When the #MeToo movement hit Facebook last month — following the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein and other members of the Hollywood community — I spent a lot of time wondering if I should share the hashtag. The alleged actions of these Hollywood scumbags were abhorrent to me, and I felt for their victims and wanted to offer my support in any way I could. But I couldn’t help thinking: #MeToo just doesn’t apply to me. It’s not that I’ve never had an unpleasant sexually charged encounter, and it’s not that I’m afraid to speak up. It’s just that, well, nothing that’s happened to me has ever come close — has ever even been in the same ballpark — to rape.
An article in The Economist this month highlights the enormous range of behaviors that might fall under the heading “sexual harassment,” and the varying opinions — across age, gender, and nationality — about which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. According to the article, a pollster called YouGov “surveyed people in five Western countries about whether a series of behaviours by men towards women constitute sexual harassment. The questions ranged from actions that are often innocuous, such as asking to go for a drink, to overt demands for sex. The range of views was vast.”
I struggle to get behind a movement that puts the horrifying things that people like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. have been accused of doing in the same category as, say, wolf-whistling, or asking a woman out for a drink. But, according to the study, “over half of British women under 30 said that wolf-whistling was unacceptable.”
Something is wrong here. Imagine a conversation in which one person says, “I was sexually harassed,” and the other says, “Me too!” but the first person is talking about being violently forced to submit to sexual intercourse against her will, and the second person is talking about being asked out for a drink. I feel like the first person would be justified in punching the second one in the face.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that the study also found that “younger respondents were more likely to think that a behaviour crossed the line than their older peers were.” It stands to reason that adherents to the modern wave of feminism — which denies innate gender differences and seeks to root out any and all traditionally masculine behaviors from society — would also seek to criminalize males who display any type of interest in the opposite sex. But if telling a woman she looks beautiful, or asking her out on a date, or accidentally letting your eyes drift downwards to her chest for a moment are exactly the same as raping her, we’ve got a serious problem.
Like the judge who said, about the threshold for obscenity, “I know it when I see it,” a woman can tell the difference between, for example, a guy who misjudged the situation and leaned in for a kiss, and a guy who knows full well that his advances are unwelcome and goes in for the kiss anyway. My point here is not that women should allow men to do things that make them uncomfortable, only that we shouldn’t put every male advance, even if it turns out to be unwanted, in the same category as criminal and truly inappropriate behavior.
Claiming #MeToo for myself because some guy, in an attempt at flirtation, rubbed his leg against mine under a table — or even because a guy I was dating explained to me in great detail why I wasn’t as attractive as some other girl we knew — is a betrayal of the women who’ve actually been raped or assaulted. It was hurtful, I wish it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but it’s not the same. It’s my job, as one of the lucky ones (one of the many, many lucky ones), not to delegitimize victims of sexual crimes by adding my own, lesser, issues to the mix.
The problem, though, is that if you believe that default “maleness” is synonymous with a desire to rape women — that all men secretly just want to attack every woman they see — then you’re much more likely to view every male action as a precursor to rape. As in, oh my God that guy at the bar said I was pretty, he must want to follow me home and attack me. But if you believe that most men are good men, who want to protect you and care for you or, at the very least, don’t want to rape you, then something like asking you out on a date, or saying you’re beautiful, becomes flattering, instead of frightening.
There are always going to be bad men. (And bad women too.) Nothing is going to change that. It’s a fallen world. But just because there are scumbags out there, doesn’t mean all men are scumbags. It doesn’t even mean most men are scumbags. If we’re unable to separate the bad men from the good, then we won’t be able to differentiate actual crimes from uncomfortable situations, or minor annoyances, or even — dare I say it — welcome advances. And, in the process, we’ll delegitimize the victims of crimes by lumping them in with people who’ve had an unfortunate — but ultimately harmless — encounter.
I am not a victim just by virtue of being a woman. And I refuse to muddy the water with #MeToo posts about things that aren’t crimes, or even close to becoming criminal. I don’t need the world to know every rude comment I’ve ever heard, every attempt at flirtation I’ve ever endured, every date I’ve ever been asked to go on. I’m a grown-up, I can take care of myself in situations like those. My silence is the way I support the actual victims of sexual crimes. That’s how I can stand with them against evil. It’s not about me. Imagine that.