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Planet Waves | February 2018

Eric Francis's Reflections on #MeToo


Last Updated: 03/01/2018 10:52 am
Lucinda Abra, Communion, mixed media
  • Lucinda Abra, Communion, mixed media

It's taken me a while to figure out what's really going on with the #MeToo movement. I don't accept as valid what I don't understand, or what I see serious problems with. I might, when I gain an understanding and see past the problems.

The #MeToo movement has been chaotic, and there are serious issues with it, which I'll get into in a moment. Finally, about five drafts into this article and after consulting many women in my life, I spoke with an old friend named Megan O'Connor, who was well on her way to becoming a midwife when I knew her as a journalism colleague 20 years ago.

Sometimes I need things put into language a kid can understand. She heard my frustration sorting out the issues and said in her calm and nonjudgmental style, "Think of it this way. The #MeToo movement has one purpose: To reveal the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace." If I didn't expect much more than that, then I would have it in context. That was all I needed to hear.

Workplace sexual harassment is a real thing—so real that we're discovering it's apparently (still) the norm.

#MeToo is intended as a pushback against that, calling attention to the issue and demanding change. That's no guarantee of solving the problem. But real activism is always messy. And sometimes it's necessary to break some rules and smash things to get the attention of people in power.

Let's see how things proceed from here—for example, let's see if we can do anything about an admitted sexual abuser that a majority of white women helped elect president. We might be witnessing a correction, not just of abusive conduct, but also to complicity with that conduct.

Scandals Are Not About Healing

My concern with #MeToo began right before activist Tarana Burke's political slogan was taken over by what I'm calling #Me2.0, the internet version. My concern began the moment Harvey Weinstein was taken down.

That was quite a scandal. We don't know most of it, either. While it was satisfying to see such a monster tumble, scandal is never life-affirming. Rather, its effect is to repress sexual and loving feelings, spreading into our intimate relationships, contaminating healthy erotic desire and sowing mistrust. This is no way to run a free society; in fact, scandals are a good way to destroy one.

Scandals terrify people, and most are already terrified. Ask any teenage boy who's afraid to ask a girl on a date, fearing he will be deemed a sexual predator. That is a form of tyranny.

Second, I, like many, am concerned this movement is often claimed for women only, sometimes aggressively. The purpose of #MeToo is supposedly ending sexism. Do we think we're going to do that with more sexism? Many men and boys are routinely sexually abused, which we know, among other places, from the billions paid by the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades to settle lawsuits. The sex abuse situation in prisons is ugly, and most prisoners are men of color who don't belong there. But what happens in prisons is easy to ignore, and is almost always is ignored.

Solving the sexual assault problem for half the population—to the extent that's even true—is not solving it at all, particularly since most perpetrators were once victims; many victims become perps. More young boys than you care to imagine are inappropriately touched by supposed caregivers and others charged with responsibility for them—both male and female.

Three-Part Disharmony

There seem to be three main aspects to the #MeToo trend. One has been celebrities taking out other celebrities, outing their alleged sexual misconduct, which leads to an epic fall from grace. The reported misconduct often turns out to be disgusting and persistent, and somehow it went unchallenged for years or decades. We don't seem too curious about who all the enablers were, or what Human Resources had in its files. Other times, the alleged violation is immature but harmless behavior.

The second is that some noncelebrity women are finding a voice to express their previous experiences of workplace sexual harassment. This has expanded into coming out about other forms of abuse, ranging from catcalls to date rape to issues within the family. One thing we're learning is that, for many people, the entire sexual environment is one they associate with transgression and violation.

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