‘#MeToo’ was born in 2006 when activist Tarana Burke used the phrase in response to sexual assault victims. It was only when actress Alyssa Milano popularised the phrase following sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017 that the campaign, quite literally exploded. In less than 24 hours, 4.7 million Facebook users had either posted, commented or reacted to #MeToo.
Since, it has been used as tool to support women in exposing their abusers, and instilling a voice in those victims that previously could not express their experience. The millions of stories that have emerged using the hashtag illustrate the magnitude and widespread prevalence of sexual harassment that has until now been silenced. The movement progressed quickly, publicly shaming big stars including Kevin Spacey and Ed Westwick, whose careers have consequently been cut short.
The campaign is important because it is bringing sexual predators to justice, raising awareness about harassment and igniting important conversations that were otherwise suppressed. However, despite good intentions, I feel the movement is becoming dangerous, and could have detrimental impacts in the future.
All kinds of behaviour are simply being lumped into one basket, from rape to a bad date, undermining the authenticity and legitimacy of victims who have experienced real abuse. As the boundaries between rape and sexual harassment are becoming blurred, it is a crucial time we enter honest discussions about the definitions of these terms, to differentiate between cases rather than treating them the same.
Furthermore, this blurring distracts us from the real target – men who have committed serious crimes. Accusations are commonly being taken as truths, putting innocent men in particularly vulnerable positions and establishing a new powerful dynamic between the sexes, which has migrated beyond Hollywood and into everyday life.
The movement is painting all men as threatening, and portrays all women as delicate and dainty, unable to cope with a touch on the knee here and an unwanted look there, which have become grounds on which to cry ‘Me Too’.
If this continues, feminism will be steered so far back that we will have come full circle, putting at risk the freedom women have fought so hard for and the stereotypes we have attempted to escape from. Are we heading backwards? Our personal freedom and power may be jeopardised as women will be viewed as a risk in the workplace creating new forms of discrimination that is entirely our fault. Could we see the return of a chaperone society, where women will not be able to be left alone with a man? One where paranoia and anxiety is rife for both men and women…
It seems that the ‘#MeToo’ campaign has divided women on where we draw the line, but sees radical feminists dominating debate, and intent on shutting down opposing opinions. Whilst this may have serious ramifications for women in the future, these extreme views are already underway in changing many areas of society.
The banning of Formula 1 girls echoes the ‘#MeToo’ movement where sponsors may sense fear in employing women in a role which could potentially lead to allegations as the campaign has gained speed.
Many of the girls feel the decision deeply unfair and fails to recognise the platform it can give some of the women for future success. Indeed, the successful and respected stunt and racing car driver Michelle Westby started her career as a promotional motorsports model where she gained the knowledge to move up the ranks.
Taking away a women’s right to work and her right to choose how she displays her body ultimately undermines feminism completely whilst potentially forcing girls to enter sleazier work as they seek to make a living. If Formula 1 girls have been banned, how long will it take until we ban bikinis, lingerie models and magazines?
Closer to home, prompted by ‘#MeToo’, Manchester Art Gallery temporarily removed an iconic 1896 masterpiece by J.W. Waterhouse - a painting which depicts naked nymphs and the ‘male gaze’. The decision to remove this is wrong and isn’t the point of artwork to spark debate, and to observe the evolution of art and society over time?
Erasing the painting from the wall erases history, and will consequently narrow our knowledge, and our ability to engage in perceptions of society different to our own. Why can’t we accept the paintings for what they are, appreciate the context within which they were made, and form our own opinions? Will all nude paintings of women have to be removed to satisfy the minority of women who feel offended by looking at them?
Moving forwards, we must discuss what rape, abuse and harassment is, and what it is not. We mustn’t engage in trivial acts of pulling down artwork, but instead focus on the real miscreants and the true victims.
Jennifer Lawrence's decision to wear a Versace plunging neckline dress while her male colleagues were wrapped up in coats and scarves at the premiere for her new espionage thriller, Red Sparrow, was criticised by one Twitter handle as 'quietly depressing and revealing'.
Her articulate response show the divisions between women on these matters. Ultimately, it comes down to choice, identity and what each woman feels comfortable sharing, acting or presenting herself. The moment we decide to turn on each other and bicker is the moment we lose the battle for equality. And so I leave you with Miss Lawrence's retort in support of women afflicted by real issues everywhere, 'Overreacting about everything someone says or does, creating controversy over silly innocuous things such as what I choose to wear or not wear, is not moving us forward. It’s creating silly distractions from real issues. Get a grip people. Everything you see me wear is my choice. And if I want to be cold THAT’S MY CHOICE TOO!'
Lucinda Obank is a second year Geography student at the University of Manchester.