Time for moderation: #MeToo movement would benefit from restraint

The parallel movements of #MeToo and #TimesUp have swept the West like a category 5 hurricane, forcing these “progressive” nations to confront the entrenched chauvinism that women encounter as a matter of course in society. The movement has seen powerful men — from senators to news anchors to film producers — felled by proven accusations of sexual assault and harassment, some dating back decades. Both movements have been salutary and cathartic, offering women a voice that has been long ignored or suppressed, and reshaping the discourse on gender relations in constructive ways. It is understandable that the issue would have dominated the discourse at events like the Golden Globes and the Oscars, when its most commanding influence, the egregious Harvey Weinstein, was forced into a dishonourable exit. And yet, there is a growing sense of unease among women — and men who have strongly supported this cause — about the direction and tone of this movement. 

These reservations are reflected in the debates that have erupted in the media about whether #MeToo et al have gone too far or not far enough and the anti-#MeToo letter signed by French actor Catherine Deneuve and 100 other women suggesting that the movement had degenerated into a “witch-hunt”. Ms Deneuve & co’s letter has been condemned by feminists — rightly, since skeletons continue to tumble from male cupboards almost every day. But rooted in this emerging criticism is a grain of inconvenient truth that the votaries of #MeToo would do well to consider. Any form of social activism, whether it is advocating minority rights or gender parity, demands managing the milieu. However illogical, one constituency’s gain may well be perceived as another's loss or, at the very least, cause for resentment. The #MeToo movement appears to be falling into this trap. Making women aware of their rights — as Oprah Winfrey so eloquently did at the Golden Globes — is a vital part of the movement. But women are one part of the gender equation: It is axiomatic that to make any meaningful progress in gender equality men have to be addressed as well and brought on board. 

In raucously celebrating its serial exposes, #MeToo et al are sacrificing sobriety for triumphalism in a manner that somehow weakens its credibility as a serious movement and will eventually prove self-defeating. Many would be forgiven for thinking the two hashtags represent man-shaming rather than a quest for gender equality. Likening Ms Deneuve’s letter to a witch-hunt is overstating the case by a mile but it does point to the risks that have been evident in the way many men have been condemned without due process. The public accusations against the comedian Aziz Ansari, without first offering him a chance to reply, is a case in point. It was soon established that his accuser was indulging in revenge porn to complain about a bad date. This is a tragic misuse of a powerful tool that western women now wield. Indeed, date rape remains a serious issue and Mr Ansari’s accuser just trivialised it, and it goes to the credit of several prominent women, including Whoopi Goldberg, for condemning her conduct. Such examples are emerging with disturbing regularity. 

Likewise, condemning Oscar awards to Kobe Bryant and Gary Oldman, both of whom were accused of harassment and settled out of court, is plain foolish. After all, the Oscars reward creativity, not social propriety. The Indian cricket board’s decision to hold Mohammad Shami’s contract following accusations of assault by his wife falls in the same category; he should be entitled to a hearing first. 

Put another way, the gender equality movement has a long way to go still and urgently demands equilibrium if it is not to suffer the fate of the sixties’ feminist movement.

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