HYPE vs. REFLECTION
IN THE #MeToo CAMPAIGN
The late news on our local TV station carried a story about one of those efforts for breast cancer awareness. It was a 5-K run in which folks dressed in pink were trying to raise funds for some new screening program at an area hospital.
Turning to my wife, I commented, “You know, I wonder if the breast cancer people aren’t overdoing it with all these pink T-shirt events.”
“Breast cancer is an important issue,” she said, surprised that I should raise such a question. “People have to be made aware.”
“Well, that’s my point,” I replied. “It is an important issue. I certainly wouldn’t want you to get breast cancer. But there’s so much of this stuff going on all the time. Heck, you can see pink trash bins out on the streets. Doesn’t it risk trivializing an important concern? Isn’t there a burn-out point where people lose interest?”
Indeed, psychologists have observed that today’s digital environment, with its constant stream of rapidly shifting images and messages, has taken a harsh toll on our attention spans. Even pornography can’t sustain interest the way it used to. Smut purveyors have to work hard at creating ever-more outlandish product just to keep up with a jaded marketplace.
I suspect that, like the breast cancer campaign, the #MeToo effort is suffering under these conditions. The Harvey Weinstein disclosures prompted such an explosion of abuse claims — with so many women coming forth as victims so quickly and so many prominent men charged as abusers — that we’ve reached the burnout point in an especially brief time.
People seem remarkably uninterested. At least, that’s how I perceive the public’s attitude. And this is surprising when you consider that the campaign was spearheaded by a group of glamorous Hollywood stars and the alleged abusers are some of the most visible men in media, politics and business.
Moreover, a high degree of cynicism has attached itself to the whole effort. When the story first broke, a lot of women could relate to the self-identified victims. Many came forth to share their own experiences of sexual pressure and abuse.
But it wasn’t long before empathy started giving way to suspicion. People began to wonder if many of the claims might be opportunistic, reflecting a hunger for publicity and career advancement, particularly on the part of entertainment celebrities.
French film icon Brigitte Bardot brought the credibility of an industry insider to that view. Quoted in the magazine Paris Match, she said…
“The vast majority are being hypocritical and ridiculous. Lots of actresses try to play the tease with producers to get a role. And then, so we will talk about them, they say they were harassed.”
At the same time, some abuse accusations have been dismissed as attempts to rationalize the guilt women might feel over whether they had offered some kind of encouragement in sexually charged situations that got out of hand.
Examining the claims of one woman who had carried on an affair with Matt Lauer, the NBC personality fired from his slot as host of the Today Show — and who then claimed Lauer had harassed her — author and speaker Cheryl K. Chumley observed in the Washington Times…
“…where a new harasser is being fingered every day in the news, when new victims, both anonymous and named, are coming forward with more accusations against sad-sack male employers who abuse their workplace positions of power, let’s not conflate the definition of adultery with sexual harassment. The two may indeed be found together, but the one is not the same as the other.”
Reservations about abuse claims have been given a boost by the moral myopia of some Hollywood stars. My former Ave Maria Radio colleague Kathy Schiffer was only one of many bloggers drawing attention to mixed messages conveyed by the outlandish fashions on display during the recent Golden Globe Awards “Black Dress” demonstration. Her tweet makes a sharp point about how the seriousness of #MeToo has been diluted.
The dresses may have been black, but there wasn’t much to them.
It doesn’t help that feminists (predictably) jumped on the story to advance their ideological agendas. People notice the flood of crocodile tears about female victimization, when the feminist mantra had long been that women are strong, independent, and savvy enough to watch out for themselves.
And of course, there’s been a lot of disingenuous hogwash spread around the issue. When Joy Behar, co-host of that leftie TV gabfest, “The View,” was on her high horse about sexual harassment, a photo circulating online showed her jokingly grabbing the crotch of the late comedian Robin Williams.
Yet, sexual harassment is an important issue, and it would be a lost opportunity if the whole thing should be dismissed as exaggerated and overhyped. Not to mention exploited — sometimes in the most tasteless and inappropriate ways.
Democrat attorney Dana Nessel has produced a TV ad for her campaign for Michigan attorney general in which she promises never to sexually harass her staff, and poses a provocative question…
“So when you’re choosing Michigan’s next attorney general, ask yourself this: Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”
Her ad gives new meaning to the phrase qualifications for office, but it does little to elevate the discussion of sexual harassment.
What strikes me as most interesting is that harassment is being examined from a perspective almost totally devoid of moral reflection. The ethical questions involved seem to turn entirely on whether alleged abusers were exercising power over their supposed victims, not whether they violated any sort of moral standard.
I suppose this reflects the steady supplanting of religion by secular ideology. In times past, if a man attempted to take physical liberties — that is, in a situation other than out-and-out rape — it was assumed that the woman on the receiving end of his advances would either resist or give consent based on something greater than mere choice.
Nowadays, consent is the standard in itself. Sexual abuse is thus understood not as committing a moral infraction or even as transgressing someone else’s moral values, but merely as proceeding without her spontaneous agreement. That strikes me as defining immorality down, and it’s a rather flimsy basis on which to establish right and wrong.
Now I can already hear the objection to my point — that this lets abusive men off the hook.
Well, I’m not letting anybody off the hook.
Focusing on morality, rather than consent, is actually a stronger condemnation of sexual abuse because it more fully acknowledges the real damage done to true victims.
But there’s a great lack of moral clarity about sex today. This is a problem, and not just because it tempts men who hold some power over women to exercise pressure. It’s a problem for society at large.
Especially so for young people.
Developing sexual integrity and adult self-restraint is one of the challenges of growing up. It becomes even more difficult when there are no moral guidelines to follow, no general recognition of what constitutes either virtue or sin.
Like breast cancer, sexual harassment is a serious concern. The kinds of coercive experiences some women face can have life-changing consequences.
But publicity overkill, combined with the detaching of sex from morality, may account for why the public is losing interest in this scandal. It makes women’s claims easier to dismiss. Despite a certain vague sympathy for victims, the whole thing seems less of a big deal than it originally appeared.
That’s a genuine loss. People have been hurt. And neither pink T-shirts nor black dresses can set that right.
Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst with the Reason Foundation, looks at another factor that is weakening public interest in the abuse scandal: the insubstantial accusations that have gotten men ousted from their positions and exposed to public disgrace without recourse to law and in spite of very little evidence. Writing in The Week, she observes…
“a movement that thoughtlessly and reflexively throws decent men under the bus will discredit itself and hurt its ability to take down the real abusers. That’s a pity, because a responsible reckoning to hold genuine monsters accountable is something that women do indeed need.”
In the view of Mindy Belzis, senior editor of WORLD Magazine, the scandal provides an opportunity to reexamine how men and women who function side by side in the world of work must regard and treat each other. She notes that it’s…
“fraternal love we need more of in relationships outside of marriage, knowing how to be brothers and sisters, not potential romantic partners where every encounter is sexually charged. After all, the promise of heaven is to live in eternity not as husbands and wives, but as brothers and sisters before God.”
Elizabeth Scalia, editor-in-chief of the English edition of the online Christian journal, Aleteia (and long known for her incisive blogging under the title, “The Anchoress”), found that the early revelations of the scandal brought back painful memories of sexual abuse she had suffered as a young girl — and of how she coped with the pain…
“…for me personally, acknowledging the damage in others has been the route to forgiving them, so that I could continue to live my own life in a productive, loving and faithful way, without falling into catatonia. Forgiveness needs to reside in me, in order for my own freedom to flourish.”
You can find an engaging, if somewhat lengthy, reflection from this wise lady at…
Dana Nessel really did produce that anti-penis campaign ad. An attorney who specializes in LGBT rights cases, Nessel is “married” to a woman. So I guess penises don’t have much in the way of immediate relevance to her personal life. At any rate, you can view the spot here…