Dear women and men everywhere: please, please, please do not give up on the #MeToo movement.
I think that most of us can at least agree that the #MeToo movement started out with great intentions: to discuss and challenge sexual harassment and sexual assault. This is something that a shocking and, quite frankly, disgusting amount of women deal with in their everyday life—if the amount of women who shared their story with the hashtag says anything.
But since the #MeToo movement’s formation, it has gone on to challenge other, more abstract ideas, like, for example, rape culture. The first time that this was reported widely was in an allegation about Aziz Ansari, wherein a woman using the name of Grace accused him of pushing for sex well past her comfort zone and taking no heed of her attempts to dissuade him.
This seemed to be the beginning of the breaking point for many people who previously supported the #MeToo movement.
Because what Aziz Ansari did is not illegal. It’s just creepy, and entitled, and generally not okay. But not illegal.
I have heard many (including actor Liam Neeson) voice the opinion that the #MeToo movement is turning into a witch hunt, wherein any poor, unsuspecting man can, at any moment, be accused of sexual harassment—including and especially if he is innocent of any crime.
I have seen some bring up the question of whether or not accusations like this should even be allowed to enter into the #MeToo movement, or if it cheapens the whole discussion. After all, is it important enough to discuss if it doesn’t actually involve criminal activity?
I have even seen some who once agreed with the #MeToo movement try to distance themselves from it, even call it disgusting. Talk show host Wendy Williams even went on television to say that she was “sick of it,” and that “I look at all men like you’re a ‘me too’—all of ’em, all of ’em, which is not fair.”
But I still think that the #MeToo movement is very important. And not just because of what it started out as (although that is a crucial part of it). I think that the later discussions surrounding rape culture are also hugely important.
Please. Hear me out.
Since Aziz Ansari seemed to be the beginning of the end for many people (from what I have observed lately), I will be unpacking the Aziz Ansari allegation here, but really, this isn’t even about him. This is about every man who has pushed a woman beyond her comfort zone, and every woman who felt violated despite the fact that no actual crime had been committed.
That is what I want to focus on here: Ansari and Grace are merely stand-ins for a much larger cultural issue, and I want to be able to discuss it within the #MeToo movement. I don’t think it should be our breaking point, but rather, our opportunity to branch out into something more pervasive.
What Aziz Ansari did is not illegal. He should not go to jail for it. He should not be persecuted or fired or whatever else people are worried will happen to him because Grace dared to speak out. But what Aziz Ansari did does speak to a larger issue that exists in our society, one that I have mentioned twice now: rape culture.
This accusation that Grace put forth fits perfectly into our society’s idea that men are supposed to pursue sex, at all costs, while women are supposed to withhold it. Men are told, essentially from infancy, that their masculinity is connected with how many women they manage to sleep with. And if a woman says that she doesn’t want to—well then, that’s all part of the script, isn’t it? The script that’s been put forth by every romantic comedy and love story that’s ever been written. Men chase. Women “protect their virtue.” It’s a tale as old as time.
But the problem with this tale is that it isn’t romantic. It’s sexual harassment. It normalizes something that’s actually really disturbing, and we just accept it as the common, everyday narrative. Because it is that ingrained in our society.
Honestly, think about it: how many love stories in movies focus on the man pursuing, and the woman being disgusted by him, until he finally just breaks her down?
Do I think that Aziz Ansari is a garbage human being who deserves to be crucified? No, of course not. He’s just doing what men are taught to do in our society. And I do think that he has become an example of something that is shockingly prevalent—so prevalent that it has happened to literally every woman. And this is something that we need to talk about. We need to challenge the script and write a new one. There’s a better love story to be told, and it’s dependent on mutual consent and enthusiasm.
This is why I think the Aziz Ansari story has a place in the #MeToo movement, and why I don’t think anyone should try to distance themselves from the movement because of it.
But I’ve also heard many people who want to distance themselves from the movement because they worry about what will happen to these men who are told that their behaviour is creepy and needs to be challenged. Isn’t it scary to think that any well-meaning man can, at any moment, be told that he’s making a woman feel uncomfortable and he needs to stop?
Well, no, it isn’t. Because voicing discomfort is something that’s normal in most other facets of society. In fact, it’s important, so that the other party can then correct their behaviour and no longer be creepy.
Let’s give an example: if I were having a conversation with a man, and he was standing too close to me, then I would not hesitate at all to say, “Hey, man, you’re standing too close to me,” and hopefully his response would be to say, “Oh, sorry,” and take a step back. If the man’s response was to say, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you think I’m standing too close to you. I’m just trying to talk to you. Jeez, men can’t even talk to women anymore, can they?”—then that is weird. That is not fair to me. That is forcing me to endure discomfort for the simple reason that he doesn’t like being told to correct his behaviour.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect analogy, because standing too close to someone is not the same thing as sexual harassment. So maybe let’s try something a little more direct.
I am a queer woman. I occasionally flirt with and check out women. And if I were to do this and make the woman that I am checking out or flirting with feel uncomfortable, then I sincerely, genuinely hope that she would tell me. Seriously. I’m not just saying this for the point of my argument. Because, end of day, when I am flirting with a woman, my purpose is not to make her feel uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. And if she tells me that she doesn’t like what I’m doing, then I like to think that I will stop doing it immediately, because I know she doesn’t like it. And maybe I will be a little bit disappointed if this means flat-out rejection, but you know what? My disappointment doesn’t matter more than her autonomy.
So, personally, I like the direction that the #MeToo movement is going. I think that the issues that have been raised are important, and that furthering a discussion on it has the potential to, quite literally, change the entire world. Because rape culture is a disease that has infected every aspect of our society. It’s in our movies. It’s in the way that we speak to our children. It’s in the way that we dismiss victims of sexual assault when they come forward. So, as much as it saddens me that this seems to be the breaking point for many supporters of the #MeToo movement, it also doesn’t surprise me: rape culture is so ingrained into our culture that it’s deemed normal at this point.
But, even after everything I’ve said, you still might not agree with me. You might still think that the #MeToo movement is moving into dangerous, vigilante territory. And if that’s the case, then I still beg you not to give up on the movement as a whole. Because the movement still has incredible value, even if the only thing you want to focus on are the cases where actual laws are broken.
And if you don’t like the way the movement is going, then change it. Add your voice to the discussion, supporting the things that you believe in. Movements like these change all the time. They shift and they mutate, all depending on the issues that the majority wants to focus on at the time. Feminism is a good example of this; if it hadn’t changed over time, we’d still be fighting for the rights of white, straight, cisgender women alone. (I mean, there are still sections of feminism that do this, but you get my point.) A lot of voices means a lot of different opinions. And we are going to need a lot of voices in a movement like this.
Because think about the value that a movement like this has in our world, so long as you don’t give up on it. Think of the sexual assault survivors who receive validation every time you raise your voice. Think of the little girls who hear what you say, and are inspired to speak up for themselves and demand that their boundaries be respected. Think of that, because if you don’t continue to speak out, then that will never happen.
And while you stand up for what you believe in, I’ll stand up for my own beliefs. We all need to keep talking and keep fighting for this, because as I said, so long as we do, we quite literally have the chance to change the world.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: “Master of None” still
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina