Except not me. In fact, i would rather it was me. But it’s not. It’s my friends. And i’m dreading every one.
The last few weeks have seen the explosion of the Weinstein story: allegations of sexual harassment, and worse. An expanding narrative of the thing that everyone apparently knew: predatory men holding the power, exploiting young women. Assaulting them. Normalised abuse. Deeply unpleasant, but somewhat abstract. News on the television about a bad man, or bad men.
Until a few days ago: one of my friends posted a Facebook post, starting #MeToo. It was the start of an avalanche. Social media creates a democratised storytelling space, and social stories act as aggregating and amplifying mechanisms. Suddenly everyone can find a voice, and suddenly everyone does.
#MeToo is a mechanism for women to say that they too have been sexually assaulted or abused. But no longer any abstract woman. Women that i know. My best friends. And i’m furious about it. I’m furious about the men who did it. And i’m furious about my reaction to it.
I’ve recently been exploring aggregated cultural failure, looking at the notion that the action of an individual is important, but it’s the wider culture (of which i am a part) that permits the toxic behaviour to perpetuate. The fault of our normalised inequality is, in some sense, me.
My own reactions are predictable, and futile: when someone assaults your friend, you want to punch them on the nose. But when you see many of your friends saying the same thing, you realise that the challenge is endemic, and cultural, not isolated and specific.
There’s an article on the BBC website today, asking ‘when does flirting turn into sexual harassment?’. Possibly if you need to ask the question, we have a wider cultural issue.
The person who says #MeToo, however we feel about them, is simply a symbol of a wider, endemic, hidden problem. A cultural problem. The detestable behaviour of one individual, yes, but the wider culture that permits, condones, and perpetuates it.
For every story we hear, for everyone who says #MeToo, there are doubtless a hundred others who fear to share that story. This is a problem of the silent majority: those who are victims, and those who are silent observers.
I realise my empathy, sympathy, and anger, are of little use unless i add my action. But it needs to be meaningful action, not simply pseudo macho protestations of fictional or aspirational action. Because this is problem that won’t be solved by any number of punches on the nose. It’s a problem of power, normalised inequality, and, at heart, cultural normalisation and acceptance.