #metoo hashtag and hundreds of thousands of women have shared their stories. It’s been painful, uplifting and revelatory.
It may be only a hashtag but it has spawned a vibrant, searing, life affirming movement that reveals all you need to know about the gender imbalance in the world we live in.
Empathy is a powerful thing. And women have hopefully found strength in numbers.
But some men have found the scale of the reported abuse difficult to compute.
There has been the angst-written prose of commentators who feel the need to divorce themselves from the actions of other men. They define Weinstein as a monster – he is fat, ugly, gross – because it allows them to side-step the reality that this is about them. They excuse themselves from complicity because they are the father of daughters or their mother’s son.
Worse, they become verbose apologists for their gender or more dangerously, like Tom Jones, downplay the import of what is going on, because these things have happened to them. But the upshot is the same. They think it’s not about them.
However, Harvey Weinstein isn’t a one-off. He’s emblematic. Yes, he represents that dysfunctional power dynamic on turbocharge, but his abuse of his position is no different in principle to the harassment and underlying sexism that women endure daily.
And if your reaction to the ‘me too’ response was surprise, then where have you been all my life?
Initially, I admit, I was fearful that women were publicly sharing graphic details about instances of abuse, and the sheer horrific, bloody detail of what some women endured made me wince. I worried that they would leave themselves exposed, once this bandwagon had rolled on.
But they were right – because the weaponising of sex to humiliate, intimidate, or hurt, is the backdrop to women’s everyday lives. And it is solely the preserve of men.
I am not saying all men are rapists, but I am saying that women live with a subconscious dread of being raped and that that fear is on a spectrum.
It’s in our psyche and it shapes our lives. ‘Me too’ has reported how it feels to go through life with the inherent threat that you are for the taking.
It’s insidious, it’s uncomfortable, but we live in a society where women still live in the shadow of the power of men. Not all men. I’m married, I have a son, I had a dad. I have good men all around me, but there is a simple fact in my head and that is, you can rape me and I cannot rape you.
That is a power dynamic that manifests in many ways. Women have always known this, but one way to force this out into the open is to create a loud, collective voice that exposes the ubiquity of something that isn’t reserved to Hollywood or the offices of glossy magazines, but is just an ordinary part of most women’s lives. ‘Me too’ has done that.
A memory. I’m in a busy restaurant with a high-profile contact. It’s by way of an apology. He feels I risked his anonymity in a front-page exclusive and I’m there to mollify. The lunch is my shout, but he is in charge. We are talking animatedly, ironically, about child sex abuse. It’s a good conversation. I’m back on solid ground talking about something I know about. It’s professional. He leans in: “you have incredible tits”. I’m disarmed. I look around. I’m embarrassed. I feel guilty. I feel stripped. What did I say? How to react? I leave. That was more than 25 years ago and I haven’t spoken to him since.
I have puzzled long and hard about why that seemingly benign experience – I have had a colleague push his penis into my hand under the table at some swanky awards do, after all – affected me so much, and while his comment was designed to belittle, there was something else, the fear that this was out of my control and that I owed him.
This is hard for men to understand, but consider this: how many men get asked in their daily life who they shagged to meet their sales target, to get the numbers, to clinch the deal?
You say you feel my pain. Do you know what it feels like to have to consider what you wear, where you go, when you say, what you say, who you meet, who you avoid? Those are the simple considerations in a woman’s life. It’s tiring. So excuse me if I don’t empathise with your plight at being branded with the same stick as Weinstein.
And while I readily concede that men suffer abuse too, I defy any man to argue that women use power as a weapon in the same way as they do.
Sometimes it’s been easier not to fight back, to go with the flow, laugh it off or give as good as you get, but it’s demeaning, mind-shaping, behaviour altering and none of it for the good. I don’t want to be that woman. I just want to be.
I’m weary, we are all weary, so let’s stop.
Men have complained that they don’t know where they stand in this new paradigm. A start would be recognising that this isn’t a woman’s issue. It affects us all. We are all #metoo.