You know when a movement gains traction and you see people coming together behind a cause and your heart kind of swells because it feels like the end of Mighty Ducks when everyone is quacking? If you’re a cynic like me you’re also probably waiting for the moment when everyone stops quacking and starts questioning. Why are we quacking? Why quacking instead of meows? Don’t cats need love too? If we’re all rooting for the Ducks, who’s thinking about the other teams?
That’s exactly what’s happening right now to the #MeToo movement. In fact, the top two searches when looking up information are “metoo backlash” and “metoo witch hunt”. While legitimate strides are being made to turn the tide of harassment and assault in the workplace (see: Times Up), there is simultaneously a groundswell of disgruntled men (and women) doing their best Mrs. Lovejoy impersonations in defense of unfairly persecuted men.
Now despite the fact that I have yet to hear one story that doesn’t have some merit or validity, people are afraid of all men being painted with the same brush (because women’s puny brains are too limited to distinguish between assault, harassment, and coercion), or they’re afraid men are having their lives “ruined” based on accusations even though the majority of these accusations haven’t resulted in any criminal charges and have more likely ended with the perpetrators being paid out of their contracts to the tune of millions of dollars. (Shout-out to Caitlin Flanagan!)
So as more and more of these stories come out, what are we truly afraid of? To me the first fear is obvious. We fear the day when the person we like, the cis-hetero feminist dude who wore a Times Up pin and tweeted about voting for Hillary, gets called to the carpet. This was most recently illustrated by the release of the Babe article detailing Aziz Ansari’s coercive sexual encounter on a date. Since the release of the article there’s been a rash of victim blaming (why didn’t she just leave?), questioning of consent (she didn’t say no the “right” way) and hashtag blaming (#MeToo has become a witch hunt!). The rush to defend Ansari stands in stark contrast to others who have been called out under the banner of #MeToo. While some call on Ansari’s feminist bonafides to claim this account is false, others have pointed out that, if anything, it means Ansari’s actions were more egregious because he, of all men, should know better. If our fave dude doesn’t get it, who does? That thought is scary to a lot of people who want to cling to idea that the perpetrators are in the minority and the righteous are the majority.
The second fear driving this #MeToo backlash is the fear of facing ourselves. Recently, I started reading Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, The Princess Diarist. This is the autobiography that was released not too long before her death and which was promoted largely on the basis that it details, for the first time, her affair with Harrison Ford on the set of Star Wars. I’m not even going to lie, that’s like 90% of why I was excited to read this book. I wanted to know about “Carrison”. But as fate would have it, I happened to read that chapter right as news of Eliza Dushku’s sexual assault by a crew member on the set of True Lies dropped. And halfway through the chapter, I heard about the Aziz story. You can imagine my excitement to read about then 19-year-old Carrie and 34-year-old Harrison hooking up while he was married waned a bit. The fear is facing ourselves. Realizing that what we deemed okay, or just a fact of life, is no longer acceptable.
The story of Ansari’s date makes people uncomfortable because more than likely they’ve experienced the same thing; either as the victim or the perpetrator. I doubt there isn’t a woman who, at some point in her life, performed some sexual act she was uncomfortable with or not ready for, but pushed through to appease men and so things didn’t end unpleasantly. It’s important to not come off as a bitch even when we feel violated. On the flip side, society has conditioned men to see “no” as a jumping off point for negotiations. Women are the pursued and men are the pursuer, and when you pursue something the objective is to win or wear your prey down, which is exactly what happened in Ansari’s encounter. He, a celebrity more than a decade her senior, wore down a young woman until she appeased him.
The same thing happens to 19-year-old Fisher. She’s eager to prove herself to her crew and castmates. They tease and prod her good-naturedly until she breaks down and switches from Coca-Cola to alcohol. And when the crew seems poised to “kidnap” the young Fisher, Harrison steps in to save her like the lovable rogue he is… and then (spoilers) he makes out with her in his car even though she’s inebriated. That’s the love story I thought I wanted to read. And yes, there’s a lot of excuses that can be made: it was a different time, Carrie was attracted to him, they went on to have a relationship (though Fisher admits that they rarely talked about their relationship and a big part of why she wrote so much about it in her journal is because she couldn’t talk to anyone due to Ford’s marriage). There’s a lot we want to excuse because they’re our faves and Han and Leia are supposed to be together in our fan-addled brains. It doesn’t mean we should excuse these things.
And the fact of the matter is, we’re hypocrites. When I was 15 or 16, if an attractive guy in his twenties liked me, I was ecstatic. Clearly it meant he recognized not only my beauty but my maturity. Obviously, I was wise beyond my years, a woman of worldly dispossession and only he could see that. Honestly, other than being fairly intelligent and knowing some big words, my age was written on my baby fat cheeks (another realization I had while Fisher’s words echoed in my brain). Now, on the other side of thirty and interacting with teens almost daily, while I may be impressed with some of their accomplishments, there is nothing that would turn that admiration into romance. It’s hard to look back and realize that I wasn’t that special or different and to see my experiences in an unfavorable light, just like it’s hard to realize that the time you walked away from a date feeling sick to your stomach, may have been because you were coerced or assaulted. Or to look back and realize that the woman who stopped answering your text messages did so because your actions made her feel unsafe. And it’s also hard to believe your fave is problematic, but believe me they are, because we all are. There’s a lot we need to learn and unlearn. And saying it out loud, believing the hard truths, is the only way we’re going to get there. We must reckon with our faves, ourselves, and what we are willing to accept. Those are the hurdles that will determine if this is more than a blip in our history or a true shift in who we are as a society.