The #MeToo movement can become extremely viable and valuable if it can blossom into a movement for the legal, social and economic gender equality that is long overdue.
Sorting out the ramifications of what has become known as the #MeToo movement has become daily fare for those who make a living dissecting America’s political, social and cultural developments. Unlike some movements that never catch on — remember the Occupy Wall Street movement — this one has caught on. However, it seems to have done so more as a slogan than a well-defined movement. This has left me and many others trying to define for ourselves what this is all about.
It is probably safe to say that the #MeToo movement represents a response by many women to their perception of a gender-based imbalance of power. It is a movement fueled by individual experience and a collective judgment that women’s voices are both silenced and not heard, largely by men. It surely reflects poorly on men that in this day and age this perception is alive and well and far too often a reality. Kind of a notion that if men would just keep quiet for a while and listen to the women around them, we would all be better off and maybe even happier.
But this rather airy view of what is going on masks a far darker reality that seems to be driving perception. There are far too many women who have been physically and emotionally abused by men, many women who believe they have, and many who know somebody who says they have. This alone should cause men to stand up and take notice. It is too late for apologies and way too late for silence.
The #MeToo Movement
The original me too movement was started in 2006 to give voice to survivors of sexual violence, particularly women of color from lower income communities. The idea was to find resources for healing and advocates for change in those communities. Now, the movement seems to be about much more.
Today, it is driving the dialogue about the character and qualifications of a nominee to the US Supreme Court. Yesterday, it voiced outrage without result as a misogynist was elected president of the United States. It can only be hoped that tomorrow it will drive millions of women and the men who care about them to the polls to reject both the misogynist president and his band of Republican Party troglodytes in control of Congress and much of corporate America.
While there may be much to celebrate in some of this, including the empowering of progressive women in our political and social realm, many will still be left with an urge to more fully define the #MeToo movement. A reckoning of this sort seems essential in order to ensure the movement’s survival and to develop a path forward focused on both the original vision and the constructive capacity of empowered woman to change things for the better.
Now the hard part: Women cannot do this without men. The eloquent senator from Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, put it bluntly in response to Republican men blathering about fairness to accused men in the context of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings: “I just want to say to the men of this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing — for a change.”
I completely agree with her both in the context of the Kavanaugh nomination and in the larger context of a path forward. It is easy for me to step up against Kavanaugh because I believe he is the wrong person to sit on the Supreme Court in the 21st century, and he is proving it every day. It is much harder for me to grapple with stepping up for once and for all to add my support to something that I can’t yet fully define and may not fully understand.
So we are back to the movement as a slogan issue. It seems surely true that many more women consider themselves “victims” and “survivors” of sexual violence than men. Therefore, the roots of the movement as an effort to give voice to survivors of sexual violence lend a distinctly gender-based patina to the #MeToo movement. Women can belong to the movement; it seems that men can only support the movement.
For whatever it is worth, I believe that men can be and should be equal partners in the #MeToo movement. However, to try to get there, women have to help men better understand what it takes to join. Or is it enough for a man to join to be a male who has a clear-eyed sense of what is right and what is wrong?
While I do not pretend to know the answers to many of my own questions, I am convinced that a #MeToo movement without men on the inside and side-by-side with women will remain more as a slogan than a lasting movement. Sexual violence is certainly worthy of significant societal focus, but a movement has to be about something bigger to be transformative.
I am trying to get to the notion of a partnership — that to truly close America’s gender gap, it will take women and the men who try mightily to understand them to join together to create a more comprehensive agenda. But it cannot be and should not be about sameness. Men and women are not the same, and probably never will be. It is also probably best that way.
From my perspective, the #MeToo movement can become extremely viable and valuable if it can blossom into a movement for the legal, social and economic gender equality that is long overdue. It can’t do so if it is only about sexual violence and seems to demonize men in general. It can do so if the #MeToo movement can define itself in inclusive terms that embrace the notion that men can be valuable allies. It can do so if we can find a path to a productive partnership.
Every day, men and women seek productive partnerships to raise kids, to animate modern workplaces and to simply enjoy each other’s company. Today seems like a profoundly good moment to transform #MeToo into a productive partnership. Once done, the movement can fully realize its potential as a powerful beacon for an inclusive world.
*[A version of this article was also featured on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.