#MeToo: Let’s not make this a battle of the sexes

Jan 26


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Helen Whitten

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#MeToo: Let’s not make this a battle of the sexes

“A fair trial is one in which the rules of evidence are honoured, the accused has competent counsel, and the judge enforces the proper courtroom procedures – a trial in which every assumption can be challenged”. Harry Browne

I have been hesitating to throw my tuppence-halfpenny-worth into the arena on the #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein conversation. I still hesitate but I do feel drawn to write about the subject because I am concerned that the #MeToo and social media movement is in danger of demonising men without giving them a proper legal process to establish who is guilty and who is innocent.

I also don’t like the fact that women seem to be adopting the role of victims, when they are also capable of creating their own victims, as we have seen with recent rape charges where women misled the courts through false accusations.

The events at the Presidents’ Club dinner have raised these issues again and I guess I would like to bring a little perspective, as I see it, into the conversation.

Let me start by making it clear that I am in no way condoning rapists nor those who harass or abuse their position through force or by blackmailing female – or male – employees with bribes regarding their career or financial position in return for sexual gratification. This is wrong.  People who abuse, whether they are Catholic priests, Harvey Weinstein or gymnast doctor Larry Nassar need to be penalized.

But trial by digital media is like rule by a lynch mob. Without a due process we can’t tell where innocence or guilt lie. In the meantime men’s careers and reputations are being trashed by accusations made by one or more women. There seems to be no due process of law or investigation to identify those who have truly behaved abusively and those who have just made a crass approach where they needed to be told firmly to stop.

Reaching a verdict of “beyond reasonable doubt” when it is one person’s statement against the other’s is hard enough even when there is a court case. But here no judge or jury are involved, just accusation. In the world of Twitter people are condemned before they have had a chance to open their mouth.

What I am saying is not intended to diminish any person’s experience. Simply to ensure that both accused and victim are adequately protected, as is the practice of democracy and the law in the UK.

There is certainly a broader problem of macho-dominated cultures to be addressed, both here in the UK and worldwide. Men have ruled and governed countries, religious establishments, businesses and their women, for far too long. They have been given messages by philosophers and religious leaders that men are here to command, women to obey. Women still have to opt out of the words ‘to obey’ in marriage services so we are talking recent history – and let’s accept that some women liked this. Also let’s acknowledge that much of this has already changed and is changing but sadly one can’t alter millennia of beliefs, perceptions and behaviours in the space of sixty years or so.

This latest set of scandals provides a wake-up call for both men and women to adjust their behaviours to one another further. We need to ensure that men, young and old, move out of any sense of entitlement of their right to touch a woman’s (or a man’s) body without overt permission or encouragement. At the same time women need to be absolutely clear about their boundaries, what they find acceptable or unacceptable, and speak up immediately to stop abusive actions and also misunderstanding. But communication between men and women is subtle and easily open to misunderstandings. The dance of relationship is a tricky one. Both in romantic and workplace situations things can be taken the wrong way. I don’t envy young people who fancy one another in today’s world – one wrong move and your reputation is ruined.

With the Presidents Club, it seems to me that merely attending a male-only charitable event that raises considerable money for good charities is not in itself an evil or disrespectful thing to do. Women have women-only events and hen parties, some with rowdy behaviour and male stripagrams. Are we saying the male stripagrammer is being abused, in the same way we are saying the female hostesses at the Presidents Club party were? A male undertaking to strip is being paid and knows what he is in for. The female hostesses were also being paid and, although some behaviour got out of hand, some of those hostesses had apparently been to such events before and nonetheless signed up again. They are not slaves, they are adult and have every right not to accept the job and, if they do, to bat off any wandering hand if they don’t like it.

Whether the Presidents’ Club dinner should have been held at all with these themes is dubious.  And this isn’t to excuse the behaviours of such men but to put them in perspective. Again, I am not talking about victims of rapists or abusers where force is used, nor where someone is underage. There is a significant difference between a rapist and a man who gets drunk and aroused and touches someone inappropriately. Something women, when drunk, have been known to do too. Let’s not tar all men with the same brush. Some men behave badly, many don’t.

“If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Something I didn’t understand when I was young was how shy and nervous many young men were, how anxious they were about asking us for a dance, or to go out on a date, because they faced rejection. I believe even recently girls and women have tended to expect the first move to come from the man. I wonder if those women have experienced the rebuffs that can occur when you do make the first move and are rejected by someone you care for or fancy?

It’s easy for women, who tend to be intuitive, to imagine that a man knows when we are upset or understands how far he can go. The reality of life is that he usually needs to be told. He doesn’t guess. He is often, though not always, less intuitive and needs to have boundaries articulated clearly. Otherwise he can imagine that he has the right to make first moves, indeed that a girl or woman expects him to do so. Some men are practised Casanovas and seducers. Others are somewhat incompetent and inept in terms of relating to a woman. I am talking of the muddle that can occur when there is flirtation or a sexual buzz in the air. It’s heady stuff. I think most women have occasionally flirted or responded to a man’s advances and perhaps later regretted it. At other times it can just be fun and one shrugs it off and puts it down to experience.

When adult women feel empowered – and let’s face it there’s never been a time in history where women were as empowered as we are today – they are capable of managing a man’s predatory nature in such circumstances. They can say no firmly, or expose him to the assembled crowd for what he has done. We don’t have to hide behind the label of victim. Indeed if we are suggesting we need protection from men we are on a slippery slope to Puritanism and to the influence of cultures such as the Middle East where women have been kept covered up indoors to keep them safe from other men. Surely we don’t want that. For those of us living in countries where our rights are protected women need to learn to step up and own our power. We are not frail creatures. We earn our own money. We have the vote. We have equal rights. We have found our voice and we need to use it.

We don’t want to make communication between the sexes any more complicated than it already is. Many men respect women and treat them well. Some men push their luck, and others can be downright violent and abusive. We need to be more careful with categorisation of labels and only give punishment where it is due. The arguments and accusations must be fair.

In this current forthright disclosure of the behaviours women have silently accepted for too many years and now reject, we do, I believe, have the potential to create more mutual respect, equality and cooperation. The messages that boys and girls need to hear within their families and schooling is that they are both equal, that either a woman or a man can be a boss, that both can be strong, that both can be in the kitchen and look after their children, that both can be on equal terms in the dance of sexual attraction. Let’s make it happen but don’t let’s lose the light-hearted fun of flirtation and courtship in the process.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw


2 Responses

  1. I write as someone who has been severely damaged by inappropriate sexual behaviour – both when i was at school and later, at work. I believe that the German nation is responsible for seeing that it never again kills six million Jews, seemingly without the knowledge of ‘normal’ Germans.
    I suspect that the only people who can stop the sexually predatory behaviour of men – is other men, and this is their responsibility.

    As to the hand-on-knee dilemma, there is a simple guide. A man should not touch a woman. It is easy to flirt with the eyes and the mouth, easy to suggest coffee or a drink, easy to say no politely. It is not easy to clarify whether a touch was accidental or ‘in jest.’

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