How many men have been felled by the #MeToo movement? 100? 150? Hardly significant. The infamous Hollywood blacklist that was a direct result of the House Un-American Activities Committee snared at least 300 people. On the other extreme, the Salem Witch Trials couldn’t have gotten more than 20 or so, but you have to grade on a curve – as a percentage of population they really hit the ball out of the park with that one.
As moral panics go this one is only in its infancy, and that is in large part because it is closer to the “moral” side than usual. There are legitimate grievances and concerns driving this movement, which have been ignored and belittled for far too long, and that is not something I am ignoring or in any way trying to justify. The issue I am trying to address is the oft-cited concern of “men claiming to be victims” or “why do men think they have a right to be scared” or “if you haven’t done anything wrong you don’t have anything to be afraid of”. Well as a matter of fact sometimes men are victims, all men do have a right to be scared, and I’ll be sure to let the DA know you’ve waived your rights because you’re innocent.
Why are men claiming to be victims? Surely not for the same women that women are coming forward to tell their stories! Well – that’s the interesting thing. If you go all the way back to the very beginning of the #MeToo movement, you might remember before things got steamrolled into this becoming about women being abused by men, this was about survivors of sexual assault telling their stories. Did you notice how that was gender neutral? If not I couldn’t blame you, because apparently neither did the media or most anyone else. Some famous examples would be Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek, and Brendan Fraser. I’ve even had a few uncomfortable experiences myself with both men and women that I don’t know rise to the level of sexual assault, but definitely stick with me even now decades later. And no I don’t want to share them, thanks for asking. I realize this isn’t the victimization among men that is being complained about on social media or in the news, and in some ways that’s even worse, because this isn’t being talked about.
But let’s talk about what is happening. Some men (#notallmen) feel they are already being victimized because there is a movement to #BelieveSurvivors. Not just in their families, their friends, or their support communities, but in workplace disputes, on college campuses, and in our legal system. Let us not forget the highest court in the land, the Court of Public Opinion, in the person of High Justice Social Media. In the absence of directly contradictory evidence, the new normal is to believe an accusation as whole truth. As opposed to the old normal, which was to bury, ignore, downplay, evade, minimize, shame, and in every way possible prevent women (and men) from coming forward with an accusation in the first place. So the impulse is understandable; the pendulum has swung the other way.
But this comes with its own issues. As noted by columnist Emily Yoffe:
We don’t even have to imagine the dangers of a system based on automatic belief—Britain recently experienced a national scandal over such policies. After widespread adoption of a rule that law enforcement must believe reports of sexual violation, police failed to properly investigate claims and ignored exculpatory evidence. Dozens of prosecutions collapsed as a result, and the head of an organization of people abused in childhood urged that the police return to a neutral stance. Biased investigations and prosecutions, he said, create miscarriages of justice that undermine the credibility of all accusers.
So let’s talk about why men might feel scared. This comes back to questions of power and privilege. Often these sort of discussions seem to be oversimplified where you live in one of two camps: Privilege or Oppression, and you never get to move between the two. But life really isn’t like that. In media and social media, which is where many men are getting their impressions and knowledge of this latest front of the culture war, Men are cast as a homogenous group that exists perpetually in the camp of Privilege, and is often used as shorthand for “Rich Straight White Cisgender Middle Aged Ivy League College Educated Married Family Career Man”. The average man looks at that caricature and says “that’s not me! I don’t have any of that privilege!” Because he sees that he’s not rich, he didn’t go to an Ivy school (or maybe didn’t go to college at all), and maybe he doesn’t have a family, there’s a good chance he isn’t above middle management at best, and all that is assuming he’s white, straight and cisgender, which is invisible to him (yes, I know that’s the nature of privilege, but work with me here).
So he’s being lumped in with these powerful men, far more powerful than he is, and they are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. No, I’m not talking about the ones like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who either admitted to it or got their day in court. I’m talking about guys like Al Franken, who welcomed a Senate Ethics Committee but was hounded into resigning before he got one. And sadly some men do end up empathizing with men like Brett Kavanaugh, who may not be guilty of what he has been accused of by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford but I for one believe is guilty of lying under oath.
But really, what’s the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh? He doesn’t get to be on the Supreme Court? Actually, the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh, assuming no formal charges are brought against him, is that he is impeached from his current position as a Circuit Court Judge, he’s already lost his teaching position at Harvard and likely won’t be teaching anywhere else again. And all of that with nothing but an accusation.
And that sort of smug “the worst that happens to” pronouncement by many #BelieveSurvivors supporters is the sort of thing that drives men to be scared. Because they start to think about “what’s the worst that can happen” to themselves. And they think about stories they have heard from friends – stories from bad divorces, vindictive ex-girlfriends, ruthless coworkers – stories that may be one-sided, may be exaggerated, may not even be true. And who would even believe those stories anyway? Those are uncorroborated accusations that may be years or even decades old, after all. But maybe they have some truth to them. And they realize that powerful men of privilege are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. And they themselves are not powerful men of privilege.
But hey, they haven’t done anything wrong, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just like every story they heard from all of their friends. Just like everyone who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Just like Giles Corey had nothing to be afraid of. Justice is swift so long as you only give weight to one side of the story.
I cry “more weight”.