A Reality Check on #MeToo

This article has been put together after studying the issue in some depth; a series of informal interviews were conducted, information was gathered from a documentary shown on the BBC and some general internet based research was carried out. Finally the article was submitted to a focus group of females before its final publication for reasons that will be explained later.

In late February 2020 film producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and other related charges. The process that led to this started in 2017 when allegations began to surface that he had abused his position of power and influence to sexually abuse and rape many fledgling actresses and others within the movie industry. Almost all felt like they had no other choice, but to give in to him and remain silent. First one actress spoke out and then another and then another and before we knew it huge numbers of affected women were rising up and saying #MeToo.

The #MeToo movement had started over a decade earlier in 2006, but it was the Weinstein allegations that really brought it under the spotlight. It was a catalyst and it created a similar chain reaction to that seen in the UK when the Jimmy Saville scandal shone a light on the endemic culture of the BBC during the 1970s and 1980s.

Suddenly it seemed that Twitter in particular, but not only, was full of women from all walks of life who were also saying #MeToo.  My initial reaction was cynical as it seemed to me that many women were simply jumping on the bandwagon and this had some potential negative impacts. I was worried that such a deluge of complainants would cheapen the genuine testimonies of real victims and consequently securing convictions would become harder. It seemed to me that #MeToo was simply trending and that was all it was. It’s all too easy to align with a fashionable hashtag nowadays with no real integrity.

However, I know that cynicism can often be the enemy of truth so I carried out some informal research and was shocked by the results. A single question was asked:

Have you in your life, ever had somebody behave towards you in a way that is sexually inappropriate that has made you in the very least feel uncomfortable?

When asking I set strict limits on the question. I only asked ladies who were aged at least 18 as while sexual predation affects younger people too it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to approach such young girls with the question.  I asked respondents just to answer with a simple yes or no, without details. It wasn’t the purpose of the question to be intrusive and make the respondents feel uncomfortable.

Out of a sample group of more than 50 women all but one answered yes and in the most clear cut example one particular lady in her 20s looked me straight in the eyes, raised her hands, and simply said ‘me too.’ The lady who answered no went on to explain her view which I will comment on later.  This means that based on my small sample  an overwhelming 98% of respondents identified with ‘me too’.

My conclusion was simple and shocking. #MeToo is real and it affects almost every woman.

This is a profound indictment of at least a portion of the men in our society and it indeed challenges the behaviours of all men.

A lot has been made in recent years about how women should change their behaviours around men and the obvious response is – why should she?

I came across an early example of this when I was in secondary school in the 1980s. Back in those days boys were absolutely forbidden from wearing any kind of earrings in school, but girls were allowed to wear stud earrings, but no ‘dangly’ ones. This was possibly unfair to the boys too (but they were different times – even though that is never actually an excuse), but the primary reason why girls weren’t allowed to wear dangly earrings was for health and safety purposes – just in case they got hurt because boys thought it might be fun to pull on them or even yank them out.

This was the earliest example I know of girls having to change their behaviours to be safer around boys.  More recent examples have included encouraging girls never to go anywhere alone, especially at night, to carry keys between their fingers so they can slash out at any would be attacker and even telling girls to moderate what to do on a night out and even what they wear.

Again I ask the question – why should she?

It really should be as simple as ‘Hey guys just leave (wo)me(n) alone!’

A lot has been made about men needing to learn to control themselves, and while I am sure it only applies to a minority of men, I wholeheartedly agree. However, further research has shown that it is not necessarily so black and white and while it is always wrong to blame the girl there has to be wisdom and common sense rather than naivety.

I am definitely not defending any man who even slightly crosses the line, but society needs to take a serious hard look at how it projects women and the consequences of this image projection.

All too often opinions are influenced by the media. A particularly stark example of this is both the video and lyrical content of many pop videos.  I am no prude but when lyrics are reduced to sexualised and objectified language about a woman’s anatomy and what it’s for (!) and the video content exaggerates this, it projects an image.  It is bad enough when a male artiste is saying such a thing, but even worse when women allow themselves to be treated in such a way or even sing about themselves in accordance to this fashion.

Secondly some women have made a point of wearing the most provocative and revealing clothes they can find and wear legally to send a message that could be summarised as ‘I can wear what I want – it’s not an invitation – deal with it!’

I absolutely agree. Whatever she is wearing, it is never open permission for a guy to ‘help himself’.  The truth is that guys who have a problem with women wearing anything revealing are the ones who have the problem because the problem is their own thoughts and not what the women are wearing.  However, just as equally such women cannot then get offended when they find themselves being stared at.  You can’t have it both ways.

I was at a rock concert in the late 1990s and I was really pleasantly surprised by the good behaviour of the crowd.  I found myself in the mosh pit with an old school friend when he suddenly signalled that his shoelace had come undone.  Under the circumstances this was potentially catastrophic.  I indicated to those immediately around us and 8 to 10 people formed a protective circle so he could go down and tie his shoelace.

I was eagerly awaiting a review of the concert and in those days the internet was still in its infancy so I needed to wait for a magazine to come out.  I read the review and then the fan letters that were on the following page.

One girl had written that she was appalled that when she went crowd surfing she was groped and touched inappropriately by several men.  She had deliberately and consciously climbed on top of the crowd knowing that there would be huge numbers of men, many of whom had drunk large quantities of alcohol. Of course this shouldn’t have happened nor does it excuse the men’s behaviour. In an ideal world all would have been fine, but I found her outlook naïve.  When you climb on top of a crowd and let them carry you wherever they want (usually to the front as it is a tried and tested method of getting out of the crowd if it becomes too much) you are literally putting yourself in the hands of strangers.

When in a crowd like that the first thing anybody knows about a crowd surfer is an elbow or heel in the back of the head and instinctively the crowd just passes the person over without any real awareness of where they make contact. It is just possible that I was one of the guys who touched her ‘inappropriately’ as I tried to remove her foot from my ear.  Having said that, I have heard that girls can usually tell the difference between an accidental touch and a more lingering, intentional one.  Being a guy there is no way I can comment on this.

Which brings me to another point concerning responsibility.  Responsibility and blame are not synonyms and shouldn’t be interpreted as such and especially with what follows below.

A 2019 documentary A High School Rape goes Viral tells the story of a young girl who went to a party and according to at least one eye witness was very flirtatious and all around the boys earlier on until she got so drunk that she was barely conscious.  She was then driven to a second party by two boys after refusing the intervention of some of her classmates who urged her not to go because she didn’t know them. She was so drunk that at one point in the evening she was photographed being carried by a couple of people, one had hold of her arms and another, her legs. At some time after leaving the first party two boys had sex with her in front of witnesses and she woke up the next morning knowing something had happened, but not remembering a thing.

There is no doubt about this.  It was rape.

Consent is active and must always remain so. Passivity or failure to give permission is just that. Any answer other than an uncoerced YES is always NO; end of discussion.

However the story went viral with comments even being left using the word rape and other comments suggested she was so far gone that they thought she was dead.  This makes it even worse because witnesses failed to intervene, which in my mind makes them as guilty as those who raped her.

What challenged me was what was said on the radio, played in full on the documentary.  I wanted to disagree with him, but found myself unable to. To paraphrase:

When people go to a party things happen.  She was flirting and playing around with the boys and they took an interest and they probably did rape her, or maybe she consented and regretted it later.  It all comes down to ‘he said she said’ ultimately… just saying…

I think it is obvious why I find this objectionable, but it raises a valid point.  In the heat of the moment things happen – often regrettable and terrible things – and while the blame clearly lies with the boys (who were convicted later) the responsibility lies at the hands of all who were present, those who raped her, those who failed to intervene and the girl herself.

I know this may offend some, but responsibility means taking good care and behaving in such a way not to make oneself vulnerable and trusting in relative strangers is naivety at best.

Let me illustrate with a less inflammatory example. Many years ago a guy who I knew got so drunk he barely knew where he was and even walking was an effort.  I wasn’t there at any point in the evening, neither when he was drinking nor later when he was staggering home, but I was there to deal with the aftermath when he turned up at my home the next morning asking for help.

It was late and dark and to get home after his night out he had two choices. He could either take the shorter route through an unlit park by a river (which was more of a storm drain than a true river). The area around the park was a known haunt of gangs of drunken youths who had a reputation for yobbish and violent behaviour. Alternatively he could take a more circular route that was well lit, but would take probably 10-15 minutes longer. In his drunken state he chose to go through the park and he was confronted by five yobs who mugged him and stole his phone. He attempted to fight back and they threw him in the river. A few minutes later one of his attackers pulled him out. This was almost certainly not out of any compassion, but probably because he had enough wits about him to realise the serious legal implications if their hapless victim drowned or was really seriously hurt.

The first thing I knew about the incident was when he turned up at my door the next morning with a battered and bruised face and I went with him to the police and did the best I could to help him.

The point I am making is this.  There was no way that it was this guy’s fault and there is no excuse for violence and the mugging he was subjected to.  However his state had impaired his ability to make decisions and there were serious consequences that could have been so much worse.  He wasn’t lucky and he wasn’t to blame, but he needs to take some responsibility because his decisions had left him vulnerable. In an ideal world he would have gone home and woken up with a hangover and nothing worse.

In principle is this any different to the girl at the party? She had even turned down an easy opportunity not to go with the two guys to the second party where tragically she was raped.  I reiterate, like the mugging victim, it wasn’t her fault, but her state had left her vulnerable.

Finally I would like to come back to the one girl who didn’t say #MeToo as she had an interesting qualification to her point.  To summarise she said that at times people are too sensitive and there is too much political correctness nowadays and just maybe a comment that is meant to be lighthearted should be interpreted that way however vulgar it might be. Additionally a certain amount of messing about is just that and people shouldn’t make such a big deal of things.

I am quite sure that most will disagree with her, but her point raises an interesting point about interpretation. Words and gestures are interpreted by those they are aimed at.

Maybe it is an English thing but when I get together with two of my best friends from school, including the one who was at the rock concert, we do nothing but insult each other mercilessly. We don’t get offended as it is probably some kind of indirect affection and just the way we are.

So maybe some girls do feel like the one who has never categorised herself in the #MeToo camp and think we take things too seriously.  The point is this; if you don’t know a girl leave her alone or in the right social circumstances approach her with respect. If she is a stranger don’t say anything vulgar or do anything to make her feel threatened or uncomfortable and particularly sexually. Work on this assumption and you will never go wrong.  Good relationships grow and boundaries develop and change as they do so.

Appropriate behaviours are defined by respectful relationships; it really is as simple as that!

© Richard Horton Omega Support Services 2019

Feedback from the Focus Group

Before publishing I shared this article with a small group of women whose input I valued. I did this for one primary reason. Discussing such a difficult issue as #MeToo is undoubtedly hard enough for women and in another way it is hard for guys to have a real conversation about it as sensitivity seems to run contrary to candour. So it was my wish that I could express a real opinion without offense.

Some modifications were made to the original text thanks to the feedback and it is unnecessary to go into the details. However the views of some of those who asked are worth sharing. Their names have remained anonymous and their comments have been streamlined, but not posted without their express approval.

Some people may find it offensive. But it’s quite a sore subject

I agree with what you said. It was rape though. But everyone was in the wrong like you said

She shouldn't have got herself in such a state as that and then rely on random men to take care of her

I have been in a situation like that before... too drunk to make a decision. But i never went on about it. Mistakes happen.

K.

This means that the respondent is clearly also saying #MeToo while acknowledging her own responsibility. Please remember that I make a strong distinction between blame and responsibility. As with the girl in the documentary there is absolutely no blame attached.

Another person wrote:

I didn't find [the article] offensive – it’s subjective, but based on facts and discussions you had.

Well, it's interesting to see that guys have similar opinion […]

[I know it was written by a man but] if I hadn't known […] I would have said that it had been written by a woman  🙂

M.

A third commentator wrote:

I am so pleased that you asked me to read your piece of writing as it's something I do have an opinion on. You have not offended me in any way- in fact you have hit the nail right on the head! Like the girl that said 'no' to your question I feel people are too sensitive and that comments can be taken the wrong way & political correctness [has] gone mad.

When I think back to when we were school, boys would often be flirtatious but I wouldn't think anything of it & would laugh it off. Yes if the guy pushed & pushed & had no respect then that's a different issue. Working with engineers in my previous job, I enjoyed the banter & there were many things that could have been taken the wrong way but it was harmless banter & they knew their limits.

As for the subject of girls wearing provocative clothes, I agree it certainly doesn't give a man a right to help himself. However, women know by dressing this way they will get a reaction – it's one a way that a male is attracted to a female.

As for the drinking- everyone knows that you lose the ability to make sensible decisions. Back in our day people would [often] get off with someone after a few drinks & then regret it but that was the end of it. […] If drink is involved, both parties need to be careful with their actions. It does seem to sometimes get all blown out of proportion & men wrongly accused. I'm not saying there aren't some genuine cases as I know there are & these men have to punished. Your summary at the end is spot on'

K.

And finally,

The only paragraph I had a ‘problem’ with as such [was the paragraph that starts] “All too often” [when discussing pop culture]. The part I wasn’t sure about was “when women allow themselves to be treated in such a way”. Not quite sure how you could put it. I suppose I’m thinking along the lines of women buying into today’s sexualised culture because they feel they have no choice. It is what is expected of them because physical attractiveness and being sexy is positively valued. I think some may view the points raised as controversial. Some would argue that women shouldn’t have to moderate their behaviour at all. I think the points you make are valid that men should be taught “don’t rape” rather than teaching women to “avoid getting raped”. At the same time as a woman, and mother of daughters, this is balanced by common sense and not making oneself vulnerable, which we shouldn’t have to do but this is the world we live in sadly.

S.

Rather than adjusting the original text I decided a better approach was to leave it alone and include the opinion as I believe that S addressed the issues far better than I could have.

Finally I would just like to thank all of those who expressed their views in helping me shape this article.