From hashtag to witch hunt #MeToo

It’s now just under a month since the #MeToo hashtag took off. Amongst my friends this happened shortly after someone moved from a bit dodgy to violence. The initial idea that people post if they had been subject to assault or harassment to show how wide-spread the problem is, had (in my opinion) merit and caused some interesting discussions. I posted a somewhat lengthy “#MeToo” myself, as like quite a few people of both sexes I’ve been on many sides of “#MeToo”. I’ve been assaulted (not seriously), harassed and taken advantage of but I’ve also not always been quick to spot when my attentions weren’t welcome, had false accusations made about me quietly behind my back and I’ve not got involved when I probably should have to stop things. None of my experiences did me any lasting harm thankfully and just taught me to be more careful and to avoid some people – also if you are a teenager about to go out cycling for the day and get asked to come into work as an emergency remember to take a change of clothes. How one reacts to such events is down to the individual and what they’ve been taught. I’d been mainly taught that as a man I should just suck it up and anyway I couldn’t be sexually assaulted/harassed. The views in universities in the mid-90’s with regards to men’s desires being coercive and invalid has done me far more harm. Of the things that happened to me I wouldn’t have classified them then as I would now, and if I used current ideas of harassment then the list of what I’ve both experienced and done would be far longer. I’ve seen this change in attitude in what’s considered acceptable amongst my friends within our own group and by and large that’s been a good thing we’re a more considerate bunch because of it.

This change in attitude makes judging past behaviour very difficult, the past is indeed a foreign country even to those of us that were there. It gets even stranger when other people insist that something you experienced was something other than what you experienced it as. Despite all of this I think the initial desire of the “#MeToo” tag to illustrate how wide-spread experiences were was a good thing. But of course these things drift, past behaviour gets reinterpreted through the haze of memory, ever smaller things get counted so that people can jump on the band wagon to get attention or write an article ( like this one) and so forth. The claims have to become ever more inflated to keep getting attention and to make the headlines. After all “he touched my knee and I wasn’t fussed” doesn’t normally make for much of a story. Then hot on the heels of #MeToo came the self-flagellation of men promising to do better, confessing their sins and asking forgiveness for unspecified past misdeeds #Idid #Iwill.

With such a febrile atmosphere on social media the time was ripe for yet another Westminster scandal – a leaked document of vague hints and allegations of MPs doing utterly normal things. just imagine MPs looking at legal porn or having consensual relationships with people! The horror! Burn them! As other people have observed listing such mundane things among more serious allegations both Jonathan Pie at Westminster.

Hopefully it goes without saying, though these days if you don’t say it you’re in trouble, that rape and assault are serious offenses and in no ways acceptable. Not all unwanted interactions are preludes to violence. Though of course it gets wearing not knowing which ones might be so one can easily start to see every interaction as a potential source of violence especially when the media mainstream and social is pumping out a relentless message that a clumsy come on is the same as assault or will lead to it. It’s as though the attitudes from the mid-nineties universities have risen from the dead and escaped into the wider world. Social pressure to get people to improve their behaviour is a good thing, by and large, and used to be called manners (so terribly old-fashioned). Casting all men as offenders or will-be-offenders doesn’t help that, the people who will listen to such messages by and large have probably already heard them and try to be polite – those that need to learn how to behave aren’t going to pay attention to even the wittiest hashtag or vice article. Those that listen will either end up assuming that any interaction is a mine field and best avoided or you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, those that aren’t listening aren’t listening. Ironically as I type this a friend of mine is dealing with a perfect decent and friendly chap not understanding why they don’t want a particular photo on-line. They acquiesced but there was a failure of manners and understanding. You can almost start to see the appeal of chaperones and rigidly enforced codes of manners except that didn’t work so well last time, it’s almost as if some sort of mutual middle ground were needed, that maybe treating people as homogeneous blobs rather than individuals is a bad idea. Of course being of the wrong gender by current mores I shouldn’t speak about this no matter how it affects me or those around me. So here’s someone of an acceptable gender on the subject:
“Belittling the real, devastating crime of rape doesn’t do real, devastated victims of rape any good, either. In fact, as with all the shoots of the monstrous Triffid, New Puritanism, it is strangling compassion and blinding empathy.”

I don’t know what the answer is a lot of my friends feel unsafe which is bad, people should feel safe going about their normal lives and normal human interaction shouldn’t be a mine field where an ill-judged comment can cost someone their job. Perhaps turning down the hysteric reporting and stop treating a wink or scarcely brushed knee as being anything like assault it might help make people feel safer. Perhaps it might even make it easier to deal with the actual problems that remain, as at the moment if “assault” can be anything from a brushed thigh to rape it’s impossible to react properly or gauge the problem being dealt with. People are complex, social problems more so – who knew – but one thing that’s fairly certain puritanism and witch hunts have a really bad track record.
Anyway here’s a debate among people far more erudite than me.

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