Why #MeToo Has Not Gone Far Enough: Due Process and the Price of Transparency.
For hundreds of years, women have been oppressed, objectified and de-humanized. Just looking at ads from the 1950s illustrates that women were meant to be, and meant to strive for, decorative roles, serving as mere accessories to men’s success. Women’s voices and stories have been trivialized and ignored. For an example, look no further than domestic violence and rape accusers who are routinely at best, ignored, at worst, called liars. Larry Nassar’s victims know this all to well, as do the hundreds of thousands of rape victims who report rapes that never get prosecuted. According to RAINN, out of 1000 reported rapists, 994 will walk free. Along the same lines, according to The Guardian, based on EEOC numbers, over half of sexual harassment claims are dismissed with no follow up. When women come forward, historically speaking, at best nothing happens but, at worst, their career comes to a screeching halt.
This is perhaps the hardest part for women victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The hardest part, believe it or not, isn’t the sexual violation. The hardest part is the ensuing lack of legitimacy, lack of justice, and—most importantly—invariably negative impact on women’s own lives. As asserted by a study, “Sexual harassment has been identified as one of the most damaging and ubiquitous barriers to career success and satisfaction for women.” The dirty little not-so-secret is that whether a woman leaves a job rather than comply with sexual harassment or speaks up about sexual harassment, finding another job will be extremely hard. Anecdotal evidence bears this out time and time again. So what does this have to do with #MeToo?
The backlash surrounding #MeToo is fueled by two principal motivations: (1) the fear that “innocent men” will be ruined by such false accusations and (2) even the smallest slight can now be labelled sexual harassment. Neither ground for backlash is based in fact. Here is why.
First, false reporting of sexual assault has historically stayed within 2% and 10%. So as long as the false reporting stays under that, in the court of public opinion, then we still have not reached a true picture of what is happening in back rooms and locked offices. Second, while “innocent men” may be falsely accused, the only way to truly take a look at those accusations is by them becoming public. While detractors are concerned that public accusations are a deprivation of due process, the truth is that the events of the past few months are due process. The old process, whereby women followed the proper “chain of reporting” and were routinely ignored and punished for speaking up was and continues to be part of a broken system. Women need to continue coming forward because only then will they be able to shine a light on the events they are reporting. It is a fundamental concept that due process requires public disclosure. Any other position enables bad behavior and deprives victims of the opportunity to be heard. While #MeToo may make men uncomfortable and fearful, somehow adopting the position that #MeToo has gone too far would—again, for the millionth time—put men’s “comfort” above women’s safety. The #MeToo movement makes women safer, overall. The fact it may make some men uncomfortable in the process is a perfectly reasonable price to pay. Our safety matters. And it should matter more than men’s feelings about the matter.
Second, and tied to the first, it is not true that even “frivolous” accusations can be labelled as sexual harassment. For starters, I challenge anyone adopting this line of reasoning to explain what is “frivolous” or “slight.” Most of the time, the examples are anecdotal or extreme. And herein lies one of the important benefits of #MeToo. What is sexual harassment? What is sexual aggression? Are we all speaking the same language? Or has society conditioned certain behavior which men glorify and women abhor? (More on this topic in a future piece). The fact that women can now come forward and explain what happened to them generates a healthy and open conversation about what is aggression and what is not. The Anziz Ansari situation comes to mind. Similarly, accusations of impropriety that do not rise to sexual harassment allow for important conversations about women’s autonomy, sexual expectations, and the grey areas of consent. These too are important, albeit complicated, conversations that we must have as a society.
Until those conversations have become part of the mainstream, the #MeToo movement will continue to have a critical place in gender equity discourse. The movement has not gone “far enough”; what we are witnessing is the messy, uncomfortable, inexact manifestation of due process.