I’m not ready to divorce from the #MeToo movement, but I might want a trial separation. The spark of love I felt at the beginning is now growing pale. The promise of the initial romance has not been borne out. You know that story? But let me explain.
Sitting around the table at the Minneapolis Club meeting room discussing #MeToo, my colleagues and I felt the power as we all acknowledged “yes, me too!” There we were — professional women, attorneys, nonprofit CEOs, academics. We didn’t even know yet that we were a movement, but every one of us shared stories of having men “hit” on us during our careers.
The movement burgeoned into an astonishing national wave of change. One by one, male predators who had harassed and humiliated women who worked for them fell: Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and many other big names.
I cheered along with my colleagues and friends. And then, I began to have my doubts. Perhaps it was when Al Franken, friend of women’s issues and heretofore honorable man, was jettisoned by six of his female U.S. Senate colleagues over some allegations by a few anonymous persons (and a Roger-Stone-coached LeeAnn Tweeden) without a hearing or review of the evidence. Maybe it was the dumping of Garrison Keillor after many years for allegations that turn out to have been initiated by a disgruntled male employee on behalf of a female colleague, if news articles are to be believed.
I’m not defending these men, because I don’t know the particulars. But neither do most of you readers. And that is exactly my point. What is happening around us? As JoAnn Wypijewski writes in a recent issue of The Nation: “Sex panic reverses the order that governs law where, formally at least, innocence is presumed. In panic, the stories are all true and the accused are guilty by default.”
What would be a useful outcome from the national attention that has been now directed at sexual harassment and coercion? Maybe it’s time for some concrete actions. Here are some ideas for the #MeToo-ers:
1) Stop infantilizing women. We are not all victims and we are able to stand up for ourselves. Clumsy overtures by males, well-meaning or not, can often be deflected with a firm “no.” That was my experience, and other women have said the same. (This does not apply to sexual harassment in the workplace, where employees may feel coerced. There are legal remedies for that when employers do not put a stop to the problem.)
2) Stop trivializing rape and sexual harassment by conflating it with other, less invidious forms of sexual approaches. Everything is not the same. Specifics matter, or we are lost, in danger of drowning in peanut butter.
3) Help young women understand that they are responsible for themselves. And that they can take care of themselves. Getting drunk on a date or at a party is not a good idea. You can then no longer be responsible for yourself. Who should be responsible? Your drunk boyfriend? Not gonna happen. Yet no one seems to educate young women and men about the consequences of drinking and getting together in bedrooms. Especially when they are away from home for the first time, on a college campus.
4) Teach our children, boys and girls, about sex and about themselves.
5) Make them aware of the sexualization of our culture and what it means for them and their personal relationships. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine talked about the numbers of boys who, accidentally or purposefully, accessed porn sites online and used that as their sex education. Boys as young as 14 were getting an entirely warped view of women and what they want. The report said that boys’ education was coming from these sites and that they were absorbing ridiculous ideas about sexual relationships and activities. It’s time our schools came into the 21st century, accepted their responsibility and taught students about sexuality.
6) We all bear some responsibility for the culture we have produced and live in. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” soft porn and terrible writing, was made popular by women readers, not men. We need to look at our own part in creating the cultural terrain that we inhabit.
Now that #MeToo has caught the country’s attention, it should focus on making serious change. Yes, it would be great to have more women running for office, although a lot of women have been running for office for the past 40 years, and many have been elected. But what we really need is cultural change on many levels, not passing fads or even passing legislation.
Offers of more personal relationships, formerly known as “passes” (mostly but not always from men to women or men to men) can be rebuffed by strong women certain of what they want. Sexual harassment at work is more serious, but can be fought by determined women, either through management or through lawsuits. Rape should never be condoned and always punished.
Now that the country is paying attention, let’s make some real changes. It starts with all of us.
Judith Koll Healey, of Minneapolis, is a novelist and biographer.