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Debate Room: Has #MeToo turned into a witch hunt?

Has the campaign gone too far? We asked two commentators to tell us what they think.

Various

On last week’s Late Late Liam Neeson claimed that the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal and #MeToo movement have sparked “a bit of a witch hunt”. His comments came days after Catherine Deneuve said that men are being unfairly targeted by sexual misconduct allegations.

This week Brigitte Bardot said women in the film industry who are complaining of sexual harassment are ‘hypocritical, ridiculous and uninteresting in the vast majority of cases’.

Do they have a point? Has the campaign gone too far? We asked two commentators to tell us what they think.

YES. THE BEHAVIOUR of men like Harvey Weinstein who abused their power in the movie industry needed to be exposed. But the means to do this, by a social media campaign, was wrong from the outset.

Social media campaigns by their nature are incapable of moderation and completely unsuitable to any kind of serious examination of particular relationships. The result was predictable.

It has turned into an all-out, uncontrolled, inchoate campaign where the minor is conflated with the serious, where what occurred in one very special business is said to be the norm in every business, where there is no attempt to give the accused the opportunity to reply to defend themselves. All accused are automatically pronounced guilty and equally so. This has all the character of a witch hunt, of mob rule.

It’s classic totalitarianism

The list of people who called the campaign into question includes writers Lionel Shriver, Margaret Atwood, actors Matt Damon, Liam Neeson and the 100 French female writers and actors led by Catherine Deneuve who wrote an open letter to Le Monde.

They have been excoriated for daring to do so. The French women were accused of having “internalised misogyny which has lobotomised them to the point of no return”. Who lays down the party line here? Who are the commissars who pronounce stern judgment on all who deviate even slightly from the party line?

It is a basic axiom of this ideology that women must always be believed, that they never make false accusations. This is classic totalitarianism of the Maoist kind, which recalls the public executions and humiliations of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Radical feminism embraces totalitarian methods and engages in what is classic identity politics.
We leave the last word to Deneuve: “

As women we do not recognise ourselves in this feminism, which beyond denouncing the abuse of power, takes on the character of a hatred of men and of sexuality.

David Walsh is the chairman of Men’s Voices Ireland.

NO. THE #METOO hashtag has allowed many women and some men to disclose harm and damage that they suffered through sexual harassment and abuse. Until now, they believed that they could not talk about it because they might annoy influential people and/or they were afraid that they wouldn’t be believed.

Or they might have calculated that their experience – though hurtful and harmful to them – would be labelled trivial. People’s sense of isolation and powerlessness has been reduced and their strength and confidence has returned because they could say #MeToo.

That sense of empowerment of some brings questions and unease, inevitably.

Even for those who wouldn’t go as far as the 100 French women who are concerned that men’s right to pester should continue, there is a worry about whether the old order of sexual encounters is coming to an end. The French women worry about clumsy or intense flirtation. They talk about non-events – something that also comes up in our media. We are told not to conflate the minor with the serious.

Who gets to decide what’s trivial?

Of course a sense of perspective is always important – but whose perspective?  Who gets to decide what is trivial? Surely it should be the person affected? That’s not the case at the moment. Much sexual harassment can be casual, unthinking, uncaring of the person the butt of it – trivial in the eyes of the person who carries it out and in much of the current media debate but not trivial, not a non-event, if you listen to those who have recently spoken out. They were hurt.

If those who called out #MeToo are successful, perspectives will change and sexual encounters will happen only consensually, where both sides are comfortable. Those put under pressure will get to say so – safely and in a way that bad behaviour can be dealt with. Put another way, there will be more respect for those who, until now, have had to put up with it.

What could be more positive than a new social compact which increases respect, reduces fear and discomfort and therefore reduces casual sexual harassment and abuse? Aren’t we all for that? #MeToo.

Noeline Blackwell is the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

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