#MeToo has become an orthodoxy intolerant of criticism or even question. Women who have suggested that it may have gone too far, that conflating rape with crude flirtation risks trivializing serious incidents and falsely demonizing innocent men, have been hounded for thought crimes. Katie Roiphe prompted outrage when it was rumored she might go public with a list of “shitty media men” that had been widely circulated among writers and journalists. Roiphe recalls that “Before the piece was even finished, let alone published, people were calling me ‘pro-rape,’ ‘human scum,’ a ‘harridan,’ a ‘monster out of Stephen King’s “IT”‘ a ‘ghoul,’ a ‘bitch,’ and a ‘garbage person.’” Catherine Deneuve and over 100 other prominent French women were met with a similar tsunami of name-calling and criticism following their public letter comparing #MeToo to a witch hunt. The result has been a censorious closing down of debate through a crude division between “good women” who stick to the #MeToo script and “bad women” who digress.
Criticism of the wrong kind of women respects no limits. Film producer Jill Messick, best known for her work on Mean Girls and Frida, committed suicide in February. Messick worked for Weinstein’s Miramax between 1997 and 2003 and was manager for Rose McGowan in the late 1990s. As #MeToo gained ground, McGowan alleged she was raped by Weinstein and that Messick knew but did not take appropriate action. Messick was reportedly already suffering from depression; it seems unlikely that finding herself caught between McGowan and Weinstein, between claim and counterclaim, can have done much good for her mental health. The speed with which Messick was written out of history makes clear that to the #MeToo activists, some people’s lives are worth more than others.
#MeToo is a moral crusade where facts are readily sacrificed for the greater good of the cause. When it comes to declaring rape, sexual assault, or harassment, what matters to activists is not objective evidence that can be proved or disproved but the subjective feelings of the accuser. #MeToo has redefined sexual misconduct as unwanted behavior. As the case against actor Aziz Ansari showed, defining abuse as unwanted behavior takes us into the realm of the bad date. Leaving a restaurant too early, pouring wine without asking, even attempting a kiss might all be considered rude, but they are only violations in the mind of the most zealous #MeToo crusaders. Women in such scenarios are robbed of all agency; apparently unable to say no, they are forced to rely on men’s presumed mind-reading skills to protect them from the unwanted. Not only does this pave the way for miscarriages of justice, it makes all interactions between men and women inherently risky.
I witnessed this same thing in action a quarter century go, during a sexual harassment seminar required by all employees of the large corporation I was working for at the time. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that harassment was defined by the feelings of the victim. That’s no standard of justice, but it’s a great way to subjugate men to the whims of women.